SOC - Michigan

Oct 12, 2019

I've started this post three times now. Get several lines in, hate it, delete all, start over. When I do that, I'm generally avoiding talking about what I should be talking about. Here's what I should be talking about: my crutch. Please try to stay with me, because this one might take a while.

I barely got into Illinois. Like, barely barely. On that chart of "if you're this percentile in your high school class, you need this ACT score to get in", I was exactly on the number. I was sweating that application for so very long. One day, I got home, parked in the carport, started to walk into the house, and saw a banner above the back porch (my dad made it on his dot matrix printer) saying "CONGRATS, University of Illinois freshman, Fall 1991". I threw my car keys in the air. They landed on the roof.

Why barely? Because I'm not that smart. Like, not book smart. I know my Liechtenstein from my Luxembourg and I can write a book report on Chuck Yeager but I didn't exactly climb the class rankings in high school. I was just your average student.

So how did I get into Illinois? My ACT score. How did my ACT score far out-pace my grades? My crutch.

Here's how it went for me. I'd take the standardized tests in, like, sixth grade or whatever (I think they were called SRA tests?). I'd test really high. I'd get placed in the "advanced" class. I'd really, really struggle in that class. Sometimes I would be dropped down to the "regular" academic track. Then I'd take another standardized test and test out at the top of my class. So it was back to the advanced track. Where I'd struggle.

How would I test well? Guessing, mostly. I'm really good at guessing. I don't think of it as "guessing", it's more that I can just kind of see the answer even though I don't know how to solve the problem. I take the ACT or whatever, the question would say to find the split infinitive or find the remainder of the derivative or whatever, and I'd have no clue. But I'd look at the four answers and D would just stick out. I didn't know how to solve for D, but B and D were really close to each other, and B just had the feel of a trick answer, so I'm going with D.

I could write good, so my English scores usually tested well. And then multiple choice tests were to be guessed, not solved. I wouldn't get every question right, but I'd guess well enough to, you know, get a high enough ACT score to gain entrance into the University of Illinois.

Quick story: I tested into AP classes in high school. It was an abject disaster. I was dropped out of those classes twice. I still remember the day when the history teacher, Miss Kay, kicked me out of AP history and sent me back down to "regular" history. Like all teachers, she was frustrated with my high test scores and low grades. I wasn't "applying myself". Nope. I was just really good at finding the answers that "felt right" on multiple choice tests.

This carried through my entire academic career, even in college. I've written before about how close I came to flunking out. If it wasn't multiple choice, I was in trouble. I had to work and work and work to get my degree. Honestly, I'm 46 now and still surprised that I pulled it off.

And I still operate like this. I still go by feel, not knowledge. It's why I comp so much when writing about sports. I don't navigate through statistics (although they help). I study what has worked before, what hasn't worked before, and feel my way around the world.

When watching football, I don't really know my outside zone from my inside zone, and honestly, I have no desire to learn. I'd just get confused and frustrated and ask way too many questions, like when my Chemistry teacher would try to explain noble gasses. Somebody just get me a multiple choice test so I can guess the right answers.

How have I done well predicting Illini games then? All intuition and feel. It's why I wait until the night before. The less I know about the opponent, the better. I just want to know this team, and where they're at, and what former Illini teams have done in similar situations. I'll put it all into my brain and out will come a prediction. I've been leaning on this crutch my entire life. Observation, observation, observation, guess. Knowledge doesn't enter the equation very much.

Which is frustrating for, like, every single human around me. I'll ask someone to explain something very basic, and they'll think I'm putting them on, but I'm not. I'm looking for data points to put in the machine, and I don't really care if I sound dumb when asking for the data. As I said above, this is just how I navigate the world.

When I'm wrong? Especially when I'm dead wrong? It bothers me. So, so much. When I say that I go around pulling out all the data again and going over it and over it, trying to figure out where I went wrong, this is what I mean. Applying that to this team, I just don't understand how this roster isn't going to win seven games. 90% of all programs would be turned around by now. I spent four hours looking for comps back in August and 89 out of 96 coaching hires got to six wins by the fourth year. It's nearly a lock to happen.

It's not happening.

And now it's October 12, 2019. I input some comps into the machine back in March of 2016 and it spit out "October 12, 2019". So I added it to my Twitter bio and waited patiently for The Moment. It's now less than 12 hours away, and there hasn't been a single sign that it might happen tomorrow.

I was OK with the losses in 2017 and even 2018. We're rebuilding from a Not Ideal location and it will take some time. But never fear - at some point, there's a click, and we'll win 18 of 31 games. When I felt that moment hit (post-Wisconsin last year), I made the declaration: We'll now in 18 of the next 31. We're 3-7 since.

I'm so bothered by the fact that it's not happening that I can barely function. I keep hanging on and hanging on, waiting for it to happen. It keeps not happening. I go back to the data and see that even bad coaches win 6 games one time in their first four years. And I realize that if it doesn't happen for us, that means.......

Someone asked me this week what goes in my Twitter bio tomorrow night, and I hadn't even thought about it. I'm still in this fantasy land where I trust my 2016 data readouts - tomorrow we have a Moment. I cannot even begin to describe to you what my emotions will be immediately after we lose. "You've been chasing me your whole life only to fail now? I think that's about the worst thing I've ever heard. How marvelous."

The hardest part, as I wrote earlier this week, is misleading people. I take that very seriously. I'm a fan, and an excitable one at that, but when I predict 7-5 it's because that's what I see on the field, not because I got too worked up in August. I went over and over and over the data (other gut-job rebuilds in year four), went over and over the schedule, and settled on 7-5. Many of you got excited. It looks like I mislead you. I hate that. HATE.

My music choices this week? As sad as sadness can sad. October 12, 2019 is here, and we're nowhere near the program I was expecting to see, which means we're probably not going to have a breakout moment, which means another rebuild, which means hundreds and hundreds and hundreds more hours following and writing about losing football. It's just all so incomprehensibly sad.

But I guess I don't have to lean into that sadness for another 14 hours, right? It's after midnight, which means it's actually October 12, 2019, so I still get to pretend until around 2:30 when the game is over. That little voice of "maybe 2016-me was right and this is the moment it all comes together?" still gets to speak for a little while longer.

So I'm going to listen to him. I have to. I can't not. It would be too crushing to not let him speak. One last time.

Illinois 13, Michigan 12


BennyJ on October 12 @ 12:38 AM CDT

I share your fears, the next two weeks are the (make or) break of Lovie's tenure at Illinois. I feel like the Cover 2 was created to slow down the spread offense, but I don't think it fares well versus the RPO everyone now runs. Reading the Craig has the Scout article really highlights how much we need a proactive strategy coach, much like Michigan's DC to help overcome the B1G talent gap

IBFan on October 12 @ 02:26 AM CDT

Sorry about the upcoming pain we will experience, 49-6. Michigan defense clicked and that means even if our D plays to that 7-5 level the offense won’t, making our defense look like the 3 win variety. Too many injuries, Michigan too deep, more talented, team laid down last week and that my friends can be habit forming. Roundtree, Epstein foreshadowed it all. And no, absolutely not did you mislead us. Everyone picked us last and a 3 or 4 win team but we chose to ride the orange wave with you.

phytynlini on October 12 @ 05:03 AM CDT

Oh geez. I'm so sorry for what you are about to witness. You may want to avert your eyes.

DB50 on October 12 @ 05:57 AM CDT

I too have been looking forward to this date Robert, we’re about to leave the hotel & go to the game. Unfortunately, my voice inside me cries out “it’s going to be a major beat down”! God am I hoping your voice is right.

Brave Illini on October 12 @ 06:54 AM CDT

I thought you might predict an Illini win. Thank you for the backdrop and insight. I think I get the method to your madness here. I plan to go to the game, not out of morbid curiosity, but of clinging to hope and belief, and to show support for the players, band, cheerleaders and others that put so much planning and effort into making the game day experience so great.

thumpasaurus on October 12 @ 07:06 AM CDT

I’m assuming that if you read this comment, it won’t be until after the game. If we won, disregard this.

I’m also a big comparison guy, but I often use stats to verify things I can just “feel” to be the case. I like to find comparisons to answer the question “if a team had this attribute, what would it look like statistically?”

I bring that up because of one of your many catchphrases that I keep coming back to.

“But can they coach?”

To answer that, I’d build a profile of what a well-coached team looks like.

On a well-coached team, experienced players are better than talented newcomers because they make fewer mistakes. A team with a large number of upperclassmen would be winning games with consistency and discipline. Penalties would decrease over time, and a vast majority of players would show definite improvement in terms of knowing where to be and what to do. A well-coached team comfortably wins games where it has a marked advantage in terms of athleticism and experience.

None of that describes Illinois.

This is where the dissonance comes in for everyone in our fanbase, because decades of work prior to Illinois suggested that Lovie Smith can coach. However, the results at Illinois suggest that in this situation, he can’t coach.

I just can’t believe it.

CraigG on October 12 @ 07:35 AM CDT

Watching the linebackers really brings this point home. Michigan LBs take on blocks to direct ball carriers to support. They may be taken out, but they are still party of the scheme. Illini LBs generally don't, they just take on the blocker. This leads to big opposing running lanes, and oodles of rushing yards.

uilaw71 on October 12 @ 07:20 AM CDT

So we both predicted 7 - 5, Robert, but mine as posted here at the time included a Michigan win. Glad to see you coming around. I have us hitting the winning field goal on the final play.

16 - 14 Illini.

BTW - the LSAT was also multiple guess, fortunately for me.

Bear8287 on October 12 @ 10:28 AM CDT

Always enjoy reading your football posts Robert. Don't feel misled either.

Illinois 13, Michigan 12

Illinois D holds Michigan to 12? Now that I've got to see... Mighty UConn puts up 23, Eastern Michigan 34, Nebraska 42, Minnesota 40 and Michigan 12? Eastern Michigan's offense 22 points better than Michigan's. That would be something.

Last week Michigan 10, Iowa 3 and (just because it hasn't been said here yet) last year it was Iowa 63, Illinois 0. When was the last time the Illini beat a Top 20 team (and the 3rd string QB is starting today and hopefully the OL can keep him from just becoming a tackling dummy...) How many 3 and outs can the D weather before the floodgates would open?

Hmmm... I dunno. I like you sticking to your picks and I hope that some of that multiple choice mojo comes through today.

Sha oobie!

Go Illini!

Dr Luke on October 12 @ 08:17 PM CDT

If meticulously look at data points along the way of the Lovie Smith regime, there’s no way you’d have predicted 7-5 this season. Vegas predicted 3.5 wins, the Big 10 writers predicted last place, all of those sources looked at Illinois specifically and saw a team that hasn’t been remotely competitive in 3 prior Lovie Smith seasons. And the coaching and talent levels would be the same in 2019, only older.

If you are truly looking for where you went wrong in evaluating this team, I would say it starts with claiming that nothing matters before Year 4. Of course it matters. Recruiting matters. Have we recruited good enough? I’d say no. On field play matters. Have we even been competitive on the field? 63-0 says no.

If you’ve learned anything from how you evaluated Lovie and Tim Beckman, it’s that there should no longer be an attitude of “wake me in Year 4 to see what it looks like”. Every year should be scrutinized on its own merits, and there was no arguments for not firing Lovie after the Iowa game last year. None. That’s not hindsight either.

Illinimac68 on October 13 @ 01:49 PM CDT

So now that the game is over I want to say I was thinking of you as I watched the game. The first 25 minutes I was thinking how upset you were that this won't be the moment for the turnaround. Then the next 20 minutes I was thinking there's what Robert was hoping for; the light coming on and the rebuild showing success. Then our youth showed -- youth in year four? -- and the more mature, more talented team took care of business. Much has been written about the defensive scheme, the defense, the offensive play calling but the thought I had yesterday was why is it we could never really find a quarterback really since Reilly O'Toole? White had success with Wilson, Eason and Trudeau but things fell apart after that. Mackovic had George. Tepper didn't seem to worry much about quarterback; Turner had trouble after Kittner left. Yesterday it occurred to me that we might have won, despite the sleepwalking defense for Michigan's first 28, had we had a really good quarterback instead of a redshirt freshman getting his feet wet. I'm not really lamenting the loss of Peters other than to hope the young man heals -- yesterday convinced me that Robinson is the best QB we have right this moment on this roster. He's just not the type of quarterback that winning teams have.

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