Do Not Disturb
I watched the fourth quarter on my phone. I was headed to a cookout/bonfire this evening, so my wife drove and I watched the rest of the game (for some reason). The app wasn't working at first, and my team was losing, and I still wanted to watch, and I kept getting texts and Twitter notifications, and the game kept freezing while I really wanted to see what Matt Robinson could do, and I just reached that point where I wanted to lower the window and toss the phone out on the interstate.
So I went with the other option: Do Not Disturb. And it was Do No Disturb Always, not just Do Not Disturb Lock Screen. No texts, no Twitter notifications, no score updates, no nothing. Just me, watching a game, mourning. I watched quietly, put my phone in my pocket, and left it there for the next five hours with Do Not Disturb turned on.
Because what am I going to say? How do I respond to my son's "sorry dad"? What words can I come up with to describe what I'm seeing? I stand by my "this is the most talented Illini team since 2011", which means there's only one answer: we might be seeing the worst-coached Illini team of our lifetimes. Worse than the Paul Schudel offense in 1995/96, worse than the 2012 debacle, worse than Gary Moeller. How is this even possible?
Yards were 487 to 248? Someone explain this to me. Last year, we out-gain Minnesota 646 to 438 in a 55-31 win. We then return the same tailback, four of five offensive linemen, the tight end, all receivers but one (Sam Mays), and drop from 646 to 248? How? It's not just AJ Bush. It's not Brandon Peters getting hurt. How does the run game go from 431 yards to 91? THREE OFFENSIVE POINTS? HOW???
And we're now in game 41 under Lovie - the guy whose defense put the Rams back in the Super Bowl, which led to him getting the Bears job, which led to him getting the Bears to the Super Bowl because of his defense - and we give up 332 rushing yards? With an experienced defense that no longer has any youth excuses? How? Minnesota had 92 yards rushing last week against Purdue (and Purdue's defense is bad) and then 332 today? I don't understand how it's even possible for the numbers to look like this.
Like, these are legitimate questions. I get the #stance of "because Lovie sucks, that's how", but that doesn't help answer my questions. 55 offensive points, most of the team returns, 3 offensive points. Someone explain how it's possible to get that much worse (with only a quarterback change, and we're not talking some all-conference quarterback) in only eight games.
The defense I can understand on the "because Lovie sucks, that's how" scale. But the offensive regression I cannot understand. We got two defensive touchdowns, fell on all three fumbles we put on the turf while grabbing the one fumble Minnesota dropped, and lost by 23.
Yes, I predicted 41-17 and it was 40-17, so you can say "hey Robert isn't this what you expected?", and that's true. But had you told me of the two defensive touchdowns and every bouncing fumble skipping our way I would have changed that prediction in a heartbeat. To get all of the fortune in the game and still lose 40-17, man, that's a hard pill to swallow. I expected us to look flat and uninspired. I didn't expect 3 offensive points.
Which is why I put my phone on Do Not Disturb. I have no answers. Not for people texting me, not for people @-ing me. I pored over every inch of this team in the preview and stand by my evaluations of the players. I even stand by my prediction of 7-5. Top-50 talent, top-30 experience, 18 starters back. 90% of college coaches win at least six games with that lead-in.
+ On the way home from the bonfire I laughed out loud and my wife said "what?" and I said "Illinois football thing" and she said "no tell me" and I said "I put the date of next week's game in my Twitter bio three and half years ago and THIS is the lead-in to that game". I mean, I hate it, but could it be more perfect? Long before Lovie is hired I promote a long-term rebuild. I supported "play 22 freshmen" in 2017. I say all kinds of crazy things like "the next 25 games we're not going to learn anything since we're going to young but it will pay off in 2019 and 2020". I keep October 12, 2019 in my Twitter bio for more than 1,000 days. I've called my shot - this is when Illinois football will demand that the world take it seriously.
And now we're going to lose 34-0 to Michigan. Like, it could be uglier than that. This is a baseball player calling his shot and then not only striking out but injuring his back swinging at strike three. I hope you all point and laugh.
+ For his first game, I thought Matt Robinson played well. Definitely gave the offense a different dimension with his legs. If the running game could have done anything, I think we might have seen the offense open up a little bit for a few scores. But without that, Robinson was left to make plays with his arm, and while it was admirable for a "first non-garbage time game with mist in the air and a wet ball" performance, it's not a thing that can move the ball consistently in the Big Ten right now.
And the drops, my God the drops. I get that a wet ball is hard to catch (and throw), but with those gloves, these drops just cannot happen. I think we saw a lot of Donny Navarro today mostly because he never drops the ball (and he almost made a spectacular catch). Gotta catch the ball or you can't be on the field.
+ I should back away from what I said above about the players performing as I expected when I wrote the preview. There are many players on the defense who just aren't there.
LIke, I really, REALLY hyped Quan Martin, and his play just hasn't been there (which is why he lost his starting spot to a true freshman today). I saw Hobbs' name everywhere this summer, from national interviews to Big Ten Media Day, and he hasn't lived up to that. And the safety play has been way below what I expected.
On some of those, though, I don't really think it's the talent. I think you can take Adams, Brown, Joseph, and Ware and build a solid safety rotation. I think they're much more talented than, say, the 2013 safeties. But the defense is nowhere to be found, so we're back to the coaching.
I should just go to bed. It's almost midnight and I'm exhausted. I don't think I'm going to go back and proofread this one, so, sorry for the typos. But I just don't have any energy left. I cannot think about the failures of this team anymore. I feel like turning off my phone, climbing into bed, and ignoring the world for a week.
Do not disturb.