SOC - Minnesota

Oct 04, 2019

I'm just going to be honest. I'm still broken. It's been nearly three weeks since the Eastern Michigan game, and I'm still destroyed. I missed the Nebraska game, had an entire bye week to recover, and not only am I not better, I'm a little worse. The last time a single loss took this much out of me - Missouri in 2009. Loss Of The Decade for me. Easily.

Let me see if I can explain. The majority of you are Cubs fans, so I'll use that. When Theo Epstein took over in 2011, there was a lot of excitement. But there were still detractors. Still the "same old Cubs - nothing will change" guys out there. Theo implements his plan, and some Cubs Robert out there was saying "patience, this is all part of a plan to win in the future" over and over. But as each season wore on without wins, the detractors got louder and louder with "same old Cubs - LOL at anyone who thought this time it'd be different". I'm sure they openly mocked Cubs Robert for his "just wait, this is all part of a plan".

It didn't turn around until midway through the 2015 season, but then it turned around. A late season surge into a Wild Card spot, a win in the Wild Card game, and then an NLDS win over the Cardinals. The NLCS was over quickly, but then the next year, a World Series title. 1908 no more.

And I'm sure Cubs Robert, whoever he is, felt pretty good about his "hold... hold... this is all part of a plan". He didn't know it was going to work. He wasn't guaranteeing a turnaround. He just saw what the plan was, saw what the trades meant, understood that the youth movement would take time, and put his hope in a few years down the road.

Had it not worked? I'm sure Cubs Robert would have been crushed. Especially if he would have predicted a "now it all comes together" season in 2015 but then watched it all fall apart. When the payoff never comes, man, it can just destroy you.

And yes, I understand that the Illini football payoff may still come. The ironic thing here is that I put "October 12, 2019" in my bio three and a half years ago, and now we're eight days away, and here I am, destroyed. We're eight days from my "moment we show the world we're back", and I'm writing like we've already had a 4-8 season with no bowl. But I'm telling you, that EMU game crushed me. I wasn't putting on during that From The Stands (from the pressbox). I was absolutely destroyed. You're patient, and you wait and you wait and you wait and you scream "hold.... hold...." and then you lose at home to Eastern Michigan.

So for this game prediction - don't pay attention to it. Yes, I'm 3-1 against the spread this year, but if you're thinking about betting this, don't. I do not, in any way, have a clear head at the moment. I'm not evaluating this game for what it is. I'm speaking from my emotion, and my emotion at this moment is "destroyed".

I'm simply dreading tomorrow like no game in a long time. It hurts so, so much that Lovie Smith is going to fail and PJ Fleck is going to succeed. The world is so ridiculously unfair. People have theorized a lot of things about Lovie - the job was a placeholder until another NFL opportunity came along, he's mailing it in because this was one big check to cash and then retire, etc - but from my interactions with him any my up-close observations of the program, that's not the case. I honestly believe he decided to do it because he wanted to influence 18-22 year-old men as the final chapter of his career. He wanted to finish his career in the business of turning boys into men (while turning around a football program in the state where he had so much success).

And yes, to a fault. You can't convince me that the Gill Byrd hire wasn't more "he'll help develop young men" than it was "he'll put together an incredible plan for defending the pass". Lovie thought the defense would come together like it did in St. Louis and Chicago, and it hasn't, and he could really use some help, and he doesn't have it.

But he's the kind of coach I want to see succeed. And PJ Fleck is the kind of coach I want to see fail. I just cannot handle the megachurch-pastor-as-football-coach routine. He's Joel Osteen in a quarter-zip, and it drives me insane.

He's also about to move to 5-0 in what is likely a 9-3 season. Yes, he took over a program coming off five consecutive bowls and Lovie took over Not Ideal, but still, both coaches had ridiculously young teams last year - one has won seven of their last eight and one just lost to Eastern Michigan. I hate everything about that.

Tomorrow's game? You want me to talk about tomorrow's game? You don't want me talking about tomorrow's game.

What has Minnesota done well? They've taken an accurate quarterback and a few NFL receivers and built a very solid passing game (Tanner Morgan against Purdue: 21 of 22 for 396 yards). Our biggest weakness - pass defense (102nd nationally in passing yards allowed). This only ends with Morgan throwing for 450 yards, right?

(Note: Illini pass defense coordinator - Gill Byrd.)

If Adrian Martinez throws for 327 against you and then throws for 47 the next week against Ohio State (and if Mike Glass of EMU throws for less yards against Central Connecticut State the week after throwing for 316 against you), then you probably have a pass defense problem. And now you go on the road to play the best receivers you'll face this season. (I don't think I've mentioned it, but that "Eastern Michigan 34, Central Connecticut State 29" score just about finished me off.)

I'm not angry. I don't do angry. I'm just really, really sad. I want to believe that we can compete tomorrow, and I want to think that my 2014 comp from the other day is on the mark (coming off a bye week, we surprise everyone, including ourselves, with a win over Minnesota), but I just can't see it. Ever since I wrote that, I've slipped so far back down the hill. Just not in a good headspace right now, and I don't see it improving any time soon.

So tomorrow feels like a drubbing. I can't see anything else. Yes, I know that Minnesota has been in four one-score games and could easily be 0-4, not 4-0. But I feel like they're out for revenge after last year's loss, and we're on the road (remember UConn?), and all I can think about is Minnesota drubbings in the past (like 2000, when we were ranked, yet lost 44-10). If this team can't beat Eastern Michigan at home, it's not prepared to be anyone on the road.

Feels like this one gets out of hand quickly. Feels like we'll turn the ball over. Feels like we'll be helpless against their passing game (come on, rain). Feels like my mood isn't going to be getting better any time soon.

Minnesota 41, Illinois 17


The Olaf Rules on October 04 @ 11:44 PM CDT

I’m with you. I think we score more than 17, but defense gives up 600+ yards. Again.

BennyJ on October 04 @ 11:52 PM CDT

What is going to kill me is when we play our base defense the whole game, give up a steady 8 yards a pass attempt, and still make no adjustments. There is no urgency and feel like we challenge teams to beat us (which they do successfully and frequently). Hoping I get surprised and we find 4 more wins!

DB50 on October 05 @ 01:01 AM CDT

Unfortunately Robert, I think you’re dead on about the score & result. You’ve brought up Gil Byrd who is a person largely unmentioned, but who should bear a lot of responsibility for Illinois’ non-existent pass defense. Forgetting his liability in recruiting, Quan Martin has regressed this year under his coaching as has the rest of the DB’s. In a perfect world after last season, Lovie would admitted the cover 2 wasn’t working because he doesn’t have the athletes (Urlacher, Briggs & Tillman, plus Devin Hester for KO & PR’s he had in Chicago), turned it over to someone like Vic Koenig as DC,, also hired a real linebacker coach & a new DB coach. However, pride is a funny thing that sometimes blinds us to the obvious. It’s not going to be pretty tomorrow!

uilaw71 on October 05 @ 06:05 AM CDT

So our kids know they’re toast? May as well mail it in.

BexleyIllini on October 05 @ 06:15 AM CDT

If we finish 4-8 or worse (likely), what will kill me is if Josh Whitman pulls a Ron Guenther move and keeps Lovie for another year. I think we're about to find out what kind of an AD he is in about 2 months.

Gadwallgetter on October 05 @ 07:27 AM CDT

Robert, meet Cubs Robert - Brett at bleachernation dot com....Funny that you both share the same passion for your team, neither live near the city your team plays in, and you nailed the vibe of Brett’s site from 2013-2016 spot on! As a Cubs fan it has been a great ride. As an Illini fan...not so much!

ATOillini on October 05 @ 08:22 AM CDT

"He's Joel Osteen in a quarter-zip"

Now that's a good one. I agree he's just so incredibly unlikable.

However, I would like to follow up on a comment by BennyJ above regarding the defense. I've been thinking the same thing that he said. How many times have we blitzed this year? Everything just looks and feels the same (that feeling to me is that we only have 9.5 defensive guys on the field). Is that because the coaching staff has determined if we try anything different we're even more susceptible to giving up huge chunks of yardage?

illiniranger on October 05 @ 09:26 AM CDT

We blitzed a ton vs EMU but it was mostly ineffective. We blitzed a lot less vs NEB. Most teams will throttle back the blitz vs an option team like a NEB. We didn’t blitz a ton vs Akron because we didn’t have to, we blitzed some vs UCONN.

Our blitzing is fairly boring. Usually one of the two inside LBs tries to bring a pressure in the middle. We very very rarely blitz a DB, a S, or a LB off the edge.

deadguy on October 05 @ 10:18 AM CDT

As painful as the EMU loss was, a win may have done more long-term damage to this program.

I don't think you're talking about the outcome as much as the overall performance but the one positive is that the loss sheds light on what's wrong with this team while a close win would have masked the issues with this defense.

The defense is broken and won't be fixed as long as Lovie is the coach here. He's a good guy but it's beyond obvious that he's not going to succeed here since he won't adjust. This has been clear since the Kent State debacle. There's nothing fluky about these games. Just look at the yard totals and you can see that it's not just a few bad bounces or a few bad calls that are impacting the outcomes.

Then you look at the USF (2018) and Nebraska (2019) games and you can see that the point differential was way out of whack with the yard totals.

We have talent and experience on the defense but we're somehow still giving up 600+ yards in games and that seems somehow impossible. South Alabama held Nebraska to 276 yards of offense. There's no reason why Nebraska should be carving us up for 671 yards.

As painful as this season will be it SHOULD result in Lovie being fired. This program can be fixed however since we can attract a decent coach who will come here for a salary of 5+ million/year. Almost anyone else could do a better job with the resources that Lovie has been given. Look at what Chris Creighton has done at EMU. That program was beyond dead and even gave away a home game this year with Kentucky because of budget issues. Yet they have somehow won more games against Big Ten teams since 2017 than we have.

orangejulius on October 05 @ 10:35 AM CDT

I cut and paste from a Bucs Nation article from 1/7/2016 describing why Lovie was fired at Tampa:

Nearly everything that was positive about the Bucs' performance the past season year happened on offense, with Doug Martin, Jameis Winston, the offensive line and Mike Evans starting out. All of that despite the fact that Smith assumed defensive playcalling duties this offseason. When your head coach can't get his side of the ball working, that's a strong reason to say goodbye.

Sound familiar?

NC_OrangeKrush on October 05 @ 06:09 PM CDT

Robert is right again...


HiggsBoson on October 05 @ 06:33 PM CDT

40-17. Robert only missed it by one. The only other win I see this season is maybe Rutgers. However, Lovie won't be fired because the buyout is still way too high. Heck, Whitman may actually give him another extension.

If Lovie stays another year it should be under the following conditions: fire Byrd, fire Miles Smith, fire whoever is the offensive line coach who has trashed what was a good line last year, and hire real coaches, including a dynamic DC. Let other coaches coach and Lovie can influence young men to his heart's content. Otherwise, it's more of same until Lovie and or Whitman retire or die.

Bear8287 on October 05 @ 11:32 PM CDT

Lovie won't be fired because the buyout is still way too high.

Actually, if there are 40K+ empty seats at every home game, the price may be too high to keep Lovie.... In the end, this may be what applies enough pressure to get him fired.

No bowl, no tourney on October 05 @ 09:18 PM CDT

Burn it down. Burn this whole descent into madness to the ground! This agony is simply perpetual at this point. It's year after year now. This is an absolute disaster. So current students have zero hope of any postseason activity in either big sport? We are a bottom feeder with little hope of coming to the surface. I've never been less proud to be an Illini. And, unfortunately, this feeling keeps resetting itself at a lower altitude every so often.

Sorry everyone - just venting. I'm so damn frustrated. Great work Robert. Kudos to fans who still go to home Illini games.

Bear8287 on October 05 @ 11:24 PM CDT

Don’t understand the negativity about basketball. The Illini beat some good teams last year and if you look at the margin of losses, there were also fewer blowout losses. The Illini only lost two 20+ games last season and both were to Iowa. That’s a far cry from the JG years.

40-17? This football team appears to be regressing. Imagine what this team would look like without the transfers? Michigan had 8 sacks against Iowa today. Woohoo!

No bowl, no tourney on October 05 @ 11:42 PM CDT

Huh. Really? We've made the tournament twice in the last 10 years and haven't been there in 6 years. And until that changes, that's who we are - an afterthought. Actually, sucking in basketball is more painful than football. At least we used to able to maintain some consistency in basketball. We were, if not a blue blood, a very strong program.

Teams like Michigan State used to fear coming to Champaign. No one does now.

BRucks on October 07 @ 08:01 PM CDT

I get a sinking feeling walking up to memorial stadium and the assembly hall. Not sure if that is fear or not.

Bear8287 on October 08 @ 09:45 AM CDT

From the "Do Not Disturb" post:

Dr Luke on October 07 @ 04:55 PM CDT
Illinois was predicted to finish last in the Big 10 West by every media person. O/U Vegas wins were set at 3.5 or 4.

Here's the outlook for the Illini basketball team this season:

enter image description here

That's the difference.

It's one thing to have fans with great expectations, but it's another when people outside of the program start picking your team to finish somewhere other than last place...

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