Whistling Past The Graveyard October 22, 2011
It was the question we were all asking two weeks ago. Is this a good team that finds ways to win close games at the end, and will build on that to have a special season (like Iowa in 2002)? Or is this a bad team that has been really, really lucky – a 3-3 team that was 6-0 because a few plays went our way (like Minnesota in 2008)?
Looks like it was the second.
There were cracks in the armor everywhere, but none of us wanted to see them. Only 17 points against Arizona State and 23 against Western Michigan? That’s OK – a few plays went the other way and kept our point total down. We rebounded for a huge outburst in the second half against Northwestern and then torched the worst defense in the Big Ten, and suddenly the town crier is screaming “all is well”.
All is not well. We haven’t scored in the first three quarters of the last two games. Our next three games are against defenses much better than Purdue, and we’ll be heavy underdogs in all three.
The signs were there that this dropoff was approaching, yet there I was, predicting wins in the last two games. When I should have been listening to those whose football opinions I really respect. Like GHD over at IllinoisLoyalty in responding to my post on Thursday:
I knew that our special teams and turnover problems were really hurting this team, but didn’t quite realize the extent to which we have been whistling past a graveyard.
Fantastic defense has really saved our bacon. With a more consistent running game, elimination of the turnover problem, and decent special teams, this could be a top 10 team. If wishes were fishes….
Whistling past the graveyard. Yep – that’s it. Signs all over the place that this team had serious issues, yet there I was last night, with a Zookian “we’ll get that fixed” Stream Of Consciousness post. We’ll get that running game going. We’ll fix those special teams. Whistle whistle whistle. Wishin’ fishin’.
Now, well, now I feel normal. My son came in with his usual “how are you, dad?” after we lost, and I told him I was fine. Because I was. I’m totally fine right now. I feel 100% completely totally the way I expect to feel every fall. THIS is what it is like to be a fanatical fan of this football team. This is my normal.
To the game:
+ Five things that could fix our offensive issues right now:
- Mikel Leshoure chooses last winter to return to school for one more year.
- A completely healthy Darius Millines.
- Interior blocking communication between Pocic and the guards.
- Nathan stops pressing.
- Mikel Leshoure wears Josh Ferguson’s jersey next weekend and nobody notices.
As we kept putting ourselves in third-and-more-than-5 positions, today, I couldn’t help but think of Feeding Five. I watched the Texas Bowl again the other night (yeah, so what – I like bowl games), and it’s amazing to watch Mikel run the ball. Focused. Bursting for the hole. In control. Great decisions, even when there’s no hole. Turning a 4 yard gain into 13.
And that’s the issue, to me, right now. We can’t put ourselves in second and short enough, so we can’t put drives together. We can’t find a rhythm, so we punt EIGHT TIMES in the first three quarters against Purdue. Find our running game, and we can stop this slide. Run the ball like this, hello Detroit.
My score prediction last night was 31-20. The defense did their job and held Purdue to 21. The offense was a pile of fail. Paul Petrino is the second highest paid coordinator in the Big Ten, and in the next 4 weeks, it is time to earn that money.
+ I haven’t seen any post-game comments yet, but I’m sure Vic Koenning saw what I saw – three opportunities to force field goals, 3 touchdowns. If Spence’s penalty doesn’t happen or we don’t bite on a WR screen, that would have been a 13-0 game entering the fourth quarter. Instead, it’s 21-0 and we really had no shot.
So maybe “the defense did their job” above was too kind. They got a big turnover. They forced third and goal. But they couldn’t turn 7 into 3 when they needed to.
+ We’ll never return a punt. We just won’t – ever. I’m giving up hope. I’m not going to expect a single punt return for the next 3 years. We have no idea how to block the “new” punt formation, and our returners will face a minimum of 4 unblocked tacklers the second they catch the ball. It will never happen, and I am an idiot for expecting us to.
I’m secretly hoping that Mississippi had a few solid kickoff returns today. Because if they did, it will drop us to 120th out of 120 teams. 120th can’t be argued with. 120th can’t be looked past. 120th hits you square in the mouth. On the “overall athletes on a college football team”, we’re probably around 30th in the country. Teams like Alabama and Oklahoma are much more athletic than we are, but we’re still in the top 3rd.
And we’re 119th in kickoff returns and 112th (and falling) in punt returns. Unbelievable.
+ The one play that sticks out in my mind: Caleb TerBush is nearly tackled for a sack on third and 21, stumbles away and throws and absolute duck… and they complete the pass for a first down and eventually push it in for a touchdown. I was still watching the game on tape-delay at that point, and I had to rewind it 3-4 times before continuing to watch what was certain to be a touchdown drive. Two chances to turn the game around, and we allow a duck from the worst QB in the Big Ten.
+ I just realized I’m kicked out of the top-25 meeting this week. And I might not return (for years).
Alright, I’m not OK. I just remembered that “normal” means “insignificant place in the college football landscape”. Here we go again.