Saturday, November 10, 2007


I'll be the first to admit that I had my doubts about Ron Zook when he was hired to coach the Illini three years ago.

Well, I for one am ready to eat those words.

The rap on the man has always been "great recruiter, zero as a game coach." The first part of that equation has held true (much to the consternation of "the great" Charlie Weis), but yesterday laid the second part to a lie.

Illinois 28, #1 Ohio State 21.

Read it and weep, Brutus. Midguidedly blame it on the refs if you want, but this was an old-fashioned smashmouth beating, delivered by a team that was better prepared and, yes, better coached than yours.

All kinds of key stats, but here are just a few:
  • Zero Illinois turovers;
  • One Illinois penalty;
  • 4th quarter time of possession: Illinois 13:46, Ohio State 1:14;
  • Illinois 28, Former #1 Ohio State 21.
The game was won very simply. Nobody in the white unis was asked to do anything they weren't capable of doing. And in the final blood-draining drive, all that was asked was to block somebody and let Juice hang on to the ball. Four times in that drive Juice ran a keeper to get a first down. 4th & 1 inch, 3rd & 7, 3rd & 10, 3rd & 2. Each time the play call was right out of the 1912 smashmouth football playbook, and every time it worked.

The reason? How about Illinois' players were just plain tougher than the vaunted Buckeye defense. Just plain tougher.

One of the biggest question marks going into a season full of question marks was the play of the O-line. Were they up to Big 10 standards? Yesterday answered that and how. The offensive line won the game by winning the line of scrimmage over and over and over again in the 4th quarter.

And that's it.

It was football at its most primitive, visceral level. The Illini were up to the task and the Buckeyes weren't.

I can't count the number of times the Illini have been on the receiving end of that 8 1/2 minute game-ending drive in the dark to close-out a tough home loss. To be on the dispensing end, to mete out that tough home loss to 100,000+ Buckheads? Nirvana.

Now, barring a letdown vs. Willy next weekend (always a possibility), it should be on to a New Year's Day bowl game. And who would have thought that three months ago?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Shortest. Honeymoon. Ever.

It's not Michigan-Appalachian State.

It just might be worse.

Gardner-Webb 84, Kentucky 68.

I've been following Kentucky basketball for a lot of years, and this is without question the worst loss the Cats have ever taken. Realistically, it has to be the worst they could take. How do you top a home loss by 16 to a team that has to be in the bottom 40 in any ranking of the 340 D-1 teams?

The only reason it might not be worse than Appy State is because it's basketball, not football. Appy State effectively ruined Michigan's chances to win a national championship in the first week of the season. This loss technically can't do that to UK, but this will take them out of any discussion about winning anything for a very long time.

In terms of national embarrassment, this has to be even worse. Although Appy State is D-2, they were already acknowledged as a powerhouse at that division. Not so for Gardner-Webb.

Also, Appy State at least needed some late game heroics to pull out a tight upset. This one was effectively over in the first 5 minutes. It was 11-0 before UK hit the board, and they never threatened the rest of the way.

Utterly embarrassing and humiliating in every way.

We'll see how the team and coaches react, but obviously the honeymoon is over for Billy Clyde.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Annnnd...We're Off!

In what must surely be the earliest start that I can ever remember, the first edition of Billy Gillispie's Wildcats took the floor last night for a game that counts.

Granted, the opponent (Central Arkansas) was only marginally more impressive than last Saturday's exhibition foe (Seattle), but the 67-40 victory counts towards the season total nevertheless.

Lots of head-scratchers (a double-double from walk-on Mark Coury in 36 minutes on the court, 14 productive minutes from another walk-on, Kerry Benson, 20 minutes in about 16 minutes of court time from Joe Crawford), but some idea of the defense that's likely going to carry this team all year (20% shooting for the Scotties, and barely a point every other possession).

Another win tonight, this time over Gardner-Webb, will propel the Cats to the Garden next week and a date with UConn or Memphis or Oklahoma.

In Rainbows

Having lived with In Rainbows for almost a month now, I can tell you one thing that might not be exactly earth-shattering.

Radiohead knows what they're doing when the make a record.

You could wish they did it a little more often -- it's been 3 years since Hail To The Thief -- but in one way or another they always seem to make it worth the wait.

Maybe it's just a hangover from the fabulous final episode of Mad Men, but the dominant emotion of this record seems to be the subject of Don Draper's emotional Kodak pitch: nostalgia.

Not overtly, of course, but this record is deeply suffused with a knowledge of and a feeling for the past 45 years of pop music, all filtered through a solid grounding in their own canon. They're not going to directly ape anyone else, but the Revolver-era Beatles vibe in the riff on "Bodysnatchers," or the Lamb Lies Down-era Genesis vibe on "Weird Fishes" are but a couple of examples of how this record serves to fuse past and present. The closest recent analogy is Beck's Sea Change, which seamlessly updated an early-70s feel to the 21st century.

Pulling it all together, of course, is Thom Yorke's voice, one of the most distinctive, divisive and, yes, beautiful instruments in music today. Much like Neil Young's voice divided the faithful from the unwashed in the '70s, Yorke's falsetto splits today's scene like Heston's staff.

Worth £4? To economists, maybe not. To me, most definitely.