Dre Brown had a huge day. Caleb Reams had those huge blocks. Jamal Milan had his single best game as an Illini. Reggie Corbin's TD iced it. Senior Dele Harding forced a fumble which was grabbed by senior Stanley Green and returned 40 yards. Tymir Oliver consistently delivered Purdue offensive linemen into the backfield. Counting the walkons, there are only 13 seniors out on that field, and they're the ones making the push to put us in contention for a bowl game.
And I want to say both walkon seniors were out there? Pretty sure Nolan Bernat and Bobby Walker were both out there on special teams. Which means all 13 seniors contributed. I should just list them:
- Reggie Corbin - 12 carries for 47 yards and the touchdown that put the game out of reach.
- Stanley Green - Delivered hit after hit and grabbed a fumble out of the air returning it 40 yards to set up said TD.
- Dele Harding - Leads the Big Ten in tackles and forced the fumble the led to the return that led to the TD.
- Trenard Davis - OK, he's been injured, but I think I saw him out there blocking on the failed "reverse throw-back to Peters" play?
- Justice Williams - His late-camp move to tight end has helped this team gain a blocker for this run game. And he had a catch.
- Caleb Reams - I tweeted about it a couple time but Reams, in his first game back from injury, was like having an OL out there at WR for these run plays.
- Richie Petitbon - Has stepped in and solidified the hole left by Nick Allegretti and helped this offense to 242 difficult yards on the ground.
- Dre Brown - What can I say? Career high in yards, was the difference in the game. I am so here for Dre Brown November.
- Nolan Bernat - There's no participation chart yet but I'm almost certain he was out there on all the coverage teams.
- Bobby Walker - Ditto - I know he's in there on kick teams. Always need senior walkons on special teams.
- Jamal Milan - Is there any way to make a defensive tackle Big Ten DPOW? I know Chase Young wrapped it up with 4 sacks against Wisconsin, but still.
- Tymir Oliver - Those three senior defensive tackles have to be tired. These last few weeks we've turned to Milan, Oliver, and...
- Kenyon Jackson - ...Kenyon Jackson to bring the run defense to life. And it's worked. Hope his injury wasn't too bad - he was big today.
How long have we talked about senior step-ups being the key to college football? Because senior step-ups are the key to college football. Get those guys leading your team, going out with their best season, and then have them hand it off to the next set of seniors the next season. Get old, stay old, right?
(Here's where I note that we'll have 31 seniors next season.)
I mean, if you just want the storyline from this game, it's Milan, Harding, and Green leading the defense to their best performance of the season and Brown + Corbin grinding out a win on the ground. (Oh, and Blake Hayes pretty much being the greatest punter who ever lived.)
I think we all fear the over-conservative "I'll just do things like the NFL does things" coaching approach from Lovie and his staff, but today, in the rain, it was perfect. Use turnovers to get the lead. Once the lead is safe enough, do everything as conservative as possible because the only way they get back in this game is a bunch of turnovers. Play to not turn over the ball. And if that means your punter punts eight times and your QB only throws the ball six times, so be it. Get the lead, and then choke them out.
And grab that Cannon.
+ Jamal Milan was a beast out there. Yes, we need to discuss it again. Only four tackles (DT's aren't supposed to make the tackles), but all four tackles were TFL's. And one was a sack.
And it wasn't just the TFL's. He consistently drove his guy into the Purdue backfield and messed up what Purdue was trying to do. You don't have to make a tackle if you take away a running lane with the rear-end of an offensive lineman.
Both Milan and Oliver were keys to this game. Consistent interior pressure and there's just not much Purdue can do in the rain. No one was going to have a solid passing game today, so it was going to come down to who could grind out yards on the ground. We did, we win.
+ Yes, let's talk about WHAT IT MEANS. 4-4 with two more home games, both games where Illinois will be favored.
Sorry, need to type that out again.
4-4 with two more home games, both games where Illinois will be favored.
One more time, with feeling.
4-4 WITH TWO MORE HOME GAMES, BOTH GAMES WHERE ILLINOIS WILL BE FAVORED.
I need to calm down. We've seen for decades that no wins are sure things. I certainly don't want the team looking past Rutgers like Wisconsin looked past us. Stay focused, eyes on the prize, get to 5-4 and then we'll talk about "win one of these last three for a bowl game".
I think I've mentioned before that I'm headed to the MSU game. If we clinch a bowl game that day, I'm gettin' arrested.
(Dear MSU sports information department. I'm sitting in the stands that day, but if you give me a credential for postgame interviews, I'm not really getting arrested. These are just things I say WHEN MY TEAM WINS TWO BIG TEN GAMES IN A ROW.)
+ i JUST REALIZED (sorry I forgot caps lock was on) I just realized that I don't know the Rutgers score. OK, they won 44-34. Had they lost at home to Liberty, I might have predicted a 41-point blowout next week.
And that's just the thing, right? Here, I'll describe what we're all experiencing. When I wrote "41-point blowout next week", you flinched, didn't you? "Slow down, Robert - this is Illinois we're talking about here". I do it too (to myself). It's going to be so long before we can ever feel confident about anything. And that's OK.
But let me tell you. I'm sitting here on October 26, 2019 and thinking about next weekend. On Friday night, there's an exhibition basketball game where we get our first glimpse of what is hopefully the best Illini basketball team this decade. And then I'll sleep in my hotel room and get up, tailgate all day, and head in to watch my Illini football team in a game where they'll be favored by double digits. And if we win both, I'll drive home on Saturday night with the largest smile on my face. And I'll get up Sunday morning and finish the basketball preview typing like that Jim Carrey gif from Bruce Almighty. Publish the basketball preview Monday, watch the first Illini basketball game Tuesday, get ready for my trip to MSU, watch the Grand Canyon game (somehow) from the Detroit Airport Friday night, Illini-MSU on Saturday and then fly back in time to watch Illinois basketball at Arizona on Sunday night.
Calm down? I REFUSE TO CALM DOWN.
+ It's interesting to look at this season as a whole right now. There's a very high high and a very low low - the Wisconsin win and the Eastern Michigan loss. Both ended with field goals sailing through the same uprights.
And then if you look at the other six games, it's more or less... on track for what we thought this Year Four might look like? Blow out Akron. Too close at UConn, but a win is a win. Almost pulled it off at home against Nebraska but couldn't do it. Went on the road in the Big Ten (against a team that's about to move to 8-0) and got housed, but then played Michigan very close (two late turnovers when we had cut it to 28-25 sealed the deal). And now, we manhandled a young, injured, rebuilding Purdue on the road.
That's about what we'd expect. It's like some judged Olympic event. Toss out the high score (Wisconsin), toss out the low score (EMU), and the other six games get us right around what we were expecting.
Now, go win two of these next four because I want to travel over the holidays.