Resolved: there's no such thing as a stress-free game. Here I was, thinking I could finally watch a game without angst - on the road, top-20 opponent, bowl eligibility secured, total gravy game - and there I was, angsty. Pacing back and forth. I even attended a gamewatch (I never watch at bars because I can't really pace like I need to), and there I was, wearing out the sticky floor. And sweating.
Which, honestly, is a good thing. It means we've built something. We've played in 11 games this season and been uncompetitive once (on the road at #10 Minnesota and that game was 16-10 at halftime). We've been in every single game, which is all we've ever wanted. A 19-10 loss at top-20 Iowa is as good of a loss as we've had in several seasons. -2 in turnovers, yet we're right there. Without the three turnovers, we probably win.
I tweeted about my angst - we're in the game, but we're not in the game - and I thought Tyler's response was best:
I'm stuck in between happy that this game was so winnable - and upset that this game was so winnable
-- Tyler Cottingham (@TylerCott) November 23, 2019
That's pretty much it, right? If you told me in August that we'd be 6-4, playing a ranked Iowa team on the road, down 16-10 and driving (but we would fumble during that drive, giving Iowa the make-it-two-scores field goal), I would have told you I'd be floating on air that entire gamewatch. We're BOWL ELIGIBLE and playing Iowa close? Zero chance I'd have an ounce of angst. I'd be smiling the whole time.
But there I was, pacing. Texting friends about the halftime clock flub. Angry at the officials over calls. Even with the game out of reach, I was seething at the no-call on the Peters helmet hit. In August, I would have told you that I'd be able to watch a game like this sitting down (gravy game on the road with a bowl secured), but I just couldn't get there.
Maybe it was the "chance" that we could still make the Big Ten Championship game? That was never going to happen. Northwestern wasn't going to beat Minnesota (plus the three other things we needed to happen). But maybe that kept my brain in "this game is EVERYTHING" mode?
Because I was pacing like a bowl game was on the line. It's very possible we'd be in the same bowl (Pinstripe) win or lose here, but man, I couldn't get my brain to not think this game meant everything.
Which in and of itself is probably a good thing.
+ Stay with me after I make this statement: It was nice to be in a yards battle and come out on the losing end because we turned the ball over too much.
Some games are simply yards battles. When Maryland puts up 712 yards, you're not going to win the game even if you grab five turnovers. The yards alone have put the game out of reach.
When the total yards for each team are within, say, 100 yards, then it comes down to footballing. Turnovers are the biggest thing, but so is field position and red zone stats. The teams that win those games score 7 instead of 3, they pin their opponents deep, and, obviously, they take care of the ball while forcing the opponent into turnovers.
Last year we grabbed 16 interceptions but we were yards'd to death. Bludgeoned by yards. This year, well, let's be honest - we've won a few games where we got yards'd simply because we took care of the ball and got turnover after turnover. Michigan State 526 yards, Illinois 405 yards, Illinois wins because of three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
As we've maybe discussed 37 times, turnovers can be very luck-based. So when you won the Wisconsin game because of a fourth-quarter Wisky fumble and a fourth-quarter Wisky INT, and when you won the Michigan State game because of those four turnovers, you begin to get a little worried that it's not a sustainable thing.
But then you play Iowa straight-up on the road (and lose because you threw an INT in the endzone and fumbled while driving to take the lead), you feel pretty good. You're competing in every game. Yards were 387-336, time of possession was even, had the ball down 16-10 and driving with 7:00 left. We added a third turnover after that (instead of Peanut Punching our way to a win, we got Peanut Punched), and that was that.
Still... It was nice to be in a yards battle and come out on the losing end because we turned the ball over too much.
+ I was seriously surprised at all the empty seats. I've always used Iowa as this "some day we can be like that - the fans will show up game after game after game if we have a program", but even Iowa has that many empty seats?
That pic at the top is one I found from Twitter from some fan at the game. It's just weird to see that many bleachers. And that after last weekend at Michigan State where they don't sell out games anymore. Really strange spot for college football right now.
Like, NOTRE DAME's 237-game sellout streak ended last weekend. Is Nebraska next? (Speaking of Nebraska, they totally beat this Iowa team next week in Lincoln, right? Feels like they beat Iowa and go to a bowl.)
I forgot what I was talking about. Yes - empty seats. Really weird. Wonder how far it falls from here.
+ I haven't been mentioning how few turnovers we've had recently because I didn't want people mad at me when they eventually showed up. But before this game, we had been taking care of the ball something fierce. This was probably a correction that was always coming.
The fumble, honestly, that's just a great defensive play. Similar to Jake Hansen's forced fumbles, some linebackers just have the ability to deliver a hit directly on the ball.
The first interception was the Tony Adams Wisconsin play. You think the corner will drag with the guy curling short, and the corner sags to the second guy and makes the pick. Probably a poor pass as well but... great play.
The flea flicker INT - no idea what was happening there. I didn't see a replay but it looked like BheBhe was out of bounds and nowhere near the play. What did Peters see when he released that ball? Maybe just confident that Bhebhe could win a jump ball?
+ Speaking of Hansen, the injuries are really piling up. Adams missed most of this game. Hobbs went out (and I think Witherspoon went out as well for a bit?) meaning Nick Walker came in (and also confirming that Quan Martin must be 100% at safety now).
On offense, it looks like Corbin had a foot thing (tried to battle through it but came right back out) plus Peters might be concussed from that helmet-to-helmet. When you add the other injuries from this season (Epstein, Smalling, Sidney, even Roundtree and Beason), it's getting really, really thin going into the final game. Matt Robinson with only two healthy tailbacks plus Navarro-Reams-Bhebhe-Washington?
GOOD THING WE'RE ALREADY BOWL ELIGIBLE.
(Man it still feels good to say that.)