Big Ten

Illini fail first true test, crushed by North Carolina

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Illini fail first true test, crushed by North Carolina

After two dominant wins against Kent State and Western Illinois, the question became whether this Illinois team was for real or if it was just taking advantage of weak competition.

Well, the Illini failed their first real test of the season Saturday, getting crushed, 48-14, at North Carolina.

Illinois’ offense was held almost completely in check outside of a good day from Josh Ferguson, who used a couple big runs to get to 133 yards on the afternoon. Ferguson was also responsible for the Illini’s only touchdown of the first half.

But Wes Lunt and the passing attack couldn’t do much, limited by the North Carolina defense, a Lunt interception and a bunch of dropped passes in the receiving corps. Mostly, that ineffective offense led to punts. Lunt completed 15 of his 32 passing attempts for 140 yards and no touchdowns.

[MORE BIG TEN: Spartans' Aaron Burbridge the frontrunner for catch of the year]

No drive illustrated the Illini’s offensive woes more than a third-quarter drive that saw Lunt find Sam Mays on a third-down pass to get to the North Carolina 1-yard line. That play was called back on a penalty, though, forcing a field-goal attempt that kicker Taylor Zalewski clanked off the upright.

Backup quarterback Chayce Crouch rushed into the end zone in the fourth quarter for the team's second touchdown.

And while the offense struggled, a defense that had been amazing the first two weeks of the season couldn’t keep up with a more capable offense. The Tar Heels gained 471 total yards, including 254 on the ground. Quarterback Marquise Williams had a huge day, throwing for 203 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for an additional 105 yards. And the Heels added insult to injury with a punt-return touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it a 41-point lead.

It’s a more than disappointing follow up to two weeks of terrific play from Illinois in the wake of the firing of Tim Beckman. But, if Saturday’s result was any indication, those results seemed to stem directly from the level of competition. Thankfully for the Illini, they get Middle Tennessee State in the final non-conference game next weekend.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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 Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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.