Rock Bottom? October 14, 2012
I’ve been sitting here at the keyboard for over an hour. I had maybe five paragraphs written. Painstakingly slow going. So I deleted them. I wasn’t saying what I wanted to say. It felt forced. I was trying my best to write about our failings, and how we’re headed for 2-10, but I was failing. It’s what everyone is thinking, but it didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like I was being honest with exactly where I’m at.
So I went back through all of the Friday night Stream Of Consciousness posts. I wanted to review all of my raw emotions towards this season. I’m getting all of these emails, my Twitter feed is in full anger mode, our beat writers are laughing, and my only real emotion is “good, that’s out of the way – now let’s get to work”.
But I don’t think I wanted to write that. Because I know that comes off as hollow. We’re a pathetic excuse for a football team right now, and I can sense that many of you desire a “Tim Beckman was the worst coaching hire since…” post. But I’m just not there. Maybe I’m missing something – better yet, maybe I’m putting blinders on to the impending return to 2003 – but I’m just not there.
So I went back to the SOC posts. Those aren’t just some fun thing I do on Friday nights – those are my Illini Dear Diary. I wanted to see where I stood when I got really real.
And I realized that I’m 7 for 7 this season (this is not a humblebrag – stay with me). I thought we could beat WMU. Thought we’d lose in the desert. Blowout over CMU, loss at home to LaTech, loss at home to Penn State, loss to Wisconsin in a closer game than most anticipated (I think that’s the only one where I wasn’t correct ATS), and then blowout loss at Michigan.
Again, I’m not saying that to say I’m awesome – this is the same person who predicted 10 wins in 2009. But I did discover why I’m not in super crazy “searching for adjectives to describe how much we suck” mode. Week to week, what I’ve expected to see on the field is what I’ve seen on the field. Especially the last four weeks. Home losses to LaTech and PSU. Close game with Wisconsin that we can’t pull out. And then, last night, I believe I said we’d get “drilled” today. And we did.
So can my preseason “5-6 going into the Northwestern game” come true? It looks really, really doubtful right now. Indiana just put up 49 on Ohio State’s defense – we won’t be favored in that game. Minnesota looks bad, and Purdue has imploded as well, but when we can’t even move the ball into the redzone at Michigan, why should we expect to even score 14 points in any of our upcoming games? Isn’t 2-9 going into Northwestern much more likely than 5-6 going into Northwestern? Probably.
But I’m just not there yet. Maybe I’m stubborn. Maybe I’m refusing to believe we’re headed for another 2-30 four-year run through the Big Ten. But I’m just not there. As of this moment, I’m expecting two weeks of soul searching and then a surprising performance against Indiana. I’m expecting all three home games to be competitive. I’m actually expecting the offense to begin to move the ball, believe it or not. I’ve gone with my gut since Rantoul, and it hasn’t failed me yet. And right now, my gut is saying that this was rock bottom and we’ll be pleasantly surprised by the final five games.
But let’s see what my gut says in 13 days when it’s time for another SOC and I’m no longer in denial.
+ A very interesting question was sent my way on Twitter. “Is this team 2-5 with Zook at the helm?” The answer is complicated.
My knee-jerk reaction is this: is Vic Koenning involved? Because if so, no, we’re not 2-5. No chance Vic would let Penn State score 35 or LaTach clear 50. But then I realize that our defense played lights out the final six weeks of the season last year. And we still lost all six games because of offense could only score 11 points per game.
Which makes me want to say that yes, we’re still 2-5 with Ron Zook at the helm. Say Vic’s defense holds Arizona State to 17 points. We still lose. Say Vic shuts down Matt McGloin like last year and Penn State scores only 10 points. We still lose. Say he shuts down Wisconsin. Still lose. Say he holds Michigan to a single field goal. Still lose.
The offensive problems are everything right now. Yes, our defense has taken 13 steps back, and that’s very disappointing. But even if we had Vic, I think we’re still 2-5. We just don’t have the depth on the offensive line nor at wide receiver to remain competitive in the Big Ten right now. We’d rank 12 out of 12 at those positions if you ranked the entire Big Ten. And that’s fully on Ron Zook.
So I’ll answer like this. Yes, we’d still be 2-5. We’d be much more competitive, like we were during the losing streak last year. But we’d just be losing 20-0 instead of 45-0.
+ About that offense. In our last nine Big Ten games, we’ve scored 7, 14, 7, 14, 17, 7, 7, 14, and 0 points. 9.7 points per game. Has to be the worst such stretch since the 1970′s, right? We had huge offensive failings in 2005 and 2003 and 1997 and even 1993. But we’ve never had a stretch like this, have we? I mean, since the days of 0-0 ties with Northwestern and such in the 70′s. Can anyone remember anything this bad?
Less than two years ago, we scored 63 points at Michigan. With Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback. How could we fall that far in 24 months? Yes, Michigan’s defense has improved tenfold over RichRod’s 2010 defense. But from 63 points to zero? How is that even possible?
+ That reminds me. Remember Win10? Before the Minnesota game in 2010 I claimed we were going to win 10 games in a row because we wouldn’t play a good defense in any of those ten games. Last four games of 2010, first six games of 2011, no strong opponents. Anyone remember that?
We actually went 8-2 in those games, with the two losses being Minnesota scoring with 16 seconds left and Fresno State getting the phantom first down, but that’s not important right now. I wrote that post because our schedule was set up to play some awful defenses over ten consecutive games.
So let’s look at the defensive rankings of these last nine Big Ten opponents:
Ohio State: 19th
Penn State: 20th
Penn State: 32nd
And our next five Big Ten opponents:
Ohio State: 69th
We MUST improve on offense when we return to the field in two weeks. Must must must. If Minnesota’s defense isn’t for real (and I don’t think it is – they have Wisconsin and Michigan and Nebraska coming up to expose them), then we really don’t have any more top-end defenses left on the schedule. We MUST improve. Must.
+ When was the last time we had a sack? Does anyone remember? I honestly can’t remember. Maybe in the Penn State game? I feel like maybe Buchanan got to McGloin once in the Penn State game? Wait – and I think Darrius Caldwell had a sack as well. Do we have two sacks in Big Ten play? Is that even possible?
#TFLU? Really, Robert? More like TLFU.
(I don’t know what it stands for. I just thought it would sound funny.)
+ Positives! This is the fourth season for little plus signs after games, and I’ve always had one for positives.
Ummm… let’s see…. Justin DuVernois! Averaged 46 yards per punt AND saved a touchdown with a tackle (and a pretty good tackle at that – stood his ground, watched the hips, didn’t bite on the fake, made the tackle).
I should mention the Truckmaster as well. I would so love to see Donovonn Young run behind Michigan’s offensive line. Give him a clean gap, let him get to a linebacker at full speed, and watch him run some people over. But we just don’t have any gaps. We actually did come out strong on the first drive. Offensive line looked fired up. But then we didn’t get the first down, Michigan had their big play touchdown, and we wilted from there.
So there you go. TWO positives. Our punter punted well the eight times we had to give the ball back, and Donovonn Young ran hard (again).
+ I thought Simon Cvijanovic’s tweet tonight kind of says it all.
Losing doesn’t make you a loser. Accepting it does. We have two weeks to find out who we are.
— Simon Cvijanovic (@Cvijanovic68) October 13, 2012
That’s kind of how I feel. That’s pretty much what I was trying to say above. Once we lost to Louisiana Tech, we all kind of felt like 2-5 was written in stone. This last month felt inevitable.
But now we get a week off. Two full weeks to regroup. Three of the next four at home. No outstanding defenses left on the schedule. Are we going to be a team that makes a little surge and figures things out? Or are we going to quit?
I can’t explain it, and it sounds crazy after losing forty five to zero, but my gut tells me we’re going to fight.