SOC - Northwestern
Another season of SOC's comes to a close. And if I'm honest, I'm ready for them to be over. I'll regret that next week when I realize there's no football until September, but I've become impatient. Let's just get to next year already. Especially since this last game is gonna sting.
I would love love love to have a springboard game - a surprise win in our final home game over the 8-3 Fitzees. I just spent the last 20 minutes looking at advanced stats trying to find a window where that could happen. Northwestern still struggles to run the ball, which is how teams are able to take us out of a game immediately, so I went looking for something like "you know, Thorson has thrown 11 picks so far and if he throws 3 more tomorrow I really do think we have a chance to hang around in this one". I tried really hard to find something (and, honestly, there are stats there which suggest that this game will be closer than many think given that this is a way better matchup than some other games).
BUT, there's still the issue of our offense. And it's ability to score. If we were to grab three interceptions, we'd better return two of them to the house because it seems every time we pick off a pass this season we end up punting. And Northwestern does have a solid defense, meaning we're not going to suddenly get lucky and start moving the ball efficiently. Touchdowns will still be a struggle. Hell, first downs will still be a struggle.
In fact, I'm not even sure who does the quarterbacking tomorrow. I'm just now realizing that with a busy (short) week at work and then Thanksgiving stuff, I don't even know if we have any healthy quarterbacks. Is Cam Thomas cleared yet? Is JGjr's thumb OK? I'm guessing they're cleared or else "Cam Miller to start" might have made it onto my radar screen this week. But sitting here right now, I have no idea who starts at QB.
And that goes for a lot of other injured players? Is Malik still out (meaning his career is over)? How many of the linebackers are back from injury? I really should be more up on these things.
But I just can't escape this feeling of wanting to get to next year. That's not to say next year will be solid - there's a lot to learn between now and September - but at least next year we'll have a full roster (85 scholarship players) and all of these injured players will return. We have 22 scholarship upperclassmen this year, we'll have 34 next year and then somewhere around 41-43 in 2019, so each of the next three seasons should be better than the last. Should be. Better be.
For now, though, we have to trudge through one more game. And I just can't see us moving the ball. Every part of me wants to point to Northwestern's flaws and say "this is not an 8-3 football team - it's just that the Big Ten West is awful". If we had any kind of offense - or even any player who could have an out-of-nowhere huge offensive stats game - I'd be all over an upset prediction for tomorrow. If, say, Mike Epstein and Mike Dudek were healthy, I'd be sitting here predicting "I know we don't have a QB but Mike and Mike are going to make some amazing plays and win this one on their own". I really feel like Northwestern is vulnerable.
But I don't think we have anyone who can do that. Besides "jump balls to Ricky Smalling" I'm not sure we have a single go-to offensive move. Dorsey over the middle maybe? Kendrick Foster has a big game in his final game? Yeah, I don't think any of those get us very far. Maybe Cam Thomas returns and runs for 151 yards? God I'd love to see it but I just don't see it.
In fact, I'm not sure I see double-digit points. More like, say, three field goals. I don't think there are any offensive levers left to pull. And Northwestern will slowly but surely do what they want to do because we keep punting it to them. And I have to watch Fitzee celebrate on the opposite sideline like he inveted water.
This one is going to hurt. It always hurts.
Northwestern 34, Illinois 9