SOC – Michigan October 13, 2012
It just feels like we knew the result of this game late in the first quarter of the Louisiana Tech game. When LaTech scored those three quick touchdowns, I think most of us had that moment of “lose this one, and we’ll definitely lose to Penn State, which means we’re staring 2-5 straight in the face with trips to Wisconsin and Michigan”.
Illini fans are good at that. We’re, like, the best at seeing a flaw and then projecting it forward.
USC game, 1996. We were worried about the defense without Hardy and Rice, and it actually looked OK in the opener against Michigan (even though we lost). But then USC just blew us away. 55-3. The vaunted Lou Tepper defense couldn’t stop anyone. Right then, we knew the Tepper era was over. And the season was over. And we only won 2 of our next 22 games.
Illinois State game, 2003. Dwayne Smith had something like 240 yards receiving for Illinois State. And even though we won, most Illini fans left the stadium that day saying “if we can’t stop a 1-AA team from passing the ball, will we stop anyone?” We didn’t. We didn’t win again that season.
Missouri game, 2009. By the second quarter, we knew the season was shot. We came in favored by seven against a team we had lost four straight to… and then we rolled over. I just remember sweating, realizing that a season I thought would end in a January bowl was already sunk.
Louisiana Tech game, 2012. We were propping ourselves up with “maybe the Arizona State game was an anomaly”. In the desert, late at night – we just weren’t prepared for a road trip like that. And then LaTech puts up 21 points in what felt like 90 seconds, and we start counting forward through the season. Lose to Penn State, and an 0-3 start in the B1G is a lock, which means we’ll head to our bye week at 2-5, needing a 4-1 finish to make a bowl game.
So I guess this isn’t really like those others (or I’m not ready yet to admit that it is). With a home schedule including Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue, there’s still time for a little late season surge here. 2-5 start, bye week to regroup and get healthy, and then attack Indiana and see if we can’t build a little momentum.
Yep, the hope is still there. Not this week – I think this one gets ugly – but I’m still clinging to a little late-season “we’ve figured out what we do well on offense and the defense has found their stride”. I don’t think we’ll make a bowl – I just can’t see us going to Northwestern and winning – but maybe we can win a few home games, show some fight, and find our way to a five win season with some offensive things we can build on next year. That’s certainly the hope.
But for this game, I don’t have any hope. I just think we get drilled. We’re TWENTY FIVE point underdogs. Seeing big numbers like that again takes me back to scary places like 2003 and 1997. Our last two trips to Michigan we lost in triple overtime and won in a blowout. And now we’re 25 point dogs. Crazy.
Which means I’m resigned to looking for positives tomorrow. Specifically, the offensive line. Michigan has a great front seven, so it will be difficult to move the ball at all. But with Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton (reportedly) 100% healthy, I’m hoping to see us run the ball and pass protect a little more efficiently. Not in terms of putting up huge numbers or moving the ball at will – I’m talking about taking some baby steps towards building some consistency on offense.
On defense, I just want to see more of the first half against Wisconsin. 11 guys aggressively chasing the ball. Maybe even a few forced turnovers. I want to know that we can still do that.
So there you go. My expectations for tomorrow? Show that we can kinda sorta move the ball on offense and maybe just force a fumble or intercept a pass on defense to remind ourselves we can. Hiiiigh hopes, he’s got, hiiiiiiiiiiigh hopes…
Michigan 44, Illinois 13