Penalties, turnovers hurt Illini against Penn State

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Penalties, turnovers hurt Illini against Penn State

CHAMPAIGN Illinois asked fans to stripe the stadium for Saturdays game against Penn State. The visual effect in Memorial Stadium was wiped out by the fourth quarter, as the sight of empty seats overtook any resemblance of striping.

It is hard to blame Illinois fans for heading to the exit after the Illinis dispiriting loss to the Nittany Lions, 35-7, however.

After the game the Illini had no excuses for their poor play, which included two turnovers and 69 yards of penalties.

That we are disappointed is the least you could say about this game, Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. Its to step up, to see what this football team is all about and move forward. Weve got to.

Illinois debuted a new look on Saturday, showing off the teams matte blue helmet, which was not supposed to be worn until 2013. If moving up the helmets debut was an attempt to change the look of the team, though, the Illinois defense did not get the memo.

Things looked good for the defense early after a quick three-and-out, but a muffed punt gave Penn State the ball back deep in Illini territory. Another good stop was canceled by a running into the kicker penalty.

With a second chance at the endzone, Zack Zwinak made Illinois pay, scoring on a one-yard run at 10:41 in the first quarter, putting PSU up 7-0 early on.

The Illinois defense continued to struggle on PSUs second drive. Another mental error on the first play of the drive, a targeting the head penalty, moved the Nittany Lions into Illinois territory. From there quarterback Matt McGloin exploited holes in the Illinois secondary with ease.

He moved his team down to first and goal from the one-yard line and, two plays later, punched it in himself. With the PAT, Penn State went in front 14-0 with less than six minutes elapsed in the game.

The Illinois offense finally found its legs on the third drive of the game. Donovonn Young found space around the left on first down and marched 52 yards downfield, setting the Illini up at the Penn State 11 yard line. Illinois tried to keep the momentum going, but found no space to run and were forced to go for a field goal.

Taylor Zalewski had been nearly automatic since replacing Nick Immekus, but he was left holding his head in his hands as his 26-yard field goal went wide of the mark late in the first quarter.

Despite the missed field goal, the Illinois offense continued to improve in the second quarter. On their first drive of the period, Scheelhaase stepped up and completed to passes for first downs and then ran the ball for the first time in the game, picking up seven yards. The drive would be stamped out, however, when Penn State came up with a stop on fourth down at their own 28.

Four times on Saturday Illinois went inside the PSU 30-yard line and failed to convert. The problem was troubling for Beckman.

Penn State did a great job of coming here and playing physical football, but when you get the ball inside the 30, in the redzone, thats the key to the game. We have to come up with points, with touchdowns, he said.

Penn State capitalized on Illinois failure to convert well, and three minutes after taking possession, McGloin found Matt Lehman over the middle for a 21-yard touchdown reception.

Scheelhaase led his team down to the four-yard line of PSU on the next drive, but once again could not finish the drive.

On fourth and goal he threw the ball directly into PSU linebacker Michael Mautis hands on the goalline. The big man hustled 99 yards before being brought down by Miles Osei with one second remaining in the first half. Penn State lined up for a field goal, but had it blocked by VAngelo Bentley, bringing the first half to a wild end, the Nittany Lions leading the hosts 21-0.

On the first drive of the second half Scheelhaase took a hard hit, high and low, and limped off the field. He would return after one play but would not have a first down in him.

The punt by Justin DuVernois was a beauty, trapping PSU at their own one. From there the Illinois defense showed a flash of its 2011 greatness, allowing just two yards of offense for the Nittany Lions and forcing a punt.

With starting position in the PSU half, Scheelhaase shrugged off any questions about his ankle and quickly got Illinois on the scoreboard.

On second down he found Josh Ferguson over the middle for a 22-yard reception. Then he passed to Ferguson in the backfield on first down and the running back picked out a wide-open Spencer Harris for a 22-yard touchdown over the right side.

With the touchdown, Illinois cut their deficit to just two touchdowns, 21-7 with 10:22 to go in the third quarter.

The Illinois defense came up with another big stop on the ensuing Penn State drive, this time forcing a turnover on downs by sacking McGloin on fourth and five from the Illinois 16. Their hard work went for naught, though, as the Illinois offense went three-and-out on the ensuing possession.

McGloin would not be stopped as easily on the next Penn State drive. He went 3 for 3 on the drive and finished with another one-yard touchdown run, putting PSU ahead 28-7 with three minutes left in the third quarter.

A second pick of Scheelhaase by Mauti late in the third quarter sealed the fate of the Illini. On the PSU drive, Zwinak scored his second touchdown of the game from a yard out, bringing the score to its final 35-7 tally.

After the game, Beckman was more introspective about his team. He acknowledged that having a number of players injured certainly hurt, but he cast blame for the loss on himself and vowed to work to get the team better.

We cant turn the football over, weve got to move the football better, and weve got to tackle and do the things we feel are necessary for us to be successful, he said. Were just not getting those done the last two weeks.

Ahead of the Illinis trip to Wisconsin next Saturday, Beckman targeted physicality as an area that needed immediate improvement.

We know were going to be playing some physical football teams here coming up, and weve just got to become a more physical football team and do what we need to do, he said.

Injuries have played a big part in his teams lack of imposing physical stature, however, and he acknowledged that fact as well. Thats kind of a double-edged sword right now getting more physical and staying healthy, but thats one of the things were going to have to address.

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning and cheering on this entertaining comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength, stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet homebody who happens to have his own billboards and marketing deals – but doesn’t do bulletin-board quotes or brag about his game – Bryant is not exactly a Hollywood personality. But this is also a goal-oriented individual who doesn’t shy away from the pressure and the expectations and absolutely wants to be the best at his craft.

The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

“It’s humbling,” Bryant said. “You grow up hearing that kind of stuff on TV. To experience it in real life is pretty cool.”

It became hard to hear Bryant inside the visiting clubhouse, because teammates chanted “MVP!” and sung along with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as “Nuthin But a G Thang” played on the sound system. But for most of the night, it looked like it would be a silent room postgame as the resilient Dodgers took 3-1 and 4-2 leads.

Until the eighth inning, when Bryant launched a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blocked off for the batter’s eye. And then the ninth inning showed why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup.

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

That set the stage for Bryant, who brought up the fielding error he made in the fifth inning during his postgame interview on Channel 7 after hitting the game-winning homer off lefty Adam Liberatore. All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo may set the tone in the clubhouse, but Bryant already brings tunnel vision and a high degree of professionalism to an 82-45 team, even at the age of 24. 

“He just doesn’t quit,” Heyward said. “He wants to be in every spot. He goes up there and has his at-bat – and that’s it.

“You can talk about why he’s been hitting the ball well, this and that, but he has a good approach. It’s that simple. Other than that, he works his tail off every day to try and go out there and help us win.

“When you have that gift – and you have that work ethic – the bottom line is a lot of good things can happen.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

A resourceful $250 million team won’t fade away, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. Los Angeles has cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth, a powerful lineup and a strong bullpen to surge into first place and hold onto a one-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold.

“I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”

Like Bryant going from a promising player with a few holes in his swing who looked worn down at times last season – to an MVP frontrunner with a .303 average, 89 RBI, 107 runs scored, a .982 OPS and the versatility to play third base, defensively shift across the infield and move to the outfield.

Kershaw vs. Bryant would be must-see TV in October.

In the Gym at EFT: Wide receiver skill development

In the Gym at EFT: Wide receiver skill development

In the first edition of EFT Football Academy, TF North graduate Landon Cox, who was a star wide receiver at Northern Illinois and later in the NFL, shares some tips on how to become a better receiver and be more efficient on the field.

Cox is a Performance Specialist and wide receiver coach at EFT. In this segment Cox works on a few different techniques with Warren Township junior wide receiver Micah Jones.

EFT has evolved into the premier elite performance training facility in the Midwest, where every EFT football coach has NFL experience and the dedication to helping each player reach their potential. The EFT Football Academy is designed to assist in the development of grade school, high school, and collegiate football players.

Some of their off-season training experience includes 70+ active NFL athletes, six Super Bowl Champions, six Olympics, and more.

[MORE: High School Lites Football Roundup: Week 1]

In addition, performance includes explosive power development, positional movement pattern development, proper spring and change of direction mechanics, and more. Every EFT workout focuses on improving each athlete's overall abilities like speed development, agility and mobility, acceleration and deceleration, and strength and condition — just to name a few.

Former Bears wide receiver Devin Hester called it "the best workout in the world."

Watch Cox's tips in the video above, and be sure to look out for next week's edition on CSNChicago.com.

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – In their never-ending search for young pitching, the Cubs discussed a Matt Moore deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, but wouldn’t consider trading Kyle Schwarber. To get Moore at the Aug. 1 deadline, the San Francisco Giants had to surrender the runner-up to Kris Bryant in last season’s National League Rookie of the Year race (Matt Duffy), plus two more prospects.

Moore finished one out short of a no-hitter on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, throwing 133 pitches against a deep Los Angeles lineup, two-plus years after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Whether or not Moore helps shift the balance of power in the National League West, the Cubs should still have enough pitching.

To get through October. As long as John Lackey (shoulder) comes off the disabled list in early September and the rest of the rotation stays healthy. Surviving next season and beyond could be a different story, if Jake Arrieta becomes another team’s 2018 Opening Day starter, if Jon Lester breaks down in the middle of that $155 million megadeal and assuming Lackey finally retires around the 3,000-inning mark.

All that makes Mike Montgomery an interesting lefty swingman if the Cubs are going to maintain The Foundation for Sustained Success.

“I think he is a major-league starter, regardless of what happens tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s wild 6-4 comeback win that took 10 innings at Dodger Stadium. “This guy has the ability to be a solid major-league starter based on his strength level, his delivery, the variety of pitches that he throws. The strike-throwing ability is exceptional. He’s got all those different things going on.

“Just be a little bit patient with (him) and let him get his feet on the ground somewhere, because he’s the kind of guy that can take off if he gets comfortable in his environment.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

If Montgomery didn’t ace this audition, he also didn’t bomb against a first-place team in front of a big crowd (48,609), either, showing the potential the Cubs saw in making last month’s trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Montgomery kept the Cubs in the game before Bryant’s clutch performance, allowing three runs in five innings and minimizing the damage on a night where he didn’t have pinpoint control (four walks, hit batter, wild pitch, 49 strikes across 91 pitches).

The Cubs are in trouble if Montgomery somehow winds up in this year’s playoff rotation, but he checks a lot of boxes for the future as someone with youth (27), size (6-foot-5), first-round/top-prospect pedigree, a high groundball rate and a service-time clock that won’t make him a free agent until after the 2021 season.