Well, it's a 6 p.m. kick-off tonight at Memorial Stadium against the Leathernecks, and that's probably a good thing, 'cause it's supposed to get well into the '80's today (with humidity). It should start to cool off by game time, though. Besides a hot, humid afternoon of tailgating, what else should we look for today out on the field? Here's ten things to look for during the game today:
1. Juice Williams will start the game, and more than likely, he'll play the whole game, even if it's a blow-out. I'm just guessing here, but I think that the coaches want to get Juice's confidence back up after last week's injury. According to the local media, he had a strong week of practice, and is looking sharp for the game. There's no doubt that Juice wants to put to rest any supposed QB controversy after Eddie McGee's streaky, but strong, showing last week against Mizzou.
2. The Leathernecks to run a TON! They're a big time running team. Expect them to keep a nice balanced attack throughout the game. Also, their coach is a West Point grad (so he's a smart dude I guess), and also a Hayden Fry protege'. So watch out for trick plays!
3. J Leman to get a lot of tackles, maybe even close to the 20 he had last week. Why? See #2 above. He's going to be keying on their backs, and looking to stuff anything coming through the line up the middle.
4. Aurelious Benn to have a big game. Did anyone else notice how visibly HUNGRY and ENERGIZED he looked out on the field last week? This guy is a competitive monster, you can just tell. And even on ESPN2 last week, you can tell he has that contagious WINNER's mentality that can spread like wildfire thru a unit. Illinois' hasn't had any receiver even close to Benn's talent level since Brandon Lloyd wore the orange and blue.
5. Kyle Yelton to stay on the bench (thankfully!). It looks like Santella has the punting job locked up now. Yelton's low line drive last week that Mizzou returned for a touchdown pretty much sealed the deal for Santella. Santella can boom it at times (at least compared to Yelton), but he has a slower wind-up and release. Zook really likes Yelton's fast "get rid of it" quotient. The problem is, the guy's leg is like a wet noodle! Punting is STILL a big problem for the Illini. Keep a close eye on the punting game today. It needs to improve big time.
6. Turnovers. Look for a lot of turnovers in this game. Illinois showed that they could create them on both sides of the ball last week. I'm looking for Illinois to shut the run down tonight, forcing a lot of must pass scenarios on 3rd and long. That means some potential picks, especially if the Illini can get pressure on the quarterback and force him to make bad decisions.
7. Memorial stadium to be rockin'. At least half of it. Remember-- the west stands will be empty due to contruction. But the north end of the field is now enclosed, and that is the end that the students will be sitting in. It'll be interesting how loud that end of the stadium is going to be. The local media has been hyping how Zook thinks the new lay-out, once completed, will make Memorial Stadium rival the Assembly Hall in terms of crowd noise and home field advantage. We'll have to withhold judgment on that one for now.....but it'll be tough to rival the Hall's atmosphere. Anything even close would be awesome, though. The big thing is we need to win some games, so that the fans keep coming to them!
8. The Grange Rock. Zook wants the team to slap the Grange Rock on the way out of the tunnel, in order to honor Illini Football heritage, et al. Not a bad idea. So they moved the Grange Rock adjacent to the tunnel exit/entrance. We'll have to see if the rock gives them any luck!
9. Zook to run up and down the sidelines like an insane man the whole game. Why does he do that? Hasn't he ever heard that saying "Grace Under Pressure?" I can't stand how spastic he looks on the sidelines.....doesn't he know that a spastic leader transmits that spazoid vibe through to all of his men? Calm down Ron! You're doing a good job! You don't have to run around like a crazy man just so everyone knows you're working hard! Okay, okay...I feel better now.
10. A blow-out victory! The News-Gazette is predicting a 42-10 blow-out victory. I'm thinking more like 37-17. Should be fun.