As Illini football fans, we don't ask for much. I think the entire fan base understands that this is a work in progress and that things are going to take years to change. We didn't demand or even expect that this team would go into Rutgers and beat the Scarlet Knights—all we asked them was to compete. They didn't…
We didn't ask for this team to come into Memorial Stadium and blow out an awful Syracuse Orange football team that had lost 11 straight games. We just asked them to win. They didn't…
And the frustration doesn't just come with the fact that they didn't win. It comes with the fact that by the end of the third quarter the game wasn't even close. It comes with the fact that they committed penalty after penalty after penalty and showed absolutely no discipline. The frustration comes from receivers dropping wide open passes during the fourth quarter when their freshman quarterback was doing everything he could to put some life back into the team. It comes with the fact that there still seems to be that dark cloud hovering over Memorial Stadium each and every Saturday and if you don't think that cloud exists check out the way Syracuse scored their first touch down.
We don't ask for much, but it wasn't too much to ask this program to beat an awful Syracuse team at home. In a season in which everyone talked about progress this was the type of game to show that the program was taking steps forward.
By the end of the third quarter—as many fans were emptying out of Memorial Stadium—I just sat in the West Balcony and thought back to 2000-2002 when the campus and the stadium was alive. I thought back to the moments in that night game against Michigan and the late games in 2002 when the place was rocking and wondered when we were going to get a night or a day like that again.
I have spent the last two years cautioning the fans that this will take time to turn around and I have pleaded for them to be patient. I would love to take that stance this week, but I can't. Sitting there and watching Syracuse just take the life out of the Illini in the third quarter was completely demoralizing. There's really not much more I can say…
Just when you thought this past Saturday was going to be a complete wash, Juice Williams scrambled right away from the pressure and lofted a beautiful touch pass to Rashard Mendenhall down the sideline for a long touchdown.
That kind of play and moment is what is going to bring me back into Memorial Stadium each and every Saturday throughout the rest of this season and that is the type of play that makes you believe that sometime soon this program will be back on its feet.
Quite simply, Juice was awesome in the fourth quarter. Now I know it was against Syracuse and the game was virtually over, but he looked much more comfortable in the pocket and he threw some great balls (albeit a few of them were dropped). I don't expect Juice to look like that in every game and there is no question that he is going to struggle at times throughout the rest of this season, but quarters like the fourth quarter against Syracuse show you what will make him a special quarterback for the Illini.
I said last week that I thought Tim Brasic might still give this team the best chance to win every Saturday, but I was wrong. I think Tim Brasic will still play a little bit this year (to ease the transition and the pressure on Juice) but the fourth quarter on Saturday proved that it's time to begin the "Juice era." It's time to get him more reps with the first team and to ease him into the starting quarterback role we hope he will be in for the foreseeable future.
Juice's fourth quarter got me pumped up for the future. Even though we lost the game, I felt a little life leaving the Stadium.
From Smoke to Wild Fire
I am going to completely turn the page now to talk about a subject I have avoided over the last four to five months. If you know me or have talked to me over that time you would know I have barely blinked an eye in regards to the Eric Gordon recruitment. Even though there was certainly some smoke, I had to believe that EJ was going to stay true to his commitment and still sign with the Illini in November.
We are less than a month and a half from signing day and that calm feeling is gone. That feeling has been replaced with a sense of panic and a sense of ‘Can this really happen?'. At this moment, I truly believe Eric Gordon is going to sign with the Indiana Hoosiers in early November.
I don't have any inside information. I haven't spoken to anyone in the DIA and I certainly haven't spoken to anyone who is close to our coaching staff or the Eric Gordon camp. For me it's as simple as reading the writing on the wall and to be completely honest the writing has probably been there for some time.
You have to believe if Eric Gordon was coming to Illinois that he would have ended all of this speculation by coming out weeks ago (if not months ago) stating, "I am going to Illinois and I have told Indiana to stop contacting me."
You also have to believe that our staff asked Eric Gordon to visit this upcoming weekend, because Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams were going to be on campus (not to mention his future back court mate in Demetri McCamey). What did Eric Gordon say when they asked him to visit this weekend? If he said he was busy it was because he was going to be busy visiting Indiana.
Last week we heard Eric Gordon Sr. say that the visit to Illinois was going to be Gordon's last recruitment trip and that they would release a statement during the week. Well all week I waited and waited and waited for that statement. And shame on me for thinking that the statement never came. It did. He is visiting Indiana this weekend.
I hope, I dream and I pray that I am wrong. Hopefully in a few columns from now I will have egg all over face and all of you can say I was just being the typical cynical Illini fan. Believe me, I want that to be the case.
Losing Eric Gordon would be an absolutely devastating blow to the Illini basketball program and it's hard to assess just how damaging it could be—both on and off the court. Whenever fans across the country or a sector of Illinois fans bring up Weber's recruiting it's easy just to bring up Eric Gordon. Illinois has had a lot of coaches over the years and not one of them have gone into another state and brought in the top player of the country. If Coach Weber and his staff can keep EJ, they did just that and it shows that they have the ability to bring in that caliber of player.
And that brings me to another point. If Coach Weber and his staff lose EJ, I think the Illini fans have every right to be upset, to be frustrated and to criticize the staff. On one hand, it's certainly easy to see why they could have lost out (I mean Kelvin Samson did hire basically half his family and every coach he has ever had) but there comes a time where you just have to overcome that and get the kid. This is certainly one of those times.
On that same note if Eric Gordon ends up signing with Illinois, Coach Weber and his staff should be lauded for getting one of—if not the—best player in the country and for holding their ground in a very difficult recruiting battle. You can't be ready to kill Coach Weber and the staff if they lose him if you aren't ready to praise the staff to the high heavens if they get EJ's signature on the dotted line.
The situation has gone quickly from a little smoke to a large wild fire and I certainly hope Coach Weber has the hose out, Coach Price is flying over in a plane dropping water and Coach Webster and Coach McClain are loading up the fire truck. This is a situation and a fire they absolutely need to put out.
Ruminations from Week 3
**I am not going to spend a lot of time on predicting the Iowa game for this upcoming weekend, but it's hard to believe the Illini are going to be able to stay with a good Hawkeye team.
It will be interesting to see how much Juice plays and how effective he can be against a better defense. I think the Illini play with pride and keep it close early, but the Hawkeyes blow the game away in the third quarter.
Iowa: 38 Illinois: 17
As I continue to hold my breath on EJ Gordon, Still Bleeding Orange and Blue—Jared Gelfond.