I knew the good-natured kidding was coming and it did, quickly, from whom I expected would be the first. Mark Pieske wrote to advise that a friend (who shall remain anonymous) was asking if I wanted to change my prediction of six wins for the Illini and a bowl appearance after last Saturday afternoon’s 34-31 loss to Eastern Michigan. Pieske didn’t disappoint that he would bring the needle out and perhaps his saw ready to cut off the limb behind me because I fearlessly predicted that Illinois would beat Eastern Michigan to go 3-0 before Nebraska comes calling Saturday night for a 7 o’clock kickoff on the Big Ten Network.
I was wrong. Eastern Michigan now has beaten Big Ten teams three straight years, all on the road, and the last two with field goals at the final horn. And Head Coach Lovie Smith didn’t make excuses, saying in his post-game presser, “we didn’t play our best ball today.” No kidding! “We didn’t make plays today–from the start all the way up until the end,” said the head coach. Again, no kidding! The announced 34,759 in Memorial Stadium saw it as well as those of us, who tuned in off and on for the game on the Big Ten Network as I was doing since I couldn’t watch continuously as I was writing the various coaches snippets for the large and small school previews/reviews that appear elsewhere in this week’s edition.
Here’s the complete text of his opening statement, “Coming in we knew we needed to play better football than we did in the previous weeks. We knew that we could finish the nonconference schedule 3-0, there was a lot at stake today. I thought we would play a lot better than we did. Offensively, we did a lot of good things. We gave ourselves opportunities to do some things. Turnovers really hurt us, penalties also hurt us. Defensively, when you start the game allowing big plays, we shouldn’t give up big plays like that. Disappointing effort, we should feel bad tonight and we will. We’ll correct those things and get ready for next week.”
Last week in this space I penned that an ugly win against Connecticut was better than a pretty loss, but this week it’s an ugly loss regardless of how it is spun.