Nov 05, 2017

People hate excuses. Bosses hate excuses from their employees, parents hate excuses from their kids - no one wants to hear the reason something didn't get done. In sports, though, there are often all kinds of valid excuses. And most people hate them.

We want our team to win. We want the mistakes to stop. Most fans will give some rope when a new coach takes over, and then every fan has a threshold where they cross into "no more excuses - win now".

Take Brad Underwood for example. His team lost an exhibition last night at Eastern Illinois. Had John Groce been retained and then lost this game (with the same set of players), there would have been a crowd with pitchforks outside the arena (well, it was Charleston, so there probably were people carrying pitchforks but that's just a daily occurance). Instead, Underwood lost and most people turned to some very valid excuses.

  • This was his first game.
  • The players looked confused by the new offensive system.
  • There's very little experience returning this season.
  • John Groce talked about TNT but he never coached it so now Underwood will need to develop toughness.

And on and on. There is leeway given to a new coach. At some point, maybe even during his first season this year, some fans will turn to "no more excuses - Underwood just isn't the guy". It happens with every new coach at every school. Unless you win big your first year, you're going to be not-the-guy'd.

So really, this comes down to excuse tolerance. There are fans who will not-the-guy within weeks. There are other fans who will never not-the-guy - it's the injuries, he was snake-bitten by this schedule, it's just more bad luck, if the officials had made the right call... we all know that guy too.

And no one - NO ONE - wants to be that guy. And I mean no one. No one I know wants to be the last person saying "hold on everyone, I still think coach can do this". When the fans start to turn, they turn quickly. It's like a run on a bank. Excuses get old very fast.

Me? Sometimes I feel like the excuse king. I have a very specific way I believe Illini football can finally be rebuilt (long, slow, and methodical is the only way to go), and I believe we're finally doing that, and so pretty much everything I say about it comes off like an excuse. It causes people to send emails, to scream "UNFOLLOWING YOU" on Twitter, to accuse me of trading positivity for a press pass - all kinds of things.

But each time I sit down after a game to write about what I saw, I still think the "excuses" tell the story. We ARE struggling in these games because of the youth movement. We DO now have a ton of injuries now, and, having the smallest number of scholarship players and the youngest roster in the country, we just can't replace some of these players. We HAVE seen that the 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes just haven't produced very much, which is why the coaches are turning to the 2017 class immediately. And yes, true freshmen AREN'T ready for major conference college football.

So when I'm watching a game, I'm barely watching the "game". I'm watching for the future. How are the offensive linemen progressing? Who is the quarterback of the future? Have we found a linebacker rotation? Are we getting turnovers? Sometimes, when someone tweets me "why did we do X instead of Y??", I have trouble remembering X and Y because I was watching something else. When I watch at home I rewind the DVR so very often to watch something again. And then when I fast forward and watch only the plays, I miss things (which is why I tweeted "did Cam Thomas get injured?" today because I realized later that I must have missed something).

Overall, what have I seen this season? Nearly exactly what I expected given all of these "excuses". I had this game as 31-10 Purdue and the final was 29-10. I'm now 8-1 against the spread this season with our touchdown at Minnesota with 30 seconds left preventing me from 9-0. I feel like I know everything about this team - its strengths, its weaknesses, its shortcomings - and I'm seeing exactly what I expected. I said 3-9 and still think we can find that third win.

Which means I still believe everything to be on track. I didn't expect the offense to be this bad but I also didn't expect the offense to go this young. I was working out a preliminary depth chart for next year and, once these injured players return, I think we'll have NINE sophomores starting on offense. This is a complete tear-down and rebuild from the ground up, starting with the very first recruit in the first recruiting class.

Which means that for the rest of this season, and then throughout the offseason, a lot of what I write will sound like these excuses. Because they are. The coaches had to go young, and it's rare for young players to be ready (although please note the job that Michigan State is doing with their mostly-sophomore team), and the fact that there's only 76 scholarship players isn't their fault, and the fact that the 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes haven't produced really isn't their fault (although it would be nice to see some developmental surprises next year), and the fact that skill position injuries have further decimated the offense isn't helping.

If they finish with the worst recruiting class in the Big Ten? We need to talk about it - they're getting paid a lot of money to land recruits. If there are off-the-field issues like Lee/Holcombe/Watkins arrests, we need to talk about it. If there are bad timeouts taken in these last three games, we need to talk about it.

But beyond that, I remain at the same place as I was in September and October: things are still on track. These freshmen are wildly talented, just young and inexperienced. Turning to them immediately is the right move. We'll take our lumps, but it should pay off in the long run.

And then, in the near future, we will win.


MuckFichigan92 on November 05 @ 03:48 AM CST

Disagree about the near future. There isn't a squad in the west that will digress. Perhaps Nebraska but they should be adding Scott Frost. If Brohm maximizes talent, along with Captain Kirk, Fleck communicates with John Cooper to blast Minny with talent, if not smarts, Fitzee punches himself in the face rather than a better gig, Wisky avoids competition and remains Wisky, how will Lovie win?

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on November 05 @ 12:43 PM CST

Minny and Purdue will both regress significantly. JMO.

illiniranger on November 05 @ 06:55 AM CST

I’ve resigned myself to us not getting better at all this year. Think we’ll be competitive next year. Very curious how recruiting finishes.

MoCoMdIllini on November 05 @ 08:37 AM CST

How did we come to be in the state of "having the smallest number of scholarship players...in the country"?

thumpasaurus on November 05 @ 08:43 AM CST

lasagna, and the fallout thereafter.

Bear8287 on November 05 @ 11:53 AM CST

enter image description here

There. That just made everyone want to puke just a little bit, didn't it?

thumpasaurus on November 05 @ 08:46 AM CST

I don't see this team getting competitive until late 2019, and I recently found a post I made from just after the Beckman firing suggesting that exact timeline. So we're over halfway through eating this turd sandwich (really, it's a turd party sub). Waiting for the team to be good gets tiring, but in the 2010's, it's a way of life for the illini fan.

illiniranger on November 05 @ 09:13 AM CST

Turd party sub ... LOL

Illiniiniowa on November 06 @ 10:58 AM CST

Turd party sub would be a great band name.

ATOillini on November 05 @ 09:09 AM CST

I agree with most everything you've said here other than "the freshman are wildly talented". After a well thought out piece you let a bit of hyperbole sneak in at the end. But I guess that's the eternally optimistic fan managing to chime in. I'm simply hoping for progress, respectability, etc. given right now it's generally a painful process to watch fort the most part.

Joe Edge on November 05 @ 11:15 AM CST

Well... When you're playing high school seniors (basically) against college juniors and seniors (basically) I don't see very many realistic ways to win.... We're now starting 16 true freshmen (high school seniors) and playing them against teams who only start 3 or 4 (or ZERO) freshmen.... EOS And this is not an EXCUSE... it's reality....

McAdoo on November 05 @ 01:47 PM CST

I think the vast majority of Illini Football fans are going to give Lovie a chance, if for no other reason than they realize Whitman won't fire him for a couple years no matter what.

So fans are looking at this and wondering how to properly evaluate the team. The wins and losses ALMOST don't matter this year, although getting another win or two might help recruiting somewhat. That leaves evaluation of who is getting playing time and coaching decisions (Play-calling, timeouts, going for it or kicking a field goal or punting, etc.) for the rest of the year.

Here's where I stand right now: I don't think Illinois should fire McGee as offensive coordinator, but Lovie needs to have a serious discussion with him about the offensive play-calling in the off-season. And, yes, McGee doesn't have the horses... Especially with an offensive line that can't pass protect consistently... But, still, at some point you have to use your full offense and let the chips fall where they may. And, if that full offense isn't good enough, then Lovie needs to bring in a different OC.

I like how our defense is developing but there is still a lot of work to do. Special teams is better (Thank goodness for Hayes) but, in my opinion, still not good enough. I would make a move for a different special teams coordinator in the off-season.

Finally, I still have a significant concern about Lovie's in-game decisions on timeouts and going for it on fourth downs. It is no secret that Lovie struggled in this area more times than not with the Bears. I don't see the improvement from Lovie that I was hoping for in this area. It doesn't really matter all that much now, but in the years to come it will... Especially if this team improves like I think it will. Hopefully someone (Whitman?) can have an "intervention" and at least explain some basic statistics to Lovie about the importance of keeping timeouts and making proper fourth-down decisions.

HiggsBoson on November 06 @ 05:28 PM CST

I don't think that Whitman will ever fire Lovie, though there may be a negotiated retirement at some point if we continue to struggle to get to a 3-9 record.

1970 John on November 06 @ 08:08 AM CST

My old man used the term "Alibi Ike." Yeah, that's the guy who makes excuses. But at some point you have to know why you didn't succeed. You have to identify it, and find a way to correct it. That's the difference between an excuse and a reason. And you have to know the reason, or you have no alternative to making the same mistake over and over.

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