SOC - Penn State
I can already tell this is going to be a short one. Worked until 10 pm, got home in time to watch some fun NFL stuff with Baker Mayfield (#walkon), have to be back at work 5:30ish to finish two projects before heading to Champaign for a Friday night football game followed by a full weekend of work for a project due Monday. The players need a bye week? I need a bye week. #whineon
So this one will be short and sweet. Maybe. Who knows? The whole idea behind Stream Of Consciousness is that I write whatever is on my brain with one rule: no edits. So maybe my brain goes crazy and I write 1,500 words. Let's do this, brain.
The last time Penn State came to Champaign, we won. It was James Franklin's first year, and Penn State looked confused as all get-out, and Reilly O'Toole made a little hand signal to Dude K and they linked up and Reisner hit the field goal and we went bowling after beating Northwestern the following week with the Josh Ferguson double spin move.
Now, four years later, Penn State isn't confused at all. They went through that confusion for about 2.5 years until their game against Minnesota in 2016. They snapped out of it at halftime, came back to beat Minnesota, and have pretty much dominated since. If my math is correct they're 23-3 since that moment. 16-14 in Franklin's first 30 games, 23-3 since. What was that thing I wrote last week about rebuilds? When the light comes on, it happens swiftly and violently? It happened swiftly and violently at halftime of that Minnesota game in 2016 for them.
This is game 28 for Lovie. Will his big turnaround happen in game 31 like it did for Franklin? Perhaps. Lovie (obviously) has a lot longer to go to rebuild the thing - Franklin took over a 8-4/7-5 Penn State; Lovie took over a crater with a lost recruiting class after Not Ideal - so I doubt it happens at some random halftime this season for Lovie, but I will say that I expect a light bulb moment later this season where things start to look better. Not "good" yet, but improved.
I was thinking the other day how this season feels like 2013. Let me count the ways.
- Start 2-0 at home.
- Third game is in Soldier Field and you stay much closer to the (much better) opponent than anyone expected.
- Defense still looks youthfully frightening because it's mostly all sophomores.
- Offense looks much improved from the (unconscionably bad) season before.
I like the potential of this team much more than the 2013 team (mostly because the offensive resurgence in 2013 was led by seniors who would be graduating), but overall the teams feel similar. The way we looked at Smoot/Phillips/Chunky on that defensive line is the way we look at Roundtree/Gay/Carney/Woods on this line: not there yet, but potential for the future. Hansen is Monheim. Stanley Green is Earnest Thomas. (Man, I'm really on to something here.)
So what happened in our first Big Ten game in 2013? We lost to Nebraska 39-19. That was that weird game where we trailed 23-5 at halftime. Actually looked decent in the second half, but the game was well in hand. We never really threatened.
That sounds about right for tomorrow, right? Trail by some weird Illinois score at halftime, look decent in the second half, but the game is already well in hand. The Penn State program is rebuilt and rolling right now, and there's what, 40+ four-stars on the other sideline? Maybe 50? We're not at the point where we can beat 50 four-star athletes. You can sometimes out-experience a team like that and surprise them, but we don't have any experience yet. We're a bunch of sophomores and freshmen.
And when sophomores and freshmen play the #9/10 team in the country, they usually get destroyed. Our defense, giving up 6.4 yards per play so far this season (104th nationally) is going up against a Penn State offense averaging 6.8 yards per play (20th nationally)? That's frightening. It feels like one of those "will Penn State even need to call a passing play"? games. That's probably overly dramatic, but that's how this one feels right now.
So I'm hoping for a few things. Show that we can run the ball when playing an elite defense (to keep the 2013 vibes going, Penn State's co-defensive coordinator? 2013 Illini defensive coordinator Tim Banks). Show that we're learning and growing on defense. I'm thinking the suspended players are back, which will give us a boost, but that's immediately offset by the fact that Penn State is light-years better than South Florida. We could hang last week with turnovers and opponent penalties. Can we do the same this week? I don't think so.
Penn State 47, Illinois 13