SOC - Maryland

Oct 27, 2018

I'm in a weird mood. Never SOC while in a weird mood. No telling where this goes. I sat down this week and looked at the next 2.5 seasons and I have a lot of thoughts about that. Specifically, how many games we should win in a rebuild like this. So let's start there.

For starters, I wrote about 12 articles in the offseason on how having the youngest college team of the decade last year would lead to the most experienced college team of the decade in 2020. Which, you know, relies on players sticking around, of which four of them left this fall (Williams, Dorsey, Unije, and Thomas). So if that continues, we'll be nowhere near this "most experienced college team of the decade" I've been talking about.

And, let's be honest, a defense that has been, thus far, the worst Illini defense of my lifetime, has a long way to go by 2020. Lovie has churned through about 15 safeties in his 2.5 years in Champaign and I'm still not sure he's settled on anyone. So last summer's "here's how this should go with everyone returning for 2018, then 2019, then 2020" has faded a fair bit.

But I still believe that rebuilds such as this are best viewed blind. It will look bad until the moment it doesn't. You play the kids, they aren't anywhere close to ready, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, they are. It doesn't mean it's rebuilt - Ron Turner built up to 2001 and then that was it - but most rebuilds have a moment where it starts to get better.

I've compared this rebuild to Colorado several times (they went very young as well), and at the end of year three for them, things looked bleak. Mike MacIntyre was 2-25 in the Pac 12 in his first 27 conference games and the fans were screaming at Rick George to make a change (George did not hire MacIntyre). They stuck with Mac and then went 10-2 out of nowhere the next season. It didn't look like it was anything until it suddenly did.

That's why I use the word "blind" so often. Right or wrong, I put all these little mental post-it notes around my brain. "It won't look like anything but don't pay attention to that - watch for the signs of roster building". That's dumb, of course, because it eliminates any critical view of what we're seeing on the field. But as a fan who so desperately wants to see it built, I've always felt the need to do these things while wearing a blindfold. It won't look like anything until it's something.

All of that to say this: when I tell you my current expectation, it's going to sound insane. You're going to say "I don't see that AT ALL". But the point here is that a youth-movement rebuild should reach its turnaround point unexpectedly.

Ready? I think Illinois footbal can win 18 of its next 31 games. If the rebuild is on track, I truly believe that's possible. Do I SEE that? No, of course not. It's the worst Illini defense of my lifetime. But when you get a team that's going to hit 400+ starts across the roster (in 2020), you should expect win after win after win.

What does that look like? Well I'm saying 31 games because I'm counting two bowl games (no, seriously, I'm doing that). So that's 5 more games this season, 13 in 2019, and 13 in 2020.

Wins could be any variety. 4-8 this year (1-4 these last five), then 7-5 plus a bowl win, the 9-3 with a bowl loss. Or maybe 5-7 this season, 8-4 with a bowl loss, then 8-4 again. Or maybe it's just 3-9 this year, then a Colorado-like 9-3 turnaround next year (with a bowl loss), then 8-4 with a bowl win.

My point: if we're going to endure this much losing with these young teams, we should suddenly get a bunch of wins once they mature. If we don't, fire the coach. The whole reason to play this many freshmen and sophomores is that 2019 and 2020 payoff. So, until it doesn't happen, I'm going to expect a payoff.

And it's probably just the weird mood talking, but I can't escape the thought tonight that it might start tomorrow? This is the kind of matchup we've been looking for, right? A team that really struggles on offense. Their defense is good, yes, but maybe we can move the ball on the ground? We've certainly shown signs of a possible breakout game on offense. Maybe it happens tomorrow?

I mean, maybe the story for the rest of the season remains the same: this is The Worst Illini Defense Of Our Lifetimes and every game is pretty much over before it gets out of the second quarter. I could see that. If I look at the statistics, the defensive failures are obvious. Perhaps that's the story these last seven weeks AND these next five weeks.

But maybe Maryland's 100th-ranked offense (S&P+) is exactly what we need? And maybe Maryland's defense, which has relied on 13 interceptions thus far, really isn't that great? I've been talking about our turnover luck keeping us close in the South Florida and Penn State games. Well, guess which Big Ten team is somehow even luckier than us in that category? Maryland.

That's where I land on this one. Head AND heart say "Maryland moves the ball at will againt our putrid defense, Tre Watson has a Houston Bates Game against his former team, and Maryland wins this one going away". I mean, they're 17 point favorites. Who predicts a win as 17 point dogs ON THE ROAD?

I guess I do. Head and heart say one thing, but gut says another. Can't shake it, so I've gotta run with it.

Illinois 28, Maryland 27


uilaw71 on October 27 @ 06:05 AM CDT

Glad to see the real Robert return. The imposter was no fun!

illiniranger on October 27 @ 07:33 AM CDT

I agree that we could see an out of nowhere turn around (1998 Illinois which was a very bad team especially offensively turned into 1999 Illinois which was a pretty good team and one of the best offenses in school history).

My concern though is like that era we build to one or two solid teams and then it falls apart due to weak recruiting. We were what 12th or 13th out of 14 in the B1G last year and we are 13th or 14th this year? That’s just not sustainable.

mrozny on October 27 @ 08:07 AM CDT

Glad that I am not the only one that is seeing a win(I guess you are not seeing a win as much as feeling it).

Hey Robert is it possible to have someone do a defensive breakdown? Is there any change in scheme between this year and last year? We all know our defense is statistically terrible especially with points given up and yards gained, but why...?

illiniranger on October 27 @ 10:20 AM CDT

Lovie came in as a base 4-3. Last year we ran a lot of 4-2-5 with 3x CBs to defend the pass and lots of man to man with a single high safety. This year we are a 4-2-5 but use a third safety and play more 2 high safeties and Cover 2 zone. Still play a lot of man to man though.

Two commonalities through the two years is that we always have at least a 4-2 front and we rarely blitz except in obvious passing downs. We are almost never out of our base 4-2-5. Occasionally we will play a 4-3 against a heavy run package, like two TEs and a RB.

IMO the defenses struggles are a result of youth (playing a ton of young guys in the secondary) and mostly just sitting in our base D with almost no variation snap to snap, series to series or game to game. We aren’t good enough to sit in our base and beat people we need to mix up our playcalls and the defensive front (something like bumping a LB down to rush end or bringing a DB up to the edge pre snap) so that it shows an odd front and makes the OL at least think about something different.

TLDR: our D is very easy for opponents to scheme because it never evolves.

mrozny on October 27 @ 01:40 PM CDT

My “hope” is that they are not putting together game film of little variations, until they think they can win... or master the base before we try to get “cute”.

HiggsBoson on October 27 @ 05:21 PM CDT

And honestly no indication that Hardy Nickerson can coach. Or call a defensive game.

Chukwuwumba on October 27 @ 08:45 AM CDT

How would you feel about the team if the Wisconsin and Purdue weeks were switched?? Purdue would have blown out osu, and Illinois performance would have been expected. Still looks like we are not close to the best teams, but better than the worst. If we can match evenly, win or lose, with the rest of teams except Iowa, then we are closer to middle than the bottom.

Groundhogday on October 27 @ 02:02 PM CDT

We are No 105 per S&P and Sagarin. Only Rutgers is worse, and the closest team ahead of us in the rankings is Northwestern (No. 69 S&P) or Minnesota (No. 66 Sagarin). No, we aren't in the middle of the pack. Advanced stats suggest there isn't much difference between NW, Maryland, Minnesota, Indiana, and Nebraska. And we are substantially worse than this clump of middling teams.

HiggsBoson on October 27 @ 05:19 PM CDT

There was a tear down, but where's the rebuild? Purdue hired a coach who knew how to integrate the players he inherited while he implemented his system and brought in his guys. Illinois hired a guy who appears to think he gets a better draft pick if he loses a lot. The only thing Lovie Smith excels at is running off players.

I'm predicting a beat down loss today, the same as I will for the rest of the season.

If you want a solid Illini football program, you need to invent a time machine and go back and kill that jackass Michael Hogan before he hires that incompetent dumbass Mike Thomas, who wrecked both football a basketball with his hires. We would be better now, and have been better in between, if Ron Zook were still coach. Zook was fired for getting to (and winning) two bowl games in a row for the first time in Illini history. He got us to the Rose Bowl in year three. Even Tim Beckman got us to a bowl. Bill Cubit would likely have gotten to a bowl with those upperclassmen if he hadn't been replaced by Lovie Smith. Lovie Smith hasn't sniffed a bowl or a winning season, and probably won't during his entire time at Illinois. All he's delivered is a win over Rutgers and the worst defense anyone has seen in living memory.

I expect him back next year because he has a $19 million buyout before then. I don't expect improved results.

If Lovie is still here going 3-9 after five years, we may need to replace Whitman to ever hope to get better. Truth is, Lovie has never been very good as a head coach. That Super Bowl was more due to Ron Rivera,

steveinseattle on October 27 @ 05:54 PM CDT

Lovie should be done. There is zero progress on the field especially when compared to peer programs like Minnie, Purdue and Maryland. Today just puts an exclamation point on that.

Lou-a-villini on October 27 @ 06:35 PM CDT

Robert, are you still in a weird mood?

Groundhogday on October 27 @ 07:01 PM CDT

Waiting for Robert to post an audio clip following this debacle.

HiggsBoson on October 27 @ 09:32 PM CDT

I thought he only did that for home games.

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