Friday, September 18, 2009

Because the Big Ten needed fewer good players

Illinois was a bizarre statistical outlier last year, finishing with basically better numbers across the board than in 2007 -- when they finished 9-3 -- only to end up with a 5-7 record. With most of the offense returning, a bounce-back year seemed likely ... until a supposedly rebuilding Missouri team took the Illini to the woodshed in the season opener.

And things aren't getting any better:
Illinois starting middle linebacker Martez Wilson will miss the remainder of the season with a neck injury, leaving an already unsteady defense with a major hole to fill.
Wilson was a five-star recruit as a defensive end but was moved to middle linebacker this year to replace J Leman (who had the greatest school photo in the history of photos), with the idea being that playing linebacker would allow his athleticism to have more of an impact on the defense as a whole. If you watched Missouri and Eastern Illinois put up a combined 673 passing yards against the Illinois defense the last two weeks, you can see what Ron Zook was thinking: He wanted his best athlete in position to make as many plays as possible, which hypothetically would help account for some severe deficiencies.

It's hard to say whether Wilson's presence in the middle would have made much of a difference over the course of the season, but I think we can safely say that what was already a bad defense won't be any better without him.

And with the next three games against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State, the time is now for Juice Williams, Arrelious Benn and the rest of the offense to step up and keep this season from spiraling out of control. Two games into the season might seem a little early for doom and gloom, but a possible 1-4 start -- with Michigan and Cincinnati still on the late-season horizon -- probably wasn't what Ron Zook had in mind a month ago.

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