Chicago Sun-Times
With Sun-Times sports reporter Herb Gould

October 2011 Archives

In case you missed it in the online edition--I couldn't find it, but my wife says I can't find anything--here's my Illini notebook from the 10-7 disappointment at Penn State.
I really liked Vic Koenning's defense of his defense. I think that could serve the Illini well as they try to snap their three-game losing streak and salvage some things in November.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.--The focus will be on a sputtering Illinois offense that has scored just 28 points in the last three games--and only seven points in the first three quarters of those games.
But defensive coordinator Vic Koenning sounds like a man who's found a unit he can take into battle.
``If anybody in this room has seen a defense play harder, I'll kiss their butt and give 'em 10 minutes to draw a crowd,'' the Oklahoma native said. ``Our guys played as hard as they could possbily play. The last two drives before halftime at Purdue, the whole second half there, the whole game here, they have been relentless.''
The defense, which also did a lot of good things against Ohio State, is looking more and more like Illinois' strength.

When Penn State safety Nick Sukay took down Nate Scheelhaase with a helmet-to-helmet shot in the second quarter, some wondered if Sukay might be subjected to an NFL-style disciplinary review.
That's not needed, said Scheelhaase, who returned to the game after taking a couple of plays off to lose the cobwebs
``Yeah, it hurt,'' the Illini QB said. ``But it didn't seem malicious. It was a good football play. You're gonna get dinged when you're playing hard. You could blame me for half the thing. I was running pretty hard at the kid.''
Freshman backup Reilly O'Toole didn't miss a beat in relief, completing 4 of 7 for 31 yards. Scheelhaase completed 9 of 16 for 63 yards, while Jason Ford ran for 100 yards on 24 carries against Penn State's stingy defense.
The victory was the 409th for Joe Paterno, which gives him the most victories by a Division I coach, one ahead of Grambling legend Eddie Robinson.
``I'm happy for him,'' Ron Zook said. ``I just wish it wouldn't have been me.''

In case you missed them in the Friday Sun-Times, my picks for this weekend's games. . . 

Illinois at No. 21 Penn State
Time: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 7
The records: Illinois 6-2, 2-2 Big Ten; Penn State 7-1, 4-0
The story line: After two ugly losses, shaky Illini need a repeat of last year's Penn State trip, when they surprised the Nittany Lions 33-13. Problem is, that ugly loss should have defense-oriented Nittany Lions' attention.
The line: Penn State by 6
Herb Gould's pick: Penn State, 24-13


Purdue at No. 17 Michigan
Time: 11 a.m., ESPN2
The records: Purdue 4-3, 2-1 Big Ten; Michigan 6-1, 2-1
The story line: After a bye week to think about 28-14 loss at Michigan State, Wolverines ought to be ready to unleash their offense against unimposing Boilers.
The line: Michigan by 13-1/2
Gould's pick: Michigan, 38-17

No. 9 Michigan State at No. 13 Nebraska
Time: 11 a.m., ESPN
The records: Michigan State 6-1, 3-0 Big Ten; Nebraska 6-1, 2-1
The story line: After taming Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, Spartans will have to flex muscle for fourth straight week. After rocky start, Nebraska will be primed.
The line: Nebraska by 4-1/2
Gould's pick: Nebraska, 35-27

Iowa at Minnesota
Time: 2:30 p.m., BTN
The records: Iowa 5-2, 2-1 Big Ten; Minnesota 1-6, 0-3
The story line: The Hawkeyes, 0-2 outside of Iowa City (at Iowa State and Penn State), go for their first road win and try to retake the Floyd of Rosedale, which Gophers grabbed 27-24 in shocker last fall.
The line: Iowa by 16
Gould's pick: Iowa, 38-17

No. 11 Oklahoma at No. 10 Kansas State
Time: 2:30 p.m., ESPN???
The records: Oklahoma 6-1, 3-1 Big 12; Kansas State 7-0, 4-0
The story line: The Sooners, shocked by Texas Tech, try to shake off their national-championship disappointment against unbeaten Kansas State, which will find out how far it has come under ageless Bill Snyder.
The line: Oklahoma by 13-1/2
Gould's pick: Oklahoma, 38-28

Baylor at No. 3 Oklahoma State
Time: 2:30 p.m., TV??
The records: Baylor 4-2, 1-2 Big 12; Oklahoma State 7-0, 4-0
The story line: Like Texas Tech at Oklahoma last week, Baylor is a big underdog with a potent offense. Will similar Bedlam occur in Stillwater this week?
The line: Oklahoma State by 14
Gould's pick: Oklahoma State, 41-24

No. 4 Stanford  at USC
Time: 7 p.m., TV??
The records: Stanford 7-0, 5-0 Pac-12; USC 6-1, 3-1
The story line: Coming off big win at Notre Dame, post-season-barred Trojans again try to play spoiler for soaring Stanford and Heisman hopeful Andrew Luck.
The line: Stanford by 8
Gould's pick: Stanford, 41-24
In case you missed them in the Friday Sun-Times, my college picks for the weekend. . . 

No. 6 Clemson at Georgia Tech
Time: 7 p.m., TV??
The records: Clemson 8-0, 5-0 ACC; Georgia Tech 6-2, 3-2
The story line: Can Clemson really play in the BCS title game? It has to keep winning to find out. Tigers can't afford to look ahead to next week's Wake Forest showdown, though.
The line: Clemson by 4-1/2
Gould's pick: Clemson, 35-24


No. 12 Wisconsin at Ohio State
Time: 7 p.m., ESPN
The records: Wisconsin 6-1, 2-1 Big Ten; Ohio State 4-3, 1-2
The story line: How will Badgers react a week after Hail Mary at Michigan State? Rested, reinforced Ohio State will be ready.
The line: Wisconsin by 7-1/2
Gould's pick: Ohio State, 27-23

Illinois was picked sixth in a poll of 24 Big Ten writers, two from each school, released Wednesdayl. The speak-no-evil Big Ten will only announce the league's top three teams when athletes and coaches gather in Chicago Thursday for Big Ten basketball media day.
Ohio State, a popular Final Four pick, received all 24 first-place votes.
Beyond the Buckeyes, Michigan, which finished strong last season, joins Wisconsin, Michigan State and Purdue, which have a set a high standard in recent years, in what's expected to be the upper tier.
Whether Illinois can crack that group, and make itself into an NCAA tournament team, will depend on developing a go-to core. With senior mainstays Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis gone, Bruce Weber is hoping for big production from junior guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul, and sophomore big man Meyers Leonard.

Team, total points (range of predictions)

 1. Ohio State, 288 (1)
 2. Wisconsin, 248 (2-5)
 3. Michigan, 233 (2-6)
 4. Michigan State, 219 (2-6)
 5. Purdue, 194 (2-9)
 6. Illinois, 150 (4-9)
 7. Minnesota, 142 (3-10)
 8. Northwestern, 115 (6-11)
 9. Indiana, 111 (5-12)
10. Iowa, 86 (6-12)
11. Nebraska, 60 (8-11)
12. Penn State, 26 (11-12)

Sometimes it feels like piling on, but nobody else asked, so I had to ask Ron Zook at his Tuesday press conference about an offense that has been shut out in the first three quarters of its 17-7 loss to Ohio State and 21-14 loss to Purdue.
How does a team  that put up 79 points in its first two Big Ten games (vs. Northwestern and Indiana) manage only 21 fourth-quarter points in its next two games.
``I don't know that I can explain it,'' Zook said Tuesday. ``If I had the answer for that, we wouldn't be shut out. Two things, defenses are playing pretty well, and we're missing on some things. It's not one thing, it's a play here, a play there--a consistency thing we have to get back together.''
After pausing, Zook continued with this:
``You just don't get bad. You just don't become a bad coach. It just doesn't happen. You work through those things. You make the tweaks you need to make and keep going.''
Gloomy as it looks for the Illini, who have lost two ugly ones since opening 6-0, a win at Penn State Saturday would put them back on track for a pretty solid season.
Unlikely as that may seem to some Illini skeptics, Penn State has issues offensively. And the Illini pulled off a 33-13 upset in Happy Valley a year ago.
One big difference this time: It's hard to imagine Penn State's defense being as banged up as it was in that game. 
If the Illini can make good on Zook's promise ``to go out and play loose,'' which has been a problem the last two weeks, they'll give themselves a chance to find out what they can do.
With the pressure mounting, though, that'll be easier said than done.

My picks for Saturday's games. . . 

No. 23 Illinois at Purdue

Time: 11 a.m., ESPN2, 560-AM.

The records: Illinois 6-1, 2-1 Big Ten; Purdue 3-3, 1-1.

The story line: After a subpar performance against Ohio State, Illinois needs to get back on the horse to avoid a serious slump. Boilers must win to keep their bowl hopes in reach.

The line: Illinois by 6.

Spotlight game

Herb Gould's pick: Illinois 31-21.

No. 4 Wisconsin at No. 15 Michigan State, 7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN.

Records: Wisconsin 6-0, 2-0 Big Ten; Michigan State 5-1, 2-0.
The line: Wisconsin by 7.. Gould's pick: Wisconsin 34-24.

Other Noteworthy games

Indiana at Iowa

Time: 11 a.m., ESPN2.

The records: Indiana 1-6, 0-3 
Big Ten; Iowa 4-2, 1-1.

The story line: No, IU coach Kevin Wilson (above) won't keep going west, and back to Oklahoma. But Hoosiers face another dreary trip.

The line: Iowa by 23.

Gould's pick: Iowa 38-10.

No. 13 Nebraska at Minnesota

Time: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 7.

The records: Nebraska 5-1, 1-1 Big Ten; Minnesota 1-5, 0-2.

The story line: Cornhuskers' first meeting with Gophers since 1990 will be a tuneup for next week's Michigan State-Nebraska M&N division showdown.

The line: Nebraska by 25.

Gould's pick: Nebraska 51-14.

No. 19 Auburn 
at No. 1 LSU

Time: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 2.

The records: Auburn 5-2, 3-1 SEC; LSU 7-0, 4-0.

The story line: Plains Tigers have been surprisingly good. But Bayou Tigers, No. 1 in the initial BCS standings, are at home -- and that other team from Alabama seems to be the only one in their weight class.

The line: LSU by 22.

Gould's pick: LSU 42-17.

No. 6 Oklahoma St. at Missouri

Time: 11:00 a.m., FX.

The records: Oklahoma State 6-0, 3-0 Big 12; Missouri 3-3, 1-2.

The story line: With three competitive road losses, Mizzou may be more dangerous than some think. Tigers, apparently inching closer to joining SEC, certainly have nothing to lose.

The line: Oklahoma State by 7.

Gould's pick: Oklahoma State 34-31.

No. 22 Washington at No. 7 Stanford

Time: 7 p.m.,

The records: Washington 5-1, 3-0 Pac-12; Stanford 6-0, 4-0.

The story line: If Huskies want to make a statement and take a big step to the Pac-12 title game, this is their chance. High-scoring Cardinal, led by quarterback Andrew Luck (below) has been drilling opponents.

The line: Stanford by 20.

Gould's pick: Stanford 44-28.



Apologies for giving an incorrect figure for Illinois' home attendance, which is 48,365 a game. Mistakes like that put a knot in my stomach.
It's especially unfortunate because it detracts from the discussion about why Illini fans seem circumspect in their support of this football team. Regardless of numbers, that discussion is going on among Illini media and fans--and, I would expect, within the athletic department.
I don't know what to make of it.
On one hand, it seems like fans ought to rally around coach Ron Zook for this success. I'd expect those who attribute the winning to the coaching staff to realize that things like this happen--that head coaches who compensate for their deficiencies by hiring assistants who fill in the gaps.
I also believe the people who would like to anoint offensive coordinator Paul Petrino don't necessarily see the whole picture. There are a lot of things involved in being a head coach. Paul certainly is positioning himself well, and I expect he'll be very successful. But the clamor reminds me of fans who want to see the backup quarterback, the one who hasn't played. They see only the upside.
On the other hand, popularity is not solely a product of winning. And Zook's game-day gaffes have really put off some Illini fans.
Where is this headed? Where should it be headed? Those questions are difficult to answer at this point.
That's the issue I wanted to raise.
Thanks for reading.

Looks like my picks got squeezed out of the print edition this week.
Sorry for posting so late, but here they are. . . 

Purdue at Penn State
Time: 11 a.m., BTN
The  records: Purdue 3-2, 1-0 Big Ten; Penn State 5-1, 2-0
The story line: Boilermakers, 1-5 at Penn State since Nittany Lions joined Big Ten, face rough road vs. offense-challenged Penn State, which is grinding out wins.
The line: Penn State by 12
Gould's pick: Penn State, 24-7

Indiana at No. 4 Wisconsin
Time: 11 a.m., ESPN2
The records: Indiana 1-5, 0-2 Big Ten; Wisconsin 5-0, 1-0
The story line: Indiana, an 83-20 loser at Camp Randall last year, should cut the margin this year. But the rested Badgers will send the league's best offense against a struggling defense.
The line: Wisconsin by 40
Gould's pick: Wisconsin, 56-10

No. 11 Michigan at No. 23 Michigan State
Time: 11 a.m., ESPN
The records: Michigan 6-0, 2-0 Big Ten; Michigan State 4-1, 1-0
The story line: If Brady Hoke can take back the state, it'll be another big step. But this also is a big chance for Spartans, who have a lot of pieces in place.
The line: Michigan State by 2-1/2
Gould's pick: Michigan State, 35-30

Florida at No. 24 Auburn
Time: 6 p.m., ESPN
The records: Florida 4-2, 2-2 SEC; Auburn 4-2, 2-1
The story line: After being stomped by arguably the nation's two best teams, Alabama and LSU, it doesn't lighten up all that much for Florida. And retooling Auburn is better than expected.
The line: Florida by 2
Gould's pick: Auburn, 27-23

No. 6 Oklahoma State at No. 22 Texas
Time: 2:30 p.m., ESPN???
The records: Oklahoma State 5-0, 2-0 Big 12; Texas 4-1, 1-1 
The story line: Thorny Cowboys try to hand Longhorns, who were whipped 55-17 by Oklahoma, their second straight loss. Remember, no Big 12 title game means leagues games like this mean a lot.
The line: Oklahoma State by 7-1/2
Gould's pick: Oklahoma State, 38-24

No. 20 Baylor at No. 21 Texas A&M
Time: 11 a.m., FX??
The records: Baylor 4-1, 1-1 Big 12; Texas A&M 3-2, 1-1
The story line: After a tumultuous few weeks, Aggies need to hunker down vs. Baylor--or risk getting burned by explosive Bears QB Robert Griffin III.
The line: Texas A&M by 9
Gould's pick: Texas A&M, 38-34

No. 18 Arizona State at No. 9 Oregon
Time: 9:15 p.m., ESPN
The records: ASU 5-1, 3-0 Pac-12; Oregon 4-1, 2-0
The story line: An upset here would be huge for Arizona State, which doesn't play Stanford in the regular season. Ducks, a little under the radar after LSU loss, again might be the class of the Pac-12.
The line: Oregon by 16
Gould's pick: Oregon, 48-24

No. 7 Stanford at Washington State
Time: 6:30 p.m., Versus??
The records: Stanford 5-0, 3-0 Pac-12; Washington State 3-2, 1-1
The story line: No reason to expect a surprise, but it is a chance to see Heisman candidate Andrew Luck in action--at a decent hour.
The line: Stanford by 20
Gould's pick: Stanford, 42-17


Ohio State at No. 16 Illinois
Time: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 7
The records: Ohio State 3-3, 0-2 Big Ten; Illinois 6-0, 2-0 
The story line: 
The line: Illinois by 4
Herb Gould's pick: Illinois, 38-35


Illinois, which led the Big Ten in rushing with 246.1 yards a game last season, has dipped to fifth in the league this fall (209.8) after managing just 82 yards last week against Northwestern last week.
Ordinarily, this is a cause for alarm, and Illini coach Ron Zook got back to some run-game fundamentals in practice this week.
But there are at least two reasons why it's not as troubling as it could be.
* Donovonn Young.
Young, a true freshman from Katy, Tex., has all the tools to follow in the footsteps of Pierrre Thomas, Rashard Mendenhall and Mikel Leshoure, three recent Illini rushers who are now drawing NFL paychecks.
Zook and his staff don't want to rush Young, or lose senior Jason Ford, although Ford's late fumble forced Illinois to come up with a game-saving touchdown in the final seconds of its 38-35 victory over NU.
But the 19th-ranked Illini's trip to Indiana Saturday shapes up as a good opportunity to give Young more work.
* A balanced offense.
When Northwestern stacked the box against the run. Nathan Scheelhaase passed for a career-high 391 yards, 268 of them to A.J. Jenkins, who had the third most productive day in a Big Ten game since the league went into business in 1896.
If people didn't know the Illini could pass, ``They do now,'' said sophomore receiver Spencer Harris, who caught six balls for 63 yards when NU was pre-occupied with Jenkins, who leads the Big Ten in receiving yards (126.6) and catches (8) per game.
A passing attack that ranked 10th in the Big Ten last year is fifth this season. That has translated into an offense that ranks third in the league, up one notch from last season, despite having its running game shut down last week.
* A third reason not to fret: The Illini are 5-0, which is, after all, the most important stat.
They have won their last three games by nine points. That raises some questions, but grinding out close wins also is a sign of poise and toughness.
Illinois' first 5-0 start in 60 years is exciting. It's also humbling.
``That's amazing,'' defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. ``We feel very fortunate. We have a lot of improvement to do. We know we have to take advantage of this opportunity. Because they don't come around often.''

Illinois, which finished 10th in Big Ten passing last season, may not be passing fancy to outsiders. But it has quietly shown versatility on offense while passing every test so far. (Big Ten rank in parentheses)
                        LAST YEAR       LAST WEEK       THIS WEEK
SCORING         32.5 (4th)      32.2 (6th)      33.4 (5th)
RUSHING YDS     246.1 (1st)     241.8 (5th)     209.8 (5th)
PASSING YDS     151 (10th)      182 (7th)       223.8 (5th)
TOTAL OFFENSE   397.1 (4th)     423.8 (4th)     433.6 (3rd)


My college football picks for Saturday, Oct. 8, were bumped out of the print edition by the White Sox bizarre hiring of Robin Ventura, so I'm posting them here on my Illini blog.
I know many of you have been making some good coin by taking my picks and going the other way, so I don't want to deprive you. I will warn you that I was 6-4 last week. I'll try to do worse this week.
Also, for those of you who got here without seeing my preview of Ohio State-Nebraska, here's the link:
Sadly, the Buckeyes' scandal, the worst thing to hit the Big Ten since Legends and Leaders, has taken the edge off of what might have been a big game. 

No. 19 Illinois at Indiana
Time: 1:30 p.m., BTN
The records: Illinois 5-0, 1-0 Big Ten; Indiana 1-4, 0-1
The story line: Coming off big passing day in comeback 38-35 win vs. NU, Illini make first road trip to Indiana, which played Penn State tough in 16-10 loss last week.
The line: Illinois by 14-1/2
Herb Gould's pick: Illinois, 31-13


Iowa at Penn State
Time: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 7??
The  records: Iowa 3-1, 0-0 Big Ten; Penn State 4-1, 1-0
The story line: Penn State, still befuddled on offense, tries to defend home field vs. Hawkeyes, who are coming off a bye. Iowa has won eight of last 10 meetings.
The line: Penn State by 4
Gould's pick: Iowa, 20-17

Minnesota at at Purdue
Time: 11 a.m., ESPN
The records: Minnesota 1-4, 0-1 Big Ten; Purdue 2-2, 0-0
The story line: Struggling Boilers' Big Ten opener might be their best chance for a conference win. That's also true for Gophers, drilled 58-0 at Michigan last week.
The line: Purdue by 10-1/2
Gould's pick: Purdue, 31-17

No. 17 Florida at No. 1 LSU
Time: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 2
The records: Florida 4-1, 2-1 SEC; LSU 5-0, 2-0
The story line: Talk about Death Valley. True freshman Florida QB Jeff Driskel steps in for injured John Brantley. The unbeaten Tigers won't be sympathetic. 
The line: LSU by 13-1/2 
Gould's pick: LSU, 30-10

No. 15 Auburn at No. 10 Arkansas
Time: 6 p.m., ESPN
The records: Auburn 4-1, 2-0 SEC; Arkansas 4-1, 0-1
The story line: Coming off a big comeback win vs. Texas A&M, Arkansas tries to keep it going vs. intriguing Auburn, which won at upset at South Carolina last week.
The line: Arkansas by 10
Gould's pick: Arkansas, 38-21

No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 Texas, at Dallas
Time: 11 a.m., Ch. 7??
The records: Oklahoma 4-0, 1-0 Big 12; Texas 4-0, 1-0 
The story line: If Texas really is back, this Red Rivalry is the Longhorns' chance to prove it. From Big Ten perspective, a Sooner defeat would enhance Wisconsin's BCS title-game chances.
The line: Oklahoma by 10
Gould's pick: Oklahoma, 30-17

Missouri at No. 20 Kansas State 
Time: 2:30 p.m., TV?? 
The records: Missouri 2-2, 0-1 Big 12; Kansas State 4-0, 1-0
The story line: After rough rides at Arizona State and Oklahoma, Missouri faces another tough road trip to unbeaten Kansas State, which has handled Baylor and Miami the last two weeks.
The line: Missouri by 3
Gould's pick: Kansas State, 30-28

No. 22 Arizona State at Utah
Time: 2:30 p.m., TV??
The records: ASU 4-1, 2-0 Pac-12; Utah 2-2, 0-2
The story line: Is it time for the Utes to notch their first Pac-12 conference win? Maybe not, if QB Jordan Wynn (shoulder) is hurting. Sun Devils can seize Pac-12 South by the throat with a win.
The line: ASU by 3
Gould's pick: ASU, 34-21


Ohio State at No. 14 Nebraska
Time: 7 p.m., Ch. 7
The records: Ohio State 3-2, 0-1 Big Ten; Nebraska 4-1, 0-1
The line: Nebraska by 10
Gould's pick: Nebraska, 31-10

Linebacker Jonathan Brown was suspended Monday by coach Ron Zook for one game for kneeing Northwestern lineman Patrick Ward in the groin. He'll sit out Illinois' trip to Indiana Saturday.
The Big Ten announced its support of the Brown suspension. In effect, the league was saying it won't add more penalties. The BTN capture of the incident can  be found on Youtube. . .
``He's a good person,'' Zook said of Brown, who's tied for second in Illini tackles and sixth in the Big Ten in tackles for loss, ``but he got caught up in the moment, made a serious mistake and must deal with the consequences."
Brown apologized to his family, teammates, Illinois fans and NU, saying, ``What I did was out of character and won't happen again."
Brown, a sophomore from Memphis who was named Big Ten defensive player of the week on Sept. 19, is expected to be replaced by Houston Bates, who was named the league's freshman of the week on Sept. 5.
* Illini WR AJ Jenkins shared BT player-of-the-week honors Monday with Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson. Jenkins' 268 receiving yards were the all-time third most in a Big Ten game.
* Illinois' home game vs. Ohio State will begin at 2:30 pm CDT and be televised by Ch. 7 in Chicago.

Clearly very disappointed with Jonathan Brown, Ron Zook would not rule out sitting the sophomore linebacker at Indiana Saturday.
``I'm gonna deal with it,'' Zook said tersely Sunday, a day after Brown was caught on television kneeing Northwestern lineman Patrick Ward in the groin. Not only were two officials, who called a personal foul for unsportsmanlike conduct, watching. The incident has been preserved on Youtube.
```I can guarantee you will never see that again,'' Zook said. `He knows better than that. Our team knows better than that.
Although Zook wouldn't go into details, it's possible Brown won't start, but will play at IU.
Brown is sixth in the Big Ten in tackles for loss. Teammates Michael Buchanan (t-3rd) and Whitney Mercilus (5th) also are in the top six for Illinois' gritty defense, which is second in the Big Ten agains the run (79 yards a game) and tied for second with six interceptions.
Mercilus (five sacks) and Buchanan (four) are the Big Ten's top two in sacks. And cornerback Terry Hawthorne is tied for second in passes defended, with five passes broken up and one interception.

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