Illinois' Victory Over Penn State Brings Hope, Excitement

Jonah PulsCorrespondent IOctober 12, 2010

CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 02: Nathan Scheelhaase #2 of the Illinois Fighting Illini looks for a receiver against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Memorial Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Champaign, Illinois. Ohio State defeated Illinois 24-13. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Coming into this season, Illinois faithful already had their bags packed and were ready to call it quits even before the first game began.

The staff had a surplus of questions surrounding it, as six new coordinators were brought in during the offseason, including the two biggest acquisitions—Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning.

A month before the season, I asked an Illinois fan what he thought his favorite part of the season would be.

He thought about it for a brief moment, and responded, "To be honest, it is likely my favorite part will be the end of the season."

Looking through predictions and analysis before the season began, no one gave Illinois a chance to be atop the Big Ten, or even to make a bowl game, and it seemed as if the firing of Ron Zook was almost imminent.

Who wouldn't expect that with a team that had a 3-win season last year, a coach sitting on the proverbial "hot seat", and a whole new coaching staff taking over?

But Illinois came out with a mission. One simple, yet difficult mission: Make Illinois fans believe.

Make them believe in the new coaches; make them believe that they are not the same team as last year; make them believe that they will continue to fight, even with the odds stacked against them; and even make them believe that this team has a chance to make a bowl game, something Illinois fans have been longing for since the miracle 2007 season.

This mission started against Missouri on Saturday, September 4, 2010.

Illinois quickly made it clear to everyone that they were not going to go away easy, leading Missouri by 10 at half. They ultimately lost to the Tigers, 23-13, but proved that they changed.

Since that game, Illinois has beat Southern Illinois, beat Northern Illinois, lost to Ohio State, and beat Penn State.

So going into the sixth game of the season, Illinois stands at an appealing record of 3-2(1-1).

Baffled, bewildered, stunned, dumbfounded.

Those are all characteristics flying through my brain as I sit and ponder about how this team is doing the unimaginable.

Yes, to many a 3-2 record may not seem like much, but when you look deeper into it is unbelievable.

This team was expected to have one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten, or even in the entire country. Yet, the defense is ranked #20 in the nation in total defense, and is only giving up 17 point per game. All of this occurred after losing its starting safety, Supo Sanni, and one of its best defensive players, Terry Hawthorne.

But the offense has adapted very quickly, led by Mikel LeShoure who has 597 yards on the ground already. And Sheelhaase has continued to improve week-by-week, grabbing a Rivals Big Ten Player of the Week honor after his performance against Penn State this Saturday.

If you watched Scheelhaase's performance against Penn State, I guarantee you would not have guessed he was a freshman. He was smart, patient, and precise with the ball as he completed 11 of 15 passes for 151 yards and ran for 61 yards.

Illinois went into Happy Valley and won for the first time ever, controlling the Nittany Lions from beginning to end. The defense held Penn State to a total of 235 yards, and 80 of those yards came on a touchdown pass from Robert Bolden to Derek Moye. In comparison, Illinois compiled 437 yards and 23 first downs.

This could be one of Illinois' most important wins since '07 when they went to Ohio State and upset the top-ranked team in the country.

From this, you can only see positives about the remainder of this season, and the future to come for Illinois football.

Scheelhaase is our quarterback for many years to come, and he is already showing the potential he has. And right behind him is one of best running backs in the Big Ten, if not the country, Mikel LeShoure.

The wide-receiving core is finally starting to click as Fayson and Jenkins are starting to unveiling their abilities and finding creases for Scheelhaase to throw them the ball.

But, the biggest positive this season so far has been the defense. Led by a dominant defensive line, the defense has been the backbone of Illinois' success so far this season. They have turned from a disaster to a complete success in just one season, and have kept Illinois competitive in every game so far.

All of these improvements bring hope to those who didn't have the motive to believe. They have now seen that Illinois is here to compete, because even its two losses have come against ranked teams--two games they had a chance to win.

Even if you are still skeptical about this team, which I am not, be excited. This team is different than one than we have seen in a while. There is a different feeling with this team, a different sense of hope.

If this continues, the possibilities are endless.

This is an experienced team that will return a lot of players next season, so I tell you my Illini-faithful—believe.



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