It’s In The Way That We Lose It October 29, 2011
Boy don’t you know.
A field goal off the upright. The failure to recover a great onside kick at Purdue. Ohio State completing one pass and beating us. Fresno State getting that first down. Minnesota scoring with 16 seconds left. A failed two point conversion after we scored in the third overtime at Michigan.
And that’s just in the last 365 days.
I could go further back and mention a Fresno State offensive lineman catching a deflected two point conversion on the final play of the game. Or outgaining Minnesota at home by 250 yards and losing. Or an 83 yard touchdown to beat Iowa that gets called back on a penalty.
We don’t just lose. We lose excruciatingly. We lose in a way that delivers a simultaneous punch to the gut and kick to the boys. Illini teams in the Zook era have rarely been blown out. And maybe that’s a compliment – I don’t know. But to lose this way so many times – well, let’s just say I understand our negative fanbase better. I still wish the anger wasn’t directed toward the players, but whatever. This is a bruised and beaten group of fans.
A group of fans with no confidence in the coach. It might be the anger talking, but I think it’s time to hit the reset button. Maybe as soon as Monday.
Yes, Monday. This season is off the rails. Ron Zook is 34-48 as the head coach at Illinois. I don’t see how our new athletic director doesn’t look at that, see that our season collapsing, see that we can’t sell out a game with a 6-0 team, see that we’re the worst team in the country on Special Teams (not hyperbole – statistically), see that our current recruiting class is ranked 12th out of 12 Big Ten teams, see that the word “Zooked” is an actual word that has entered the sports writing vernacular, and not make a move. As I said earlier in the week, Thomas’ decision will be to fire or extend at the end of the season; after this loss, I’m thinking that the firing might come sooner rather than later.
Would Mike Thomas really do that? Would he pull the trigger during the bye week? Probably not. But after the next three games, he’ll be making that decision (fire or extend). There might be some benefits to making that decision sooner rather than later.
6-3. Who would have thought that I’d ever be this distraught after a 6-3 start?
+ I feel awful for our players. Just awful. This wasn’t for a lack of effort, in my opinion. A rookie punter made a mistake, a green holder made a mistake, and that was pretty much the ballgame.
Jason Ford ran like a man possessed. Nathan Scheelhaase gutted out a bad first half to really crank it up in the second half against a solid defense. Jonathan Brown played like a future Butkus winner. The whole defense played like warrior poets.
Mistakes, penalties, and some coaching gaffes cost us this game. When it happens in the pros, I want to pay new players and hire new coaches. When it happens in college, I feel sick (and I want to hire new coaches). Tim Russell had to be over the moon when he won the holder job. And he’s just a walk-on, paying for his college and playing football just because he loves it. So to see him drop a snap at a crucial moment in the game, well, my heart breaks for him.
And I feel awful for Derek Dimke, too. He’s made so many kicks that have kept us in so many ballgames – I can’t fault him for one off the uprights in Happy Valley. Good on Nate for being the first one to run out and console him on the field.
I guess when I look at it that way, I’m more OK with 6-3. These guys are giving everything they have. They don’t deserve the hard luck that seems to follow Ron Zook around.
+ Was it just me, or did two of our turnovers seem insane? I thought Jenkins came down with that ball, but then the PSU player seemed to talk the official into a different ruling. And Nate was clearly speared to cause the other fumble – how is a player expected to hold on to the ball when a safety is allowed to launch at his helmet?
And while we’re at it, what was with the spot at the Penn State 5 late in the game? The Penn State receiver slides to make a catch at the 6 1/2, flips over and dives to the 5 1/2, and they spot it at the 5 1/2?
And since we’re on the subject, what was with that downed punt that should have been at the 49 but was spotted at the 44? And why didn’t that Bolden fumble get reviewed? And why did the umpire come running in with a quick whistle on the catch-and-maybe-fumble when the line judge was ready to rule it a fumble and let replay sort it out. The umpire’s whistle made the play unreviewable.
The officials didn’t cost us the game today – Jay Prosch doesn’t lean forward, and we win. But goodness, Big Ten. Something has to be done. Our quarterback nearly lost his head today, and the officials did nothing.
+ It’s impossible to juxtapose this against the Cardinals winning the World Series. In case you missed it last night in the SOC post, yes, I’m a Cardinal fan. Apart from my 5 years in Champaign, I’ve lived in the St. Louis area my whole life (most of the time on the Illinois side).
So yes, I should be able to just tuck this game away in some “my sports life is pretty great right now” pocket, but I can’t. I should be able to do what the majority of Illini fans do and put football on the shelf again and turn to basketball. But I’ve never been able to fully do that.
I’ve chosen one sport to place at the pinnacle above everything else, and that’s Illini Football. And I’ve chose college sports – specifically, the teams from the school I graduated from in the state I grew up in – as the top. When rating my fandom, Illini Football gets a 93.4, Illini Basketball gets an 81.9, and the Cardinals are a distant third at 44.6. So when I try to place today’s loss in the “that’s OK, the Cardinals won it all” slot, it doesn’t fit. Right now, I’m really wishing it fit.
And right now, I’m really hoping Mike Thomas hits the reset button.