In honor of the battle for Illibuck, Aerys Sports’ Illini correspondent Zipporah Porton answers a few questions to give us her point of view on the match-up between Illinois and Ohio State. She also gives us a little insight into a few general Illini topics. Check out Z for Three for more on the Illini.
Nathan Scheelhaase has been impressive this year. Is he the next great one?
Scheelhaase has indeed been pretty great this year, with a streak that began with that Texas Bowl win over Baylor at the end of last season. I’m a huge fan, but to say he is the next great one might be a tad premature. He can run the ball like no other QB and he is the team’s second leading rusher. He is starting to show in the last couple of games that he can pass the ball as well. I also think he has matured this year and is able to stay calm under pressure, helping us to win those games that were close. I like his attitude and I like his hustle, but I’d like to see how he plays against tougher opponents before I can proclaim that he is the second coming.
I’d read earlier that Scheelhaase and AJ Jenkins have been the most prolific QB-WR combo in the Big Ten the past two seasons. Is the key to stopping Illinois to stop them or do you think others can easily pick up the slack if they get shut down?
Unfortunately, I’d say that if you can stop the two of them we might be in trouble. We have some other offensive weapons out there, but they haven’t been showing up in the same way. RB Jason Ford is a senior, but he’s not putting up senior numbers. Luckily, Troy Pollard, AKA Bucket of Hair, is picking up some of the slack on that front. However, we have such a strong defense that if you’re able to stifle Scheelhaase and Jenkins, you’re only half way there. In the Arizona State game Scheelhaase and Jenkins didn’t produce as much (really no one did on offense), but it was our defense that gave us the win.
How are Illini fans feeling about this team? For real or a fluke start?
Cautious, very cautious. We’re used to disappointment, so we’ll enjoy this ride as long as we can. Many naysayers think we haven’t played tough teams and we have a cakewalk schedule, but then again those people haven’t played ASU, or even WMU. I’m too nervous to say that we’re for real at this point, but the guys are slowly convincing me.
Is Illinois a basketball school or does football get a good amount of love as well?
If you take a look at the stands during the football game you’ll see that despite the great start to the season we’re still really a basketball school. Assembly Hall is sold out all season long, and the student section is never filled at Memorial Stadium. I hope to see a great turnout for tomorrow. If I can drive down from Chicago for the game then the students can roll out of bed and support their team at 2:30 in the afternoon.
Does anything at all concern you about this OSU team?
Really just the fact that it’s OSU. With all the problems the team is having and the win streak that the Illini are on, I should feel comfortable during the game but I just can’t. OSU has a reputation for success and they have a strong fan base. The players and fans also have an attitude that we’re OSU and we should win – and that’s not a bad thing. Illinois sometimes has difficulties with that swagger that is necessary to win. Also, I’m guessing OSU knows that they nothing to lose right now while we’re desperate to prove ourselves- still.
After losing Chief Illiniwek, does Illinois have a replacement mascot roaming the sidelines?
Nope. Nothing. During halftime you’ll still hear the band play the Three in One which is the song that Chief Illiniwek used to come out and dance to. For the alums (and townies) it’s a special moment, I’m not sure the students get what’s going on. Occasionally you’ll see a doof in the stands wearing some Chief garb, but no official mascot to date.
How did you feel about the NCAA basically telling you to give up the mascot or give up the post-season?
It’s frustrating when the Florida State Seminoles remain unscathed and schools like San Diego State can be the Aztecs using an image that’s not that different from the Chief. I mean the University can’t even produce new products with the Chief image anymore, but go straight to the FSU site and the picture of their mascot is front and center. People felt the Chief was hostile, and not being of Native American descent I cannot tell them they’re wrong. However, Chief Illiniwek wore genuine Native-American dress and performed an authentic dance. There was a lot of focus on getting things historically accurate, but people were still offended. Part of me thinks someone is always going to be offended by something, but what are you going to do? I just hate the inconsistencies in the process. Why aren’t other schools being punished? Also, I know they’re professional teams, but what about the Redskins and that ridiculous Chief Wahoo? How come no one is offended by those guys? It feels like someone had it in their craw to get rid of the Chief and now a lovely tradition is gone.
About the Zooker…are you surprised he still has the head coaching job?
Absolutely. The guy got lucky when he hired offensive coordinator Vic Koenning and defensive coordinator Paul Petrino. I support Zook and will stand by him, but it’s hard not to feel like the team belongs to those other two guys.
If Zook takes the Illini to a B1G championship, does he get an extension or is he still on a tight leash?
Extension for sure. With the bowl win and then a B1G championship (which is going to Wiscy by the way) he’s going to get some props. The question is whether or not Koenning or Petrino will jump ship for head coaching jobs next year.
Outside of OSU, what Conference game are you most looking forward to?
I would say Wisconsin, but I fear they’re going to crush us. I guess Michigan because it will be time to prove which lucky B1G team is for real.
Score prediction for Saturday?
I hate making predictions, I’m too nervous. 24-17, Illinois.
Final Record prediction?
9-3, and I’m not telling you who the three are, aside from Wisconsin of course…
It looks like there is a push to “Stripe the Stadium” Saturday. Will you go out of your way to wear the appropriate color or do you have some lucky shirt that must be worn, colors be damned?
Funny you mention that. I do have a lucky shirt that I’ve worn for every game and it’s orange, but I’m sitting in the stupid blue section. However, I want to support the school and the team and do what I’m told. My solution is to wear the orange shirt underneath. And, of course, I will be wearing my lucky Illini underwear.
I’m pretty sure I already know the answer to this, but favorite Illinois-OSU football memory?
Nov. 10, 2007! Illinois beats a top-ranked OSU in Columbus, but you knew that .
Thanks, Zipporah, for taking the time to answer these questions! Good luck to the Illini, especially so after this coming weekend. I’ll wish “ok luck” for tomorrow. Just good enough for it to be a good game with an outcome more favorable to me.