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.