Two weeks into the 2015 season, and the Illini have two dominant victories.
After crushing Kent State, 52-3, in the season-opener, Illinois shut out Western Illinois in another rout in Champaign, 44-0.
Now, that might have happened whether Tim Beckman was fired a week before the season or not, what with these first two games coming against Kent State and Western Illinois. But you can’t help but be impressed by a team that’s had more than its share of troubles over the past few seasons and has outscored opponents 96-3 over eight quarters of football.
A defense that struggled against almost every opponent in recent seasons has held its opponents to a total of three points in those eight quarters, with the visiting end zones at Memorial Stadium remaining untouched. That defense starred again Saturday, holding Western Illinois to 141 total yards and just 43 through the air. Illini defender Taylor Barton picked off two Leathernecks passes, and Jaylen Dunlap blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown by Marchie Murdock.
[MORE BIG TEN: Purdue tosses 51-yard Hail Mary TD to end first half]
And the Illini offense had little trouble scoring all over the Leathernecks. Wes Lunt completed 33 of his 46 passing attempts for 316 yards and a touchdown, also throwing an interception. It wasn't a huge day running the ball, but Josh Ferguson and Henry Enyenihi each scored a rushing touchdown. It was a big day for wideout Geronimo Allison, who caught eight passes for 124 yards.
The Illini amassed 500 total yards of offense on the day.
After the firing of Beckman, the Illini have two wins in two tries under interim head coach Bill Cubit. Though the tough games have yet to occur — it’ll happen soon enough, though, with a Week 3 trip to North Carolina — there’s a good feeling in Champaign and some positive momentum just two weeks after the program appeared to be a disaster.
Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.
Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football.
"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.
"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.
"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline."
Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."
"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.
"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."
Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.
Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.
As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.
Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.
The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.