Nov 23, 2019

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?


(Man it still feels good to say that.)


deadguy on November 23 @ 07:07 PM CST

Re: Empty seats.....I think Iowa fans are becoming complacent. 7-11 wins is no longer good enough for them. Been there, done that. I think some of them want to move on from Ferentz which is crazy to me.

I’m happy with the performance today but a little worried about next week if Brandon isn’t available. The offense has been boom or bust all season and I’m getting frustrated by the lack of sustained drives.

NW appears to be down to their 4th string QB but they did manage to put up 22 points today.

It’s probably going to be a close game, but like you said, they can’t end our season. If we were 5-6 I’d be a wreck all week. I’m still not feeling that great but I will at least be able to enjoy Thanksgiving.

Illiniiniowa on November 23 @ 09:57 PM CST

Lots of Iowa fans are tired of Ferentz and boring play and boring 7-9 wins. I root them on hoping it'll work out for them like dumping Pelini is working for Nebraska

Illiniiniowa on November 23 @ 09:58 PM CST

I was at the game. Did the TV announcers have any clue why targeting wasn't called

thegoah on November 23 @ 10:35 PM CST

No. They thought it was targeting, was targeting.

I HATE the targeting rule, and I always think it is ridiculous when they call it. And finally I see a play where it actually WAS letter and spirit of the law...and zilch.

Bear8287 on November 24 @ 01:48 PM CST

Hey Robert,
Could you put up a clip of the video from the play where the Iowa player put his helmet on BP's chin? I haven't seen it posted anywhere yet. Thanks.

Bear8287 on December 25 @ 11:53 PM CST

Here’s a link to the video of the late hit.

Sweetchuck13 on November 24 @ 07:10 AM CST

On the attendance issue, it’s definitely a problem for all of college football, but I think another factor is that our conference opponents no longer see us as a big game worth attending. I was talking to an Iowa fan and they mentioned the weak home schedule this year. Hopefully as we continue to get better we’ll get more respect from opponents, but that’s where we are.

Plus I think students had already gone home mostly for break.

Brave Illini on November 24 @ 09:13 AM CST

Your subconscious desire to win keeps leaking through. It cannot be denied. And that's a good thing. We tell ourselves consciously we will be satisfied with such and such, but inately we want to win.

No bowl, no tourney on November 24 @ 09:37 AM CST

Yeah you nailed it (almost as much as their defender nailed Peters - football needs fixing, it's like a maze of lawyery legalese to get to the bottom of any call). But you're exactly right, I thought I'd be laid back watching this "playing with house money" game and I was pissed right out of the box on Iowa's TD drive in the 1st quarter. And later I was thrilled about that! It means they're are no games that don't matter. Believe you can hang with anyone. Man, that's way more fun than the "not ideal" years.

Regarding attendance, football is slipping everywhere. High school games are less attended than before, many junior high schools don't have tackle football anymore. It's now transpiring into empty seats at historically packed houses. The concussion thing is real. And watching the officials wet the bed on the Peters hit certainly won't help the game get better. The inconsistency of officiating at the college level is nothing short of staggering.

Bear8287 on November 24 @ 01:52 PM CST

The concussion thing is real. And watching the officials wet the bed on the Peters hit certainly won't help the game get better.


I don't know who the powers that be think that they are fooling. A lot of parents will see a play like that and say, "That was legal!? I think that we can find another sport for little Johnny to play"... and they are.

Of course, having pro players rip the helmet off the opposing team's QB and then hitting him in the head with it won't help either.

Illiniiniowa on November 24 @ 03:46 PM CST

My kids high school had 66 boys out for cross country and 35 for football last year

Illiniiniowa on November 24 @ 03:56 PM CST

Despite our low scoring total, after rewatching I think Rod had a really solid game plan. The rollouts and RPOs really neutralized the best player on the field.

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