Looks Like University Of Illinois – Amani Jones

This is that yearly LLUOI post where I explain why I started doing the LLUOI thing in the first place. And then, at the end, maybe, I’ll talk about Amani Jones. Oh who am I kidding I love this recruit no way I don’t gush about him at the end. [Read more…]

Pick My Post: Big Ten Hate

I do this thing where I tweet “pick my post” and then people tweet me a bunch of topics to write about and then I write about one of them in 45 minutes.  This is now that post which I was just talking about right now.  I’m Perd Hapley.  [Read more…]

Big Year

Figured I’d write the Thorne LLUOUI post today. Of course, I owe Steve an email for our spring game back-and-forth. And Tyler and I agreed to do our basketball season autopsy after spring ball. Amani Jones LLUOI, spring football mailbag, basketball recruiting – lots to write about. But all of it makes me think one single thing: this is a really big year. [Read more…]

Spring Game Interviews

A few quick thoughts, then some interviews, then I’m going to get some food with the Braintrust, then I’ll drive home thinking about the game, THEN I’ll write the postgame write-up, and then I’ll try to sneak into bed without waking my wife but accidentally drop my keys on the hardwood and jolt her awake.  Just in case you were curious about my Saturday night. [Read more…]

SHG Scrimmage – Post-Practice Inteviews

Here’s three interviews from after the scrimmage.  I talked to James Crawford about running with the first string at Star, Jaylen Dunlap about getting back on the field after missing last year due to injuries, and Tight Ends/Special Teams coach Alex Golesh about handing off the Recruiting Coordinator duties to Ryan Cubit.   [Read more…]

What I Want To Learn (Part II)

I’m still inconsolable. Remember when Brandon Lloyd broke his leg in the summer of 2000 and we were all “this team can still be successful without our superstar sophomore receiver” and then we weren’t successful without our superstar sophomore receiver?  This is that again.  So I’m headed to Springfield looking for a pick-me-up. [Read more…]

ACL-U

Sports fans, both college and pro, pretty much live their days in fear of one term: torn ACL. Broken wrist, high ankle sprain, various hyperextensions – these are all “OK, so how many weeks is he out?” injuries.  The torn ACL screams “make other plans”.  Hear the name of your best player and “torn ACL”? Devastation. 

In baseball it’s probably the words “Tommy John Surgery” that fans fear the most, given how long it takes to rehab that injury.  That pitcher you were counting on this season?  Yeah, you can’t count on him again for 12 to 18 months.    

It’s such a fragile thing.  You look at a picture of Chris Sale throwing a baseball and are convinced that every pitcher is right on the edge of a ligament tear on every pitch.  Or you watch Robbie Hummel tear his ACL on a seemingly normal drive into the lane and wonder how every basketball player doesn’t tear an ACL on every cut in the lane.  I think it’s a constant sports fear – one wrong move and our season is over.  

And Illinois fans, for some reason, have to hear these words a lot.  Senior point guard Tracy Abrams?  Yeah, torn ACL, out for the year.  Our best offensive lineman Teddy Karras?  Torn ACL – out until 2015.  First offensive lineman off the bench Chris O’Connor?  Next year’s starting tight end Tyler White?  Torn ACL torn ACL.  

And now “freshman All American, only returning all-conference player, and pretty much the most irreplaceable player on the roster Mikey Dudek”?  Torn ACL.  

I’m going to be honest – it’s really difficult to write anything right now.  I want to evaluate what this means and how it impacts the team this fall but I know I’ll underestimate it (just like we all underestimated the impact of losing Tracy before the basketball season).  I think most fans skip right to the “bargaining” stage of grief and turn to things like “well, you know, wide receiver IS the deepest position on the team…” to lessen the blow.  But the fact remains that this team, which isn’t built to run the ball, at least not in a Wisconsin sense, will only be successful if the passing game is at or near the top of the Big Ten.  And that passing game just lost its best player.  

Oh, what the heck, let’s bargain.  We can overcome this injury if…

1) Another slot receiver steps forward.  

It’s not just losing your best receiver.  It’s losing your best inside guy.  Yes, we’re deep at the position, but most everyone else is an outside guy.  We’re not deep at all in the slot.  All of those plays we ran for Dude K last year, some WR screens, even some reverses – we don’t really have another guy who fits that role.  

It would probably require someone like walkon Zach Grant to take a big step forward.  You’ve heard me talk about Grant before.  He was Wes Lunt’s top target at Rochester High School, didn’t have any offers, so he ended up at St. Ambrose, an NAIA school in the Quad Cities.  After a solid performance there he transferred to Northern Illinois, but that was shortlived because his old high school buddy (Lunt) transferred to Illinois.  Grant followed him here, sat out a year due to transfer, and looked pretty good at times last summer in Rantoul.  He’s not Dude K (who is?), but he might provide what we need at the slot receiver spot.

2) We find another go-to offensive weapon

That’s what Dude K because as the season wore on last year: the one offensive weapon we could turn to.  It’s why he was voted second team All Big Ten as a freshman – his conference stats were off the charts.  

Losing your go-to is difficult to come back from.  Every offense needs someone who will get the yards on third and we-have-to-get-it.  In 2010 is was Mikel LeShoure.  In 2011 it was AJ Jenkins.  And in 2014 it was Mikey Dudek.  

The two candidates: Josh Ferguson and Malik Turner.  Ferguson is already a go-to guy, but given our run-game struggles (and the design of our offense), we needed a receiver to step up the way Dude K did.  Now, we need Ferguson to have an all-everything season.  As a running back, as a receiver – everything.

Turner is the other possibility.  I think he has, by far, the most pro potential on the roster.  Big, strong, fast, great hands – I was really excited about the chance for Turner to make a sophomore leap while Dudek pushed for first team All Big Ten.  Now, with Dudek down, we need Turner to make that leap even more.  He has to be ready game 1. 

3) Actually get Dudek back by the Nebraska game

I supposed I should acknowledge what the press release states – that we hope Dudek can return by October.  I usually dismiss those things right away –  best case scenario on injury recovery almost never hits – but I should at least acknowledge that a bionic kid like Dudek might be able to be back at 100% by October.  

It’s just that so many times these things don’t work out.  Teko Powell had foot surgery in December 2013, was held out last spring, and was supposed to be ready come fall.  He wasn’t.  Mike Svetina broke his foot and the press relsease said they hoped to have him back for Big Ten season – he missed the entire year.  I always just assume it will take longer than anyone thinks.  

Especially with a receiver who relies on sharp cuts.  We have to be concerned about him regaining his crazy, barely touch the field, waterbug-on-grass ways, right?  Is a 70% Dudek worth it in 2015 or might we rather have three more years of 100% Dudek? 

OK this is too depressing to continue. Which means I just moved past Stage 3 (bargaining) to Stage 4 (depression).  I mean, WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN TO US?  WHY CAN’T WE HAVE NICE THINGS??  We don’t ask for much, right?  Is it so bad to ask that our point guard and wide receiver DON’T tear their ACL’s the same schoolyear?  What did we do to deserve this??

I thought Purdue was supposed to be ACL-U.  Why us?  Why now?  When will the world let us win?

(Yeah, I’m probably never going to get to acceptance.)

I Guess I’m Not A Sports Fan

I think I finally figured out that I’m not really a sports fan. I’m wandering through the grocery store last night, comparing the phone pic of my wife’s conditioner with the conditioners on the shelf, thinking about how most red-blooded Americans are watching the NCAA title game while I’m shampoo shopping. Yeah, I don’t think I’m a sports fan – just an Illini fan. [Read more…]

Post-Practice Interviews

What am I, a magazine? I drive all the way to Chicago, watch the practice, interview players after, and then post those interviews MONDAY EVENING? You want hard-hitting sports journalism? Well here’s a few interviews about the practice that ended 68 hours ago! All of what Wes Lunt and FEJ had to say – still true! Maybe! [Read more…]

Baseball Braggin’ Rights Photo Gallery

Jonathan attended the baseball Braggin’ Rights game with me on Tuesday night and we decided one thing: pretty much all Illini games should be played in the St. Louis area.  Who needs a ballpark in Champaign when you have beautiful, scenic Sauget, Illinois?  Anyway, here’s some photos from the 4-3 Illini win.  [Read more…]