If anything showcases EXACTLY what interim head coach Bill Cubit – and son/OC Ryan Cubit – bring to the table, the second half of this one does. After trading punches with the Gophers the entire first half, ultimately falling behind 21-13, the Illini come out in the second half and establish the run in a brilliant, momentum-turning, statement-making, 13-play, 75-yard drive in which RBs Josh Ferguson and Kendrick Foster combined for 68 yards on 11 carries. That pulled the visitors within one, 21-20, and sent a message throughout the stadium in Minneapolis that Illinois was about to take over. Only the Cubits never got the message. Instead, they went back to throwing the ball all over the lot, you know, in that high-risk/low-reward 3-yard vein. After getting the ball right back, instead of ramming the ball down the Gophers’ throats, Illinois went out meekly – ending a drive with an incomplete pass on third-and-three. Drive after that, it was three passes and out, courtesy of an interception, and then they kinda grasped again for a moment that the running game was working and split the difference on a 10-play deal that yielded a FG, and the team’s final points. Next time they had the ball, right back to the silliness. Down just 24-23, the Illini passed on first down, then, after Ferguson ripped off a 12-yard run, they dropped back to pass the next six plays before having to punt. Sorry, that’s just having no feel – absolutely NO FEEL – for the game and what’s going on, especially with your own team. Unacceptable. Always.
2. Epitome of futility
Just a good thing the “D” is right there to back up the offense, right? Ugh. Two plays after that punt, freshman RB Shannon Brooks ripped off the clincher, a 75-yard gallop into the end zone that put the Gophers up nine with 1:25 to go. The real sad thing is, standout FS Clayton Fejedelem missed a tackle on the play and LB T.J. Neal, as too often is the case, was blocked right out of the hole he was supposed to be filling. Frankly, the overall effort when you break down the numbers was decent. The Illini held Minnesota to 343 yards, but they just couldn’t make the crucial plays when they had to be made and only forced one turnover as the team lost that battle 3-1. The whole reason Illinois beat the Gophers last season was making crucial plays at the right time and forcing turnovers, and what this loss proved is the Illini still are not good enough to beat Minnesota without those breaks. Neal’s LB buddy, Mason Monheim, had a team-high 12 tackles … and it was like none of them mattered. How is that possible? You want to see futility personified? Consider this: Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner attempted 25 passes in which 15 completions yielded just 88 yards … and the Gophers won.
3. Waste of a real talent and individual career
Injuries and circumstance certainly play a huge factor in how a football player’s college days turn out, and Ferguson, a senior blessed with wonderful, quick-twitch talent, is no different. First and foremost, he has not been the most durable of athletes, having missed three full games and most of a fourth just this season due to a shoulder issue, and other Illini have had their moments during the course of his time in Orange & Blue. But, not for nothing, it’s actually sad to see his career coming to a close, recognizing the tools and attitude he brought to the table, as well as the production when he got the ball, and to think just how underutilized he has been – which is amazing when you consider he’ll leave school with more than 2,500 yards rushing and 1,400 receiving. If you look at his career and what he’s done when given the opportunity, Ferguson clearly is one of the best to ever don an Illini uniform. But you almost have to wonder if he’ll actually be recognized that way … and that’s sad.
4. It's time to move on ...
After starting the season 4-1 under Cubit’s direction, hopes were running high among many that the Illini finally had found their guy. Folksy, likable, experienced, vested in the Illini community and seemingly able to relate better across the board with his players much better than his fired predecessor, Cubit struck a positive cord in many ways, even with his detractors, which would include yours truly in regard to him remaining as head coach. But reality has sunk in over the last couple months, and it’s gotten to the point where you almost wonder if the Illini would have fared better had Tim Beckman not been axed a week before the season opener. In general, Cubit’s Illini look more legit and less haphazard than Beckman’s Illini typically looked. But the guy is using Beckman’s players, and if nothing else, it’s starting to become clear that “Becks” wasn’t exactly the worst guy at selling the Illini program. Push comes to shove, revert back to No. 1 on this list as to why Cubit has to go – because stuff like that is never, EVER going to change with him. He has always coached that way. No vibe, no feel, no clue – just remain true to an offensive philosophy that so heavily relies on 1-yard sideline patterns on third-and-three that require 25-yard passes to gain minimal or negative yardage … and no first down. Sorry, am out. Time to move on. Let’s go …
5. Enough with the Storm Trooper silliness
Speaking of out, gimme a break on those cheesy, weanie all-white getups – especially when you got some great attire getting stuffed in with the cobwebs that should be housing what the Illini wore on Saturday. Sorry, geek-o-maniacs out there who keep trying to morph their love of Star Wars with sports, but there is nothing “tough” or “cool” or what have you with wearing all-white on the football field. It makes a team look incredibly SOFT. You know, like the Swiss cheese the Illini appeared to be on that fateful run by Brooks. How my girlfriend gets this, and nation of “guys” have it seem to escape their “guy-ness” blows me away. Yo, man up – with your fashion sense. Illini, first, last, always have two GREAT road uni options: orange-white-orange and blue-white-blue. They’d look most bad-ass in either of those on the road. If they wanna switch up, maybe a little mix and match, OK. Go white-white-orange or blue-white-orange or white-white-blue or orange-white-blue, that’s fine. But no more all-white. That’s like hiring another coach from the Mid-American Conference. Stop wussing yourselves, Illini. When you’re losing style points to a team decked out in what looked like the remains of the previous night’s frat party, you got problems – and need to change.
- Jack Kerwin | email@example.com