Postscript, Florida Atlantic
As I've mentioned here a time or two, I'm a big fantasy baseball guy.
One of the many decisions fantasy baseball players have to make during a draft is how to attack pitcher wins. It's one of the five pitching categories that are counted, so it's important to have a plan. How you formulate that plan is up to you.
Some fantasy players choose to target pitchers on teams they expect to be good, with the clear correlation that teams that win a lot of games will produce pitchers that earn a lot of wins. That's intuitive with the Spencer Striders and Gerrit Coles of the world, but those fantasy players might also give a preference to a pedestrian pitcher on a good team over an above-average pitcher on a bad one. This year, Kyle Gibson has a 4.86 ERA but 15 wins because he pitches for the American League East-leading Orioles. Dylan Cease has a similar but slightly better 4.66 ERA but only seven wins because he pitches for the terrible White Sox.
Every year, without fail, I choose to go the other direction. I much prefer to chase good pitchers on bad teams than bad pitchers on good teams. The reasoning is simple: if a pitcher pitches like I believe he can or will, the wins will follow. The Mets have won 71 games all season, but Kodai Senga has 12 of them because he's got a 2.96 ERA. I trust the process™ and trust that the results will follow.
It's not surprising, then, that Robert and I had two different takeaways from Saturday's game. Where he sees a frightening inability to turn yards into points -- a totally fair takeaway, given that points are the objective of the game -- I'm heartened by the Illini's ability to move the ball, even if they only got 23 points out of it.
As Robert is wont to do, here's a few of the drives and how they ended:
• 10 plays, 56 yards, turnover on downs at the FAU 19-yard line
• 8 plays, 41 yards, end of half
• 8 plays, 65 yards, end of game
The Illini scored a combined zero points on those drives, but it's reasonable to think they could have scored anywhere from nine to 17 points in a different world. (A world in which they opt to kick a field goal instead of go for it on fourth down, and in which they're allowed to continue their drive at the end of the half, and in which they choose to try to score instead of being content to kneel it out.) If they had simply kicked a field goal on the first drive and punched it in at the end -- I know it doesn't work like that, but let's just assume the rest of the game plays out the same -- they'd have won by 16 and covered the spread, and everyone would feel a lot better about things today.
They have to find ways to score more points, but rewatching the game, I didn't leave it feeling frustrated by a narrow win. At least right now, I'm choosing to believe that the process -- 510 yards of offense, even with multiple drives netting zero or negative yards -- will yield results sooner than later.
-I say I had to watch the replay of the game because Saturday I was actually officiating the vow-renewal ceremony for my mom and stepdad's 25th-wedding anniversary. (I crushed it, obviously.)
So it was without context that I received a text from AJ saying, simply, "I would marry Zachary Tobe." I assumed that sort of commitment would require him to have snagged an interception, perhaps return a fumble for a touchdown, so I asked, and AJ said, "No, he's just been awesome."
The institution of marriage isn't what it once was.
(Tobe had a team-high three pass breakups and was Pro Football Focus's highest-graded Illini defensive back, so AJ wasn't wrong. That's pretty "awesome.")
-Another thing AJ texted me that afternoon, which I agree with, is, "Laughery has so much more juice than Love."
I think Reggie Love's 61-yard run was the perfect encapsulation of Love as a running back. Love can find holes and slip through them, and like on Saturday, sometimes it's for a big gain. But he was never taking that to the house the way we'd have expected Chase Brown to a year ago. He's a good runner, but his ultimate ceiling will always be capped by his lack of top-end speed.
Aidan Laughery hasn't had a chance to get out in the open field on a run like that, so we can't say for sure that he'd turn on the jets and find the end zone, but that 19-yard run that preceded his three-yard touchdown score had a quickness that was exciting to see. More Laughery, even if just as a change of pace, please.
In that vein, Josh McCray also looked more like the Josh McCray we remember. The play that sticks out is the play on second down early in the fourth quarter when Luke Altmyer hit McCray in the flat and McCray was met by three FAU defenders short of the sticks but he absorbed the hit, stayed on his feet and stayed in bounds, and turned upfield to try to get more yards. He didn't -- he was gang-tackled a yard short of the marker -- but the effort and physicality was familiar.
-After calling for more of the young players to get reps last week, it was a tough scene seeing Malik Elzy with two bad drops on two consecutive plays. I'll maintain that I'd like to see more of him and less of Casey Washington moving forward, but that's not how you stay on the field.
-Tarique Barnes going from "team captain and leader of the defense" to the inside linebacker with the third-most snaps on Saturday is quite a change, but one that's hard to argue with. His play hasn't been up to par this year, and while Dylan Rosiek and Kenenna Odeluga haven't wowed, something's gotta give.
-I would have been unsure of how to feel about this week's game at Purdue even before the first four games of the season, but now, I'm even less sure. Purdue is 1-3 with their only win coming by seven points over a bad Virginia Tech team, but they'll be at home and their offense isn't terrible.
Illinois, meanwhile, has two wins by a combined eight points and isn't really standout in any one area, either. It's worth noting that Purdue has been run all over in the past two weeks, and the Illini just rushed for 207 yards against FAU. On the other side of the ball, Purdue linebacker Kydran Jenkins is one of the leaders in quarterback pressures this season, and Illinois' offensive line has been … not great.
I guess we'll find out a lot about both teams on Saturday afternoon.