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I’m Not Angry I’m Just Saying September 23, 2012

I don’t do anger.

Not sure why, but I’ve never been that guy. When watching an Illini game at home, I am often standing, usually close to the television. With my arms crossed, kind of rocking back and forth. My go-to emotion when we do something good is the fist – a Tiger fist pump, maybe a clenched shake, occasionally the turn to the side with a punch towards the floor (that’s typically reserved for the dagger three pointer in a basketball game).

But when something goes bad, I’ve never gotten angry. It hurts too much. I generally close my eyes and shake my head. Actually, I don’t think I even shake my head. Close my eyes, slowly inhale, pitiful sigh. That’s it. I do that a lot.

Hmmm… “never” isn’t exactly true, either. I’ve gotten angry watching an NFL game or maybe even a baseball game. For some reason, I expect much more out of my professional coaches and teams. Maybe it’s the money – they’re making millions, and I expect perfection.

In an Illini game, I never rise above a 3 on the anger meter. I certainly understand those that do, and I don’t blame them, especially after a game like tonight. But for me, it’s 7% anger, 93% pain. It just hurts so much. I want a winning football program at the University of Illinois so. very. badly. I want in the club. I want regular seven/eight win seasons and occasional Florida bowls. I want relevance.

With each turnover tonight, that relevance slipped further and further away. I picture Northwestern fans seeing our score and laughing and it cuts so deep. I can sense the “I thought Illinois fired Zook” tweets by national writers, every one of them a punch to the gut. When you want something that much, the failure to achieve it hurts. And when you lose at home to a WAC team, proving you’re light years away from your goal, there’s no description that fits the pain. When it hits, it’s hard to breathe.

So that’s where I go during games like this. That little voice in your head says “it’s happening again – look for 1-7 in the Big Ten” and you’d do anything to shut it up. But you can’t. Arizona State took to their new coach and are streaking towards relevance. We look lost in our new schemes and are streaking towards 3-9. Man oh man.

+ In my preseason prediction, I said that it felt like a lock that we’d be 5-6 heading to Northwestern. Two days after Thanksgiving, in a stadium where we haven’t won since (2002?), with a bowl on the line. Just felt like it was bound to happen.

Now I’m begging for it to happen. We have to finish .500 in the Big Ten if we want to go bowling. And we’ve finished .500 or better in the Big Ten only twice in the last 10 years. Wait, is that right? Hmmm… yep. 4-4 in 2010 and 6-2 in 2007. That’s it. Every other year sub-.500.

So now all we have to do is accomplish something we’ve done only twice since 2001. Great. And if we lose next week, an 0-3 start is almost a lock. Which means we’d have to finish 4-1 to go to a bowl. Yikes.

I’d need to do the math, but I wonder if there’s a chance we could go 3-5 in the Big Ten and go to the Big Ten Championship Game. Think about it. Say Penn State gets things straightened out and goes 6-2 in the B1G. And say Ohio State runs the table and goes 8-0. Wisconsin falters and finishes 3-5 in the conference; Purdue and Illinois do the same. And Indiana only wins one Big Ten game.

What if there was some tiebreaker that sent us to the Big Ten Championship game with a losing record in the conference and no chance for a bowl? That would be so us.

+ When Hugh Thornton headed to the locker room in the second quarter, I started to do some math in my head. Graham Pocic was out for the second consecutive game. Thornton was done for the game. So how many starts did our offensive line have between them?

I want to say Michael Heitz started nine games last year. And Simon Cvijanovic started the other three. Plus Alex HIll started a game. Teddy Karras redshirted last year, and Jake Feldmeyer didn’t play. So that’s an offensive line with 13 starts before this season. Five guys, 13 starts. Three sophomores, a freshman, and a junior getting the first snaps of his career.

I don’t care who you are. I don’t care if you’re Alabama recruiting 5-star guys. If your entire line is that inexperienced, you’re screwed. Which means that if we don’t get Pocic back soon, or if Thornton is out for an extended period of time, we’re in deep trouble. A line needs experience and leadership, and if we enter the Penn State game with (likely) the least experienced line in college football, we’re sunk. God bless those kids. Thrown to the wolves.

+ I think Tim Beckman’s “don’t talk about injuries” thing is coming back to bite him right now. Because his only real out after a game like that is “injuries are killing us right now”, but his policy of not talking about injuries means we don’t really have any injuries.

But Graham Pocic hasn’t played in two games. Houston Bates is still out. Terry Hawthorne is dragging a leg when he walks (with a trainer coming to his side every time he walks off the field). Hugh Thornton went to the locker room and never returned. Nathan’s ankle isn’t right. STEVEHULL played a few plays against Arizona State before injuring his shoulder (again). Our other starting safety, Supo Sanni, hasn’t played a single down this year. TaJarvis Fuller broke his hand, so Ashante Williams has to play every snap. Henry Dickinson broke his leg. Jake Feldmeyer is struggling with a bad arm. Darius Millines is out with an injury (again). Evan Wilson wasn’t dressed. Nick Immekus was in street clothes. Jon Davis is limping on his wrapped left leg.

This team is not healthy (which makes me wonder if we’re going too hard in practice or if we’re simply wildly unlucky). But Beckman can’t really point to that because, well, injuries aren’t discussed.

Which is just as well. I’ve never been a big fan of pointing to injuries as a reason for poor play. But did you see the length of that list above??

+ There’s always a positive. Let’s find it. OK, found it.

Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson.

Donovonn runs so unbelievably hard. As in, the loudest reaction I make during a game is typically when Donovonn drags a tackler. His ability to stay on his feet will still be blowing my mind 24 months from today. He runs so. hard.

Josh Ferguson doesn’t have the elite top-end speed, but his quicks continue to impress. Catch the ball and BURST. Get to the corner and BURST. He’s a huge part of this offense now, and he’s only a (medical) redshirt freshman. He’ll still be doing this in late 2015 during Aaron Bailey’s junior season.

As we piece together this offense over the next few years, two things are locked up. Our power back is Donovonn Young, and our speed guy is Josh Ferguson.

+ WAIT – one more positive. Great work with the Gangam Style, Block I. 1000% better than last week. I wanted to leave my seats and join in.

And most of you were gone by then, but in the fourth quarter, the band played Gangam Style. Yes, they did. We kind of have a thing.

+ OK, negatives. EVERYTHING ELSE. You could say that turnovers killed this game, but that’s only part of the story. If this game is 0-0 in turnovers, we still lose. We don’t give up 52 points, but we still lose. Their offense had, what, five or six huge plays? And we had zero.

There it is. The full depression of this game just hit. As I was typing “zero” above, my shoulders sank. It was this *whoosh* of “here we go again”. 3-9 is in play. Home for the holidays. Maybe a few second thoughts from recruits after our nosedive. Yikes, that might really happen. I can’t talk about this anymore. Time for me to say goodbye.

(wait for it)

Because sometimes goodbye is a second chance.

PittsburghNellie September 23rd, 2012

I was working late tonight and had a chance to look at the score once while my boss was watching lsu-auburn. I got that terrible feeling in my stomach when I saw 45-17 La Tech vs Illinois. It was just that realization that your entire football year has been decided. You aren’t good. Your offense didn’t “adapt” like you hoped. The defense collapsed like you feared. Rece Davis put a sticker on a La Tech helmet for beating Illinois. I’m only in my 7th year of really being an avid Illinois fan and I hate it. So damn much

loyalillini September 23rd, 2012

Jack Ramsay’s blatant personal foul is the poster child of this horribly coached and played game. If we don’t hear about discipline and keep seeing this kind of play we are back to the future.

Harry Lime September 23rd, 2012

If 3-9 is in play, where does the win come from? It’s hard not to look at Beckman as Zook 2.0 at this point, though I know it’s too early for those kinds of judgements.

I’m not angry either. What right does and Illini football fan have to be angry? Look at Nellie’s post above-resigned to our fate after only 7 years.

kgwasmyfavorite13 September 23rd, 2012

The worst part is the quality of these two losses. Folks often speak of the quality of wins…well, we have quality losses. I mean that in the most negative way. If we had lost close, hard fought games you could take some solace in that. There would be some hope. But, no, the “quality” of these losses is unmistakable. It smells of the fine, rich material that was Tepper, Turner and Zook. Illini fans know good, quality losses when they see one and this was as “good” as it gets.

I can’t imagine a coaching staff capable of this kind of loss(es) actually being able to turn around a program.

fuzz20 September 23rd, 2012

Are you sure hawthorne is as good as you think he is? He has been beaten for big plays more than someone with a cool nickname should be.

OWWDig September 23rd, 2012

Mason Monheim also seems to be a “bright spot.”

Love watching Young run over people. Best part of the night.

uilaw71 September 23rd, 2012

Folks – a little perspective please. The price we’re currently paying was set by “Coach” Guenther’s hires. That 4th and inches? Remember the UCLA game and Ron Turner’s gutless decision?

As for fond memories of the 80s, remember Elton and Delton? Or how about the Rose Bowl egg on January 2, 1984?

Unlike Guenther, Thomas didn’t exactly have a large pool of candidates eager to become HFC at Illinois.

Yes, last night sucked. But a healthy Terry Hawthorne doesn’t loose a foot race. Nor would an obviously unhealthy Hawthorne have to play on a bum leg if the cupboard weren’t bare.

Zook should never have been hired, but in “Coach” Guenther’s limited vision, his recruiting ability outweighed his coaching inability. So we went from a coach who disdained recruiting to one who abhorred coaching.

That legacy can’t be re-made overnight.

illiniranger September 23rd, 2012

We are bad. The spread offense makes me want to throw up the way we run it. We can’t block a soul, defensively we are out of position.
To the point on injuries, ok Terry’s hurt, can’t cover well. Them why is he drawing one on one coverage? If he can’t run but you need him out there don’t make it worse for him and yourself by asking him to do something he can’t.
If we lose to PSU we are headed for 3-9. Minny, purdue, and n’western are all better than us.

AHSIllini32 September 23rd, 2012

Hey Robert, great post again.
I’m with you on the anger thing too by the way. I don’t really get angry during the games, I mean sure they may be a little rise in blood pressure when a punt bounces into one of our guys but generally it’s that same depressed feeling you get.
I so desperately want to be able to talk $h!* to my friends about how good Illinois is instead of basically just having to sit there and take it while I feel the hulk inside me growing because of how angry I am that I can’t really say anything back.
I’m just sort of stuck in this middle ground of not being sure if this game and the ASU game are a result of not hiring the right guy, not having the right staff, or a product of cleaning house and bad recruiting classes from previous regimes.
I’m still behind Beckman no doubt but it just sucks that there isn’t a way to shut up those people calling Beckman “Zook 2.0″. We were cut so deep and divided so much as a fanbase by him being our coach that Beckman and maybe even the next coach after him if he doesn’t work out will always be compared to Zook. It’s unfortunate.

illiniranger September 23rd, 2012

I can’t believe I wrote that. We are coming off back to back bowl wins and Minnesota was a dumpster fire two years ago and they would be favored by a td if we played them next sat. We’re Illinois, we can’t be trusted.

GrogsBBQPepperoni September 23rd, 2012

Hey, Kendrick Nunn committed to the Illini. Let’s just move on to hoops. Look, Illini football is middle of the pack on its best day. It’s who we are. I also want a strong football program at Illinois like Robert. I just don’t see it happening. Maybe Bailey will change that. But odds are that he won’t.

ATOillini September 23rd, 2012

Grog. That’s the problem with football vs. basketball. Bailey CANNOT change things by himself. Just look at Montee Ball. A new offensive line, new coaches, no Russell Wilson to respect and suddenly Ball looks not like a Heisman candidate, but rather a simple Big 10 tailback. No one can do it by himself. If the quarterback has no running game, no good receivers and is continually under pressure from a pass rush, then you can forget about him looking good as well. Basketball just gives individual players a much better opportunity to change things for the better.
On another note, I’ve been thinking about previous discussions regarding our NFL draft picks the last couple years. Many have commented that having that kind of success in the draft while fielding .500 teams indicates how bad a coach Zook was. All this talent and no great record to show for it. Maybe it really means that those several players had such an overwhelming influence that now that they’re gone, things just fell apart.

illinitrueblue September 23rd, 2012

Ok, I’ll do the anger. This team is dreadful for all kinds of reasons and where do you think the third of 3-9 will come from?

Losing? Sure, we’re used to that. But quiting? Oh, yeah, we’re used to that too.

Try 2-10.

LongLiveTheChief98 September 23rd, 2012

Robert…a suggestion for your next blog entry topic:
“Fix” is the new F-word
Sitting through that game last night was just painful, and I couldn’t help but think about how the coaching staff would talk about how “disappointing” this was and how they’ll work hard on Monday to “fix” the issues. This is my 21st season of following Illinois football, and I’m tired of this perception that these issues are “fixable.” There are deep and systemic problems with the way this program plays football, and until those are diagnosed and addressed properly, nothing is ever going to get “fixed.”
My initial season prediction was 7-5 (4-4)…after watching this team, I’m thinking 3-9 (1-7) is in the cards (hoping Indiana is at least beatable). It all pivots on this Penn State game coming up.
Man, it’s like Groundhog Day being an Illinois fan.

whisox1 September 23rd, 2012

Why is Hawthorne returning punts, or letting them bounce into our players, if he is hurt?

Harry Lime September 23rd, 2012

I don’t want to lay all the blame on Zook. He was last in a series of bad coaches. Beckman may well be the guy to lead us to the promised land, but I think that he really needs a good year this year for that to happen, since the talent will likely be down for the next two. I just don’t think he gets a 4th year if the first 3 are losing seasons. That may not be fair, but it’s the way I see it, especially with maddening losses. I think that was part of Zook’s firing, BTW.

lowellhamilton September 23rd, 2012

The injuries are definitely a huge part of the problem. The only solace is that most of the B1G has looked suspect as well. Hopefully, UI will be in most of the conference games. However, I have to assume the defense is going to be seeing a steady diet of no-huddle. I’m not convinced a team even needs to be good at the no-huddle. Just any version of it seems to confound the defense. I will defer to people who re-watch these games, but the safeties seemed especially awful last night.

I second OWWdig on Monheim. That diving tackle he made on 3rd down in the open field was fantastic. He looks like a keeper.

chief23 September 23rd, 2012

How many times was the defense totally out of position last night? That’s coaching…I didn’t see much heart from this team last night, that’s what really makes me angry. The coaches make a lot of money, and I’m fine with that, but I expect results for that kind of salary. Injuries may be a part of the problem but it goes well beyond that. If we are getting crushed my 30 to quality teams this year, then what happens next, lose at Soldier Field by 50? The talent can’t be THAT bad, I just don’t buy it. It’s time for Beckman to start earning his paycheck.

GrogsBBQPepperoni September 23rd, 2012

Yeah, I hear ya ATO. Bailey himself cannot change it. I was thinking more about the residual effect of him joining the Illini. That we might pick up other studs in the wake of his decision. The way our defense plays though, Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison in their prime on offense wouldn’t be able to outscore the amount of points we give up.

Joe John September 23rd, 2012

There’s no way Aaron Bailey will be able to run the spread in college anyway…he doesnt throw the ball good enough.

chief23 September 23rd, 2012

I’m hoping this thing can get turned around but If this team gets blown out by a very very mediocre Penn State team then we may have a Turner Gill situation on our hands here.

Grogs I couldn’t disagree more, just because football success has never been sustained at Illinois doesn’t mean it can’t be. If it can happen at Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas State, even Iowa and Northwestern then it can happen at Illinois. All it takes is the right coach to turn things around.

GrogsBBQPepperoni September 23rd, 2012

Chief, in the last 40 years, what history is there at all to suggest that we can be a football stalwart? Counting from 1964, we have been to, count ‘em, 3 Rose Bowls. Basically one every 20 years. And the 2007 trip came down to a good bit of luck – we proved we were not that good of a program by laying an egg in the years prior to and after that Rose Bowl. In ’84 we got there and the coach got nailed for cheating along the way to that Rose Bowl. After that we actually got a good coach, but guess what – good coaches don’t see Illinois as a “destination” school. It’s a stepping stone. At least it was for Mackovic (and Self – and we’re actually a better basketball school reputation-wise than a football school) and he left for greener pastures. And then Tepper, Turner and Zook – it’s crystal clear that we couldn’t get any good coaches to come here over that timeframe.
I’m not saying it is impossible for us to become a football program that is “on the map”, but our history shows that is much more of a longshot than anything close to even money.

chief23 September 23rd, 2012

Wisconsin didn’t have much history before Barry Alvarez, Kansas State didn’t have much history before Bill Synder, Iowa was not exactly a powerhouse when Ferentz arrived. What advantages do these programs have over Illinois? Look at Northwestern’s history before the mid 90s. Missouri was very similar to Illinois at one time, now they’re pretty respectable. They don’t have any recruiting advantages over Illinois from what I’ve seen. Illinois has had terrible athletic leadership the last 20 years, I’m hoping that changes with MT. Schools that are not viewed as “destination schools” in the past have kept great coaches. My point is that I see a lot of other really quality football programs across the nation that have even less resources at their disposal than Illinois.

Salt Life September 23rd, 2012

There are a myriad of concerns I had from the game. Illini looking confused again re: signaling from sidelines. At times Illini looking listless and not wanting the game as bad as LA Tech players. Defensive and offensive play calling was plainly awful. Players were ill-prepared and under-coached once again to deal with a dynamic team like LT. What is truly alarming is that ASU is no Oregon and LA Tech is no LSU with both teams being unranked this week yet they still managed to annihilate and humiliate the Illini players and coaches alike. It is clear the defensive coordinators are not even close to being in the same league as Koenning and the offensive coordinators seem as befuddled as Petrino was at times. Already I yearn for a completely different set of coaches. As fas as waiting for Beckman to get his kind of players in here that logic is really scary. Except for a very few exceptions, most of Beckman’s recruits seem to be ordinary 2 and 3 star players and still lacking in speed to play with teams like ASU and LaTech much less stay with top 10 ranked teams and contend for championships. Illinois is so far removed from national contention and often has looked so outclassed on the field and by teams that aren’t even ranked.

GrogsBBQPepperoni September 23rd, 2012

Look, I hope you’re right Chief. I just don’t see how it happens. Recruits will come to visit U of I and see our terrible gameday turnout/atmosphere. We just had a big coaching search and clearly couldn’t get a big name to come here. Even with a much improved stadium over what it used to be, the game day scene is a far cry from what it once was. If we strikeout with the Beckman hire and have to do this again is 3 or 4 years, what makes a big name or even sort of big name coach want to come here? I feel like our really rotten years have cost us more on the downside than our good years help us on the upside. I’d like to be like Mizzou, but I feel we’re more like Minnesota. Except when they beat us annually…

Hucklebuck September 23rd, 2012


1) People where we sit were already on the “I thought we fired Zook?” bandwagon.
2) Despite your reference to him as a “bright spot”, Ferguson’s fumble on the opening drive, which until then looked great, set the tone for the rest of the game – just as a TD might have.
3) Where is that third win coming from?
4) If this many are hurt in practice, that is on the coaching staff.
5) When a major college team can perform none of the fundamentals of football, when they can neither block nor tackle, not to even mention hold the ball, that is on the coaching staff.
6) This going to be one of those seasons that try our souls.

Just for perspective, I’ve been an Illini fan since before you were born. They played as badly in this game as I’ve ever seen them. It brought back memories of Bob Blackman, except I don’t remember this type of beating by an unranked, unheralded program.

chief23 September 23rd, 2012

Grogs – I agree we are closer to Minnestota, actually below them..however we don’t have to be, some awful awful leadership got us to this point, you don’t become one of the worst BCS conference teams by accident, I’m just hoping good leadership can turn this around.

Illinigrad September 23rd, 2012

I thought I felt bad after the loss. Of course, I feel really bad for the players. I never feel bad for the coaches because they are paid to do a job well. Now I realize that Robert may feel even more pain than I did after the loss. That is self-serving a bit to take solace in someone else’s misery because you think they feel worse than you do. I must take exception to one thing. I did feel anger after the loss, not at the players, but at the coaching staff. OK, I know there are injuries, but to entertain in the third quarter through keystone cops type play is just beyond belief, not to mention kicking (punting) on a doable fourth and one. I sat there shaking my head in disbelief as the carnage of bad plays piled up and in front of lesser competition. Judging by how high the LAT players were jumping throughout the second half one would think they were beating Alabama. If we lose many more games in this fashion Illinois will truly become painful entertainment. I might as well pay $50 and go to the dentist.

Illinigrad September 23rd, 2012

Why didn’t Mike Thomas hire somebody with an established reputation? What we have here is a hire which is on the job training, much like Weber proved to be. This could be much worse. Give me Jerry Kill 24/7. If Mike Leach is good enough for WA State why not Illinois.

Illinigrad September 23rd, 2012

“Illinois is so far removed from national contention and often has looked so outclassed on the field and by teams that aren’t even ranked.”

Wait til next year when the talent from this team graduates or moves on to the NFL. The fat lady has just begun to sing.

PittsburghNellie September 23rd, 2012

” If Mike Leach is good enough for WA State why not Illinois.” — I can’t blame an AD for not hiring Mike Leach as their first hire at a school

KJKobs September 24th, 2012

Apparently the “we’re not there yet” and “we’ll look at tape and get it fixed” from the Zook regime has been replaced with “we didn’t execute” for the Beckman regime.

All the coaches and players have referred to lack of “execution” after both the ASU and LaTech debacles.

Gotta love coachspeak.

TACDLIW September 26th, 2012

“I’d need to do the math, but I wonder if there’s a chance we could go 3-5 in the Big Ten and go to the Big Ten Championship Game. ”

Even better, it’s conceivable that Illinois could go to the B1G Championship Game with a 2-6 conference record.

Indeed, suppose that the four eligible Leaders teams each lose all their cross-divisional games, as well as their games against Penn State and Ohio State. Then the divisional champ would be awarded to the winner of the “round robin” between Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Purdue. If Illinois beats Indiana and Wisconsin, Wisconsin beats Indiana and Purdue, Purdue beats Illinois, and Indiana beats Purdue, then Illinois is Championship Game bound!