Check The Tape – Nebraska

Finally.  It’s been almost three weeks since a CTT post.  Two weeks ago there wasn’t any online tape to check, and last week was my mom and step-dad’s car accident (they’re doing great, by the way – thanks to all who offered kind words).  I went a little overboard with this one after taking two weeks off.  It’s ugly, but here’s Check The Tape: [Read more...]

If-

“I’m not sick, but I’m not well.”

That’s been my standard response the last few weeks. The football team has me losing my hair in chunks. A single troll who has announced his intentions to destroy this website. Basketball recruiting and the feeling of helplessness when you want something so bad. And then I received a package in the mail. [Read more...]

We Love No Other 2.3 – The Braintrust

Calling all members of The Seventeen. If you’ve never listened to a podcast before, listen to this one. Why? Because I rounded up three of The 17 Illini Fans Who Care More About Football Than Basketball to discuss the season so far: Steve (Back-and-Forth), Craig (Craig Has The Scout), and Martin (O’Donnell, the only First Team All American on the panel). [Read more...]

Thunderstorm Rant

Weather delay. Pretty sure we’re losing, but I’m barely paying attention. I’m obsessed – OBSESSED – with wind right now. It’s all I’ve been tweeting about. All I care about. I just can’t even right now. So while the game is delayed, I shall rant. [Read more...]

SOC – Texas State

I need a blowout. My Mississippi State coworker asked me who we play this week today, and my response was “Texas State – I need to see a blowout”. His team is headed to play LSU in Baton Rouge; my team has a little bit easier road to victory. Texas State at home, and I need to see a blowout. I mean I really, really need it. [Read more...]

Those Were The Days – Texas State

You know what’s a good thing? Having non-conference opponents we’ve never played before. I mean, Detlef could take you back to a Southern Mississippi game from years past, but aren’t you glad we’re playing Texas State instead of Southern Miss? Anyway, here’s Detlef with another TWTD: [Read more...]

Media Rant!

This will be quick. And this won’t count for a click. I won’t make many friends this way, but when I get to see behind the curtain of how quotes are manufactured, I have this I WAS STANDING RIGHT THERE reaction. Maybe I’ll make enemies when I point this out, I don’t know. Maybe you’re not supposed to talk about it. But here’s why I’m annoyed:

I saw a Beckman postgame quote on a message board.

“I mean, you take out 21 points on three plays and we’re in this football game.”

I was standing right there for the entire time Beckman spoke to the media, and I couldn’t remember him specifically saying that, so I did some exploring. I googled the quote and found a Post Dispatch article:

Linebacker Shaq Thompson returned a Wes Lunt interception for a touchdown and picked up a fumble for another score as Washington (3-0) dominated the shell-shocked Illini (2-1).

“When you come in here and play a team like this you can’t turn the football over twice for touchdowns,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “Can’t let a big strike go on you there defensively. In three plays we gave up 21 points.”

“I mean, you take out 21 points on three plays and we’re in this football game.”

Washington quarterback Cyler Miles threw a 75-yard touchdown to John Ross as part of a 21-point blitz that took less than six minutes of the first half. Dwayne Washington’s 12-yard TD run gave the Huskies a 28-3 lead on the first play of the second quarter.

This set off every buzzer in my head. I remember him saying the “big strike” thing, and I’m certain he didn’t follow that up with “take that out of there and we’re in this football game”. As a reformed “take away the 85 yard run and we held them to 90 yards rushing” person (I really used to do that), I would have fired on all cylinders had that line of thinking been implemented.

So I went and watched the video of the postgame interview. Yep. Cherry-picked to build a story.

You can watch if you want, but if not, here’s a quick synopsis.

Beckman says the whole “can’t allow big strikes” thing. He’s then asked about penalties. He’s then asked about Washington’s defensive ends.

Then, he’s asked what his halftime message was to his team. His answer:

“Just to keep fighting. Again, I told them it was three plays. You take out 21 points on three plays and we’re in this football game.”

That quote as a “you’re still in this, it was three bad plays, keep fighting” halftime speech and that quote as a postgame excuse are worlds apart, obviously. So to see it combined with his other quote is, to me, very irresponsible. And I’m a blogger with zero journalistic standards.

I don’t know who the culprit is – the Post Dispatch article says “From News Services”. It’s possible I’ll sit next to the person who combined the quotes next Saturday and they’ll give me the evil eye. I really need to get over the whole “I hope the other people like me up there” mentality.

It’s also possible that this was built from the postgame quotes sheet you are handed in the pressbox. The sports information people at the school listen to the postgame interviews, type out snippets, and hand them to you as you’re sitting there typing out your postgame story (am I supposed to be talking about this?). If that’s the case, I’m not sure why that system exists because so much can be taken out of context. A coach is asked to quote himself from his halftime speech and then that quote is turned into a postgame reaction quote, for example. Isn’t the point of reporting to see it and hear it yourself and then write it?

When I googled the quote, I saw it everywhere. Message boards, Twitter, wire service stories, everywhere. In a game that had so many on-the-field mistakes to be analyzed (and laid at the coach’s feet), that seems to be the biggest takeaway. I just can’t sit by when I was standing right there for the whole thing. There is a lot that must be placed on Beckman’s shoulders (which I wrote about from that pressbox), but to cherry-pick two quotes – one of them “tell us what you said at halftime” – and them smash them together is a poor way to cover a game.

I did see a few message board reactions that got it right. “There’s no way he actually said that”. Correct, he didn’t.

Those Were The Days – Western Kentucky

Detlef normally takes us back to games from the past against that weekend’s opponent, but that’s not possible this week because we’ve never played Western Kentucky. In fact, Western Kentucky wasn’t even an FBS program until 2009, so any match-ups would have been like last week – FBS vs. FCS. So Detlef has chosen another game in the past against another small school opponent. Back when things were a bit simpler in Champaign… [Read more...]

Subscriptions And Renewals

Some of you may have noticed the little floating ticket showing up this morning. Some of you notice the floating ticket every day, but for subscribers, specifically the people who subscribed on the first day last year, one year is up as of this morning. So let’s talk about subscriptions and renewals, shall we? [Read more...]

When You Wish Upon A Star

Sometimes, you simply discover a star. And because of that star, your whole team is better.

Take the 2011 Illini. 59% of the reason that team went to a bowl and won it: Whitney Mercilus. Not just the 15.5 sacks, but the 22.5 tackles for loss and the nine forced fumbles (seriously, nine – second most in NCAA history). And the quarterback hurries. And the corner he held on a running play forcing the tailback outside giving time for Nate Bussey to get into that space and bring down the tailback for a 1 yard gain instead of a 6 yard gain. When you have a star like that, nearly every series he makes a play to impact the game. There aren’t any “wins above replacement” stats for college football that I know of (too many players), but Whitney Mercilus in 2011 was as singularly responsible for a bowl game as any Illini player has ever been.

This is all over college football, of course. Look at Boston College last year. They had gone 4-8 and then 2-10, and Andre Williams, as a junior that 2-10 season, rushed for only 584 yards. Then, in 2013, a Mercilus year. Williams rushes for the 5th-most yards in NCAA history (2,177 yards) as a senior, and Boston College goes 7-5 and bowling. Credit goes to the new coaching staff for discovering a star on the bench, so I’m sure BC fans hate the former staff for not giving the ball to Williams when he was a sophomore and a junior, but it’s also kind of a perfect storm thing. The right scheme, a player coming into his own, the necessary linemen, and presto, a 2-10 team goes 7-5. Mostly on the back of one player.

And it doesn’t have to be a “fifth most rushing yards in NCAA history” kind of thing either. Ra’Shede Hageman last year somewhat transformed a so-so Minnesota defense into an 8-4 bowl defense with his ability to constantly get in the backfield (and his somewhat crazy ability to knock down passes). Penn State’s offense is nothing last year if they can’t throw jump balls to Allen Robinson, who finished with almost 100 catches. Auburn discovered a running game with Tre Mason (and Jay Prosch!) and went from 3-9 to the national title game. Sometimes, one really, really good player can make a huge difference.

Why do I bring this up? Because I’m always scanning the horizon for a star. Every team lucks into a star every now and then. Sure, some of it is recruiting at a high level, but every once in a while, you recruit a 2-star defensive back from Kansas City with very few offers (Brandon Lloyd) and he becomes one of the best wide receivers in team history. It’s a big game of roulette, and every now and then, you hit on the right number out of 38.

I should note here that I don’t mean to suggest that finding a star is the reason teams are successful. You still have to do all of the other things – implement a scheme, recruit to it, fill your two-deep with upperclassmen – but finding a star can sometimes push you over the top.

Which begs the question… is there a star on this roster? Whitney Mercilus was completely unknown going into the 2011 season, having been a backup defensive end who played sparingly in 2010, but halfway through the season he was showing up on potential first-team All American lists. Suggesting that he’d be a first-team All American before that season would have been similar to suggesting that Kenny Nelson will be a first team All American after this season. You would have called me crazy.

But still… is there a player that could break out like that? I’ll give you three – two of which are obvious and one which is not.

1. Josh Ferguson

This one is obvious. He put up 1,314 yards rushing and receiving last year, which was good for 9th in the Big Ten in All Purpose Yards. APY also includes return yardage, of which Ferguson only had 37 yards before concentrating fully on tailback, so if we’re just looking at rushing + receiving, he was seventh in the conference. Three of the players above him on that last graduated, so he’ll likely be battling Ameer Abdullah from Nebraska, Tevin Coleman from Indiana, and Melvin Gordon from Wisconsin for the Big Ten lead in that category.

This fall, he’ll be asked to be The Guy. The line returns four starters, which always suggests improvement, and the offense lost four receivers, which suggests a reliance on tailbacks and tight ends. He’ll need help from Donovonn Young and Devin Church – they have to provide solid minutes so that Ferguson keeps his fresh legs the entire game – but this offense will almost certainly be designed around what he can do.

So can he take a huge leap? If he provided 1,300 yards rushing/receiving last season, can he get close to 2,000 this year? Can he sniff some postseason accolades? Here’s hoping for a huge, Rashard-Mendenhall-or-Mikel-Leshore-their-junior-seasons leap forward.

2. Wes Lunt

This is the other obvious one, right? The question here is simple – what if he’s Jeff George?

That’s a lot to put on him, I know. But the comparisons are inevitable. Highly touted coming out of high school, but chose another program (George was Purdue; Lunt was Oklahoma State). Arrived as a transfer after things didn’t work out at the other school, sitting out a year while learning the offense. Big, strong arm that can make all the NFL throws.

So… what if? What if he’s everything we’re hoping he’ll be? What if he’s the perfect quarterback for Bill Cubit’s system? What if Ferguson takes some pressure off the green receivers and with two senior tight ends, Cubit constructs an offense around Lunt’s amazing arm?  What if Lunt’s trip to Washington in September goes the same as George’s trip to USC in September 1989?

That’s a lot of what-ifs. But of any player on this roster, Wes Lunt has the physical tools to fulfill a crazy wish list like that. He’ll probably need some time adjusting – he’s only a sophomore – but still… what if?

3. Earnest Thomas

I considered Kenny Nelson here, just for the “fourth year junior comes out of nowhere at defensive end” Mercilus comparisons. And I thought about Teko Powell, who will anchor the interior of the defensive line as a junior. But this is a list of “and then he had this amazing season which completely transformed that side of the ball” players, and the player with the best chance of doing that on defense is Earnest Thomas.

Thomas has bounced around in his first four years in Champaign. His first two years – his redshirt year and his redshirt-freshman year – he was a linebacker. Specifically, he was learning from Nate Bussey and Ashante Williams at the outside Sam Linebacker position. When Tim Beckman arrived, he saw that he was very short on safeties, so he moved Thomas to strong safety. Now, for his final season, he’s back to his more natural position of outside linebacker.

Some are surprised to learn that Thomas was 7th in the Big Ten with 8.4 tackles per game last season. With a move to a better position for him, it’s possible that he has a very Nate Bussey-like senior season. Bussey moved to that spot as a senior, had a fantastic season, and ended up getting drafted by the Saints because of it. The hope is that Thomas’ move there produces similar results. Maybe even “where did THAT come from?” results.

That’s the hope, anyway. When looking over this roster, those are the three players who might have a Mercilus- or Leshoure-like “where did THAT come from?” season. And really, it doesn’t have to be one of those three.  Makes no difference who they are.  That’s my heart’s desire, anyway.