Big Ten: Ben Guidugli

Big Ten pick rewind: Week 13

December, 1, 2009
There was only one game on the docket last week, so here's a quick look back.

  • The pick: Cincinnati 38, Illinois 27
  • Actual score: Cincinnati 49, Illinois 36
  • 20-20 hindsight: Once again, my margin of victory wasn't too far off, though the teams nearly matched the predicted final score at halftime (Cincinnati led 35-20). It turned out that Illinois' passing attack, led by quarterback Juice Williams, proved to be a much bigger factor than the run game. As predicted, Cincinnati wide receiver Mardy Gilyard caught two touchdowns, one of the controversial variety, but tight end Ben Guidugli gave Illinois much more trouble. Quarterback Tony Pike went off for six touchdowns and as predicted, Cincinnati pulled away behind its dominant offense.
Week 13 record: 1-0

Season record: 62-24 (.721)
Illinois' offense showed up Friday at Nippert Stadium. Unfortunately for the Illini, so did some of the problems that have plagued them all season.

If Juice Williams and his wide receivers performed like this all year, Illinois wouldn't be sitting at 3-8. Though Williams had several costly incomplete passes, including a sure touchdown to Chris Duvalt early in the third quarter, he performed well overall against a vulnerable Cincinnati defense.

The missed pass to Duvalt was one of several plays that seemed to sum up Illinois' disappointing season in Friday's 49-36 loss to the fifth-ranked Bearcats. Linebacker Nate Bussey was flagged for an inexcusable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that gave Cincinnati a fresh set of downs inside the Illinois 10-yard line (the Bearcats converted for a touchdown). Illinois drew eight penalties for 69 yards, as it remained the Big Ten's most penalized team.

Special teams also continued to hurt Illinois. While Derek Dimke went 3-for-3 on field goals, Cincinnati racked up 210 return yards, including a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Mardy Gilyard.

Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther said last month that changes would be coming in Champaign, although head coach Ron Zook was safe. First-year offensive coordinator Mike Schultz might be saving himself with the offense's progress down the stretch, but Zook might need to shuffle his defensive staff. Illinois had no answer for a one-dimensional Cincinnati offense, as Tony Pike shredded the Illini for 399 pass yards and six touchdowns. The back seven couldn't keep pace with tight end Ben Guidugli (149 receiving yards, 2 TDs) and Gilyard (102 receiving yards, 2 TDs).

It's nice to see a class act like Williams play well down the stretch, but the future of the Illinois program seems very shaky right now. The Illini finish up next week against Fresno State as they try to avoid going 3-9.
The Illinois offense finally looks like we thought it would entering the season, but it still might not be nearly enough today.

Juice Williams and his weapons are moving the ball well against Cincinnati, racking up 267 yards and dominating possession time (21:04-8:56). Illinois got the start it wanted, as Williams led a 12-play, 87-yard scoring drive to take a 7-0 lead.

But Cincinnati countered in a hurry, using big plays on both offense and special teams to take a commanding lead. Give Illinois credit for hanging tough -- Williams had an excellent first half, completing 12 of 18 passes for 164 yards and two scores -- but the Illini trail 35-20 at halftime and have shown no ability to stop quarterback Tony Pike, tight end Ben Guidugli and wideouts Mardy Gilyard and Armon Binns. Special teams have been a problem for much of the season, and Gilyard's game-tying, 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown really changed the momentum.

Cincinnati's defense certainly is vulnerable, but Zook and his defensive assistants must find a way to slow down Pike. Illinois needs to generate some pressure or force a turnover or two. Time of possession rarely means much against Cincinnati, which is the king of the big play.