Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over an--
Just kidding. I love a good cliche, but even I agree that one's been overused.
It was hard, though, watching Maryland run the same handful of plays over and over, expecting a different result from the Illini defense, and yet never seeing one. Literally the last offensive play of the game for Maryland was one they'd run some variation of, a jet sweep, a dozen times, mostly with success, and yet Illinois still couldn't stop it. Insanity, indeed.
What's the answer? It's an honest question. Lovie is big on accountability within a scheme -- was it the players consistently not doing their jobs, over and over? Is allowing 63 points and 712 yards of offense some sort of hard lesson for the defense, like Herb Brooks repeating "again" as his players skate up and down the ice?
Or is it coaching? A complete failure to adjust to something as simple as an end around or a stretch play? Going into the game, the book on Maryland was fairly clear -- Kasim Hill has had issues passing the ball, but their running game can move, and they've got athletes. Force Hill to pass, and you're in a good spot.
Even their scheme was relatively known, or should have been. Going into the game, Maryland's receivers had 26 rushing attempts; for context, Illinois receivers this year have a combined six rushing attempts, three of which belong to Dominic Stampley. They like to get their playmakers the ball.
In fact, very little should have been a surprise to the Illini coaches. Jeshaun Jones took a sweep to the house in Maryland's season-opening win over Texas. And the salt-in-the-wound touchdown to make it 63, scored by the freshman tight end of all people? Maryland ran the exact same play, with the exact same result, in the waning moments of their lopsided win over Minnesota a month ago. This wasn't revolutionary stuff.
And yet here we are, left to wonder what the hell happened.
Of course, Hill did his part in carving up the Illini defense as well, going 11-for-19 for 265 yards and three touchdowns. You could make the excuse that a team keyed on the run would be susceptible to getting beaten through the air, but there's little evidence the Illini were keyed on the run, given the result.
There just seemed to be a general lack of preparedness on the part of the defense. Whoever it's on, some changes -- coaching, personnel -- need to be made, even if only to show that Saturday's effort wasn't acceptable. (Editor's note: This column was written before the news of Hardy Nickerson's resignation was made public. So, uh, there's your change.)
-It was a disappointing day for MJ Rivers, capped by the concussion, but I still like the idea of what he brings to the offense.
One of the things I've been most impressed with is his resolution to keep his eyes downfield. A lot of quarterbacks, when flushed -- especially ones with the ability to take off, like Rivers does -- will bail on the play and try to gain what they can on the ground. Rivers, almost to a fault, tries to delay until the very last second, hoping something comes open so he can deliver the ball.
He had an off day and his receivers didn't do him any favors, and it will certainly be worth noting how he goes through the concussion protocol. Seeing him riding the bike on the sideline was a positive development, though.
-Even if he is good to go, it will be interesting to see how Lovie and Rod Smith play the quarterback situation after AJ Bush showed very well in relief.
Bush looked like a different player, as Robert alluded to in his post. The ball to Stampley on his second score was perfect, but I was more impressed with the needle he threaded to Trenard Davis early in the third quarter. That's a throw he hasn't been able to make this year.
-There's not a lot you can do about your defense giving up 63 points, but it doesn't need to be said that turning those four field goals into touchdowns makes it a much more competitive game in the fourth quarter. I like Chase McLaughlin as much as the next guy, but I could stand to see less of him, unless he's kicking extra points.
-My initial thought was to discount Stampley's two long catch-and-runs as garbage-time outliers, but I'm inclined to think there's some good to be found.
Stampley has struggled to this point to get anything going in the Illini offense. The aforementioned rushes have been duds, and he's been even less of a factor in the passing game.
So getting him the ball and having him make a play on the first touchdown had to help his confidence, and the long touchdown pass on his second score also shows that he can function within the traditional offense. Even if it was only for his own morale, a day like that should benefit Stampley, and by extension the Illini offense, going forward.
-The scheme and lack of adjustment was glaring, but also hard to miss was the difference in athleticism. Like, does Illinois have a player as fast as Javon Leake or Jeshaun Jones? (It's not lost on me that Illinois actually recruited Jones before he committed to Maryland.) Maryland appears to be a team on the rise, with many of their skill position players underclassmen, but most of what worked Saturday worked because Maryland had better athletes doing the work.
-The best objective view of the program's current state, to me, comes not from the national writers calling for Lovie's dismissal, but from the betting line for a given game -- a number created by a professional handicapper who takes everything into account and says, "this team will probably win by this amount."
So Minnesota -- led by rah-rah P.J. Fleck, who decided going into the season that a walk-on freshman quarterback gave his team the best chance to win, and without arguably their only household name in injured running back Rodney Smith -- opening as a 9.5-point favorite at Illinois is troubling.
There is, of course, little reason to believe in Illinois' ability to win that or any game at this juncture. Minnesota appears to have found their quarterback in Tanner Morgan, and the Morgan-led Gophers just beat Indiana, a team that would also run the Illini in head-to-head matchup.
It's just disappointing, to keep doing this over and over again, week after week, year after year. Here's to hoping for, but not expecting, a different result.