The Illini and Skid Row
Illinois began the 2011 season looking like a Big 10 title contender. They defeated all four of their non-conference foes, including bowl squads Arkansas State, Arizona State, and Western Michigan, then opened Big 10 play with a pair of wins over Northwestern and Indiana. On the morning of Sunday October 9th, the Illini were 6-0 and ranked 16th in the AP Poll, their highest ranking since rising to 13th during their Rose Bowl season of 2007. The Illini would not win another game until the final day of 2011, when they upended UCLA in the Fight Hunger Bowl. Along the way, they would lose six straight and finally rid themselves of the coach known as Ron Zook. What happened to Illinois over the final half of the season? To answer that question, I looked at how Illinois performed in their first two conference games (wins over Northwestern and Indiana) versus how they performed in their final six (all losses). If we're looking for scapegoats, we can forget the defense. Illinois allowed an average of 316 yards per game to Northwestern and Indiana. Not too shabby. However, over their final six league games, the Illini performed even better, permitting their foes to average just 287 yards per game! So where can we place the blame? In their first two games, the Illini averaged 496 yards per game. Over their final six games, that number was almost cut in half. The Illini managed just 269 yards per game during their six game skid. Was there any way to predict this massive cliff dive? The splits for the Illini in some other offensive categories are listed in the following table.