Hope


Robert
Sep 14, 2019
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32 Comments

Michigan State 2009 has always stuck with me. Statistically, that was going to be the year. Juice-to-Rejus. Upperclassmen everywhere. After that loss to Michigan State in the fifth game - I can point to the exact spot where I was on I-57 when it hit me - I got to a really dark "you can stop hoping now" moment.

This feels like that.

I should explain "that". 2009 was going to be the year. Juice as a senior, one more year of Rejus before he heads off to the NFL, a bunch of upperclassmen are ready to lead the team to big moment after big moment. We were favored in the Missouri game. If you wanted to bet the over in Vegas, you'd have to bet on that team winning eight games. 7-to-9.com promoting two Heisman candidates in Champaign. You remember.

The Missouri game was a gutpunch (37-9 loss), but I held on to "it could still turn around" for so long. We beat Illinois State and then lost two games to the top two teams in the Big Ten (Ohio State and Penn State) - both were ranked in the top-15. After that, the schedule lightened up. Sure, it's not going to be some great season when you start 1-3, but 7-5 was still on the table. Heck, 8-4 was on the table. 2-3 Michigan State was coming to town, followed by Indiana, Purdue, a bad Michigan team, a bad Minnesota team - a turnaround was still out there. So you lost to Missouri, Ohio State, and Penn State. Those are the three hardest opponents - now it's time to make a move. As I recall, Michigan State had just lost at home to Central Michigan. We can absolutely turn this around.

Michigan State 24, Illinois 14

At this one very specific spot on I-57, it hit me. All of that hope was for nothing. "It could still turn around!" was absolutely pointless. I put my hope in a thing, and the thing let me down.

This feels very much like that. Yes, I always say that I need to see a full 12 games before making any "call" - you could lose to Eastern Michigan but beat Michigan and get right back on "track" - but I think my hope is gone. I'll still be here on 10/12/19, and I still believe in my math (in a post-Not Ideal world, mid-Year Four should be the moment), but I don't think I'm hopeful anymore. And I'm always hopeful.

No, seriously, ask my mom. Ask my wife. Ask my sons. They'll tell you how ridiculously hopeful I am. I'm not talking about sports - I'm talking about everything. That test score, son? A temporary setback. I just know you're going to have a breakthrough soon. That elderly relative in the hospital? I just feel like they're going to pull through. The snowstorm? I feel like it doesn't arrive until just after 9:00 so your 8:40 flight will probably still take off. There's still a chance. There's always a chance.

So when I lose hope? When I break? It's quite the crash. It's a rough scene right now. My heart just breaks for these kids. They so want to be the Illinois team that finally breaks through, and their coaches are letting them down. To put in this much effort only to be out-gameplanned by Eastern Michigan? So unfair.

Because a game like this isn't on the talent - Illinois is clearly more talented. It's not on the experience - two years ago, yes, you could have said that, but not in Year Four. It's not injuries, it's not the Turnover Fairy, it's not the wind. It's nothing other than a disciplined football team with less talent beat an undisciplined team with more talent. I cannot think of a game in this stadium in the last ten years where this was more true.

And that's a hope-breaker, no? It's a hope crusher. A hope devastator. All this hope that transfers + experience result in the CLICK I've been talking about for 3+ years, and then it doesn't happen.

And not only does it not happen, we're given some false hope. Here I am, thinking the darkest thoughts, down 31-17 to Eastern Michigan, and we drive right down the field and score. 31-24, we somehow stop them just out of field goal range, get the ball back, all our hope fades with three incompletions. Fourth and 10 from the SEVEN and we have to go for it.

First down! Hope! We drive right down the field and score. MORE HOPE.

Gutpunch.

How are we supposed to hang on after that? Someone tweeted me that Eastern Michigan has more Big Ten wins the last three years than Lovie - what am I supposed to do with that? Why doesn't this program love us back?

Look at that crowd up there. I took that photo right after we scored to make it 31-24. All of those people, like me, are still driving to the games (and are still in the stadium to see us cut it to seven late against a MAC school). They're still showing up. Still hoping. And then they have to sit there and watch Eastern Michigan out-scheme and out-discipline our coaching staff. These two teams were 16 yards apart in total yards, which means one simple thing: the disciplined, well-coached team will win. The disciplined, well-coached team won.

I cannot think of a better time to miss my first game since 2014. As I've shared on Twitter, I won't be able to attend the Nebraska game. I actually wasn't supposed to be at this game either (my trip to New England was going to go through Sunday) but our Sunday plans changed and my wife and I switched to the Saturday flight instead of the Sunday flight. And the Saturday flight landed at 8:00 am, allowing me to drive to Champaign and make the game.

So yes, I woke up in Hartford this morning, got on a plane, flew to St. Louis, drove to Champaign, got to my seat at 11:09... and this was my reward. Nine penalties to two. One turnover for EMU, two for Illinois (and, thankfully, Vederian Lowe fell on the Peters fumble to prevent a third). A well-executed game plan by Eastern Michigan where they avoided our redzone defense by throwing for three touchdowns from outside the redzone. They were disciplined, tough, resilient - all the things I was hoping to see from Illinois today after a rough game in Connecticut. Hoping to see.

You know, it would be so very Illinois to win next week. With a win today, as I wrote last night, we'd be looking at 3-6 in the Big Ten to get to a bowl. That looked possible, right? Lots of struggles in the Big Ten of late, and with a Year Four team, 3-6 should be there, as should 4-5.

But now, 4-5 is necessary to bowl. And 5-4 is necessary to reach my preseason prediction of 7-5 (LOL). And we haven't won five Big Ten games since... oh God, 2007. We've only won four one time since then (2010). Every other season: 3, 2, 1, or 0 Big Ten wins.

Still, it just feels like we'll win the Nebraska game simply because I won't be there. It would be our biggest home win since I don't know when, and it's at night, and I can't be there. I missed the 2007 Penn State game and the 2001 Wisconsin game so it would make total sense for a turnaround moment to happen when I'm not there.

Wait - you're right. "Turnaround moment"? I'm doing it again, aren't I.

Putting my hope in something that's not going to happen.

Comments

Bear8287 on September 14 @ 05:35 PM CDT

Look at that crowd up there.

Wait, are we looking at the same photo? :-D

In the end, it's all about the $$$ and having a stadium that looks like that every Saturday (or Friday night) for a home game isn't going to cut it.

It's not over yet, but something is going to have to change and if it's not vastly improved play on the field...

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out. There's talent and experience on this team. Either there's fight in these Illini and they turn it around and start surprising or ... we really don't want to go there.

IlliniHimey on September 15 @ 09:54 AM CDT

Since Shitman won’t do anything, I pray for 2-9 and 5,000 at kickoff for the Northwestern game. Oh, and it will be cool to see Roughy weeping like a baby.

ATOillini on September 14 @ 06:08 PM CDT

Glass half full - Eastern Michigan beat Purdue last year and then Purdue beat tOSU.

Glass half empty - Take your pick. I shudder to think where we'd be without the transfers, which actually takes me to a specific point where I disagree with you. I just don't think our talent has the superiority vs. EMU that you reference. Their quarterback was outstanding. Excellent receivers. Running backs that have more power than we do. Although I agree that the penalty/mistake disparity was huge, our defense wasn't exactly stellar last week and was simply more exposed by a better offense this week. Am I the only one that feels as if our first tackler almost never gets a runner or receiver down before another 4-6 yards are gained?

Any objective review of our last td drive would clearly lead you to conclude some luck was involved......the 4th down conversion happens how often (2 in 10)? The td pass was under thrown which worked in our favor on that play. Meanwhile their final drive was like a knife through hot butter.

Finally, the sacks/pressure on Peters is a rather bad sign. Fixable against even better competition? I sure hope so.

IlliniHimey on September 15 @ 09:55 AM CDT

Nope. Not fixable. I hope they finish 2-10, and I hope that Roughy runs out of tears.

illinisludge on September 15 @ 10:15 AM CDT

Concur that our talent level is not what we think it is.

Bear8287 on September 15 @ 06:26 PM CDT

At this point, I haven't given up on this team. (Heck, even Beckman looked good for dead and somehow won two games at the end of a season to make it to a bowl game [Eeww I bet that just sent shivers down some fans' spines ;-D]).

Robert and I have been having this debate for some time now:
Robert: Recruiting >>> Coaching
Bear: Coaching >>> Recruiting

Typically, once a coach shows promise by beating "better" teams with less heralded recruits (i.e. better coaching) the better recruits will start showing up and it becomes a virtuous cycle.

Robert did an "On Paper" post that looked at the basketball team heading into Groce's last season. We all know how that turned out.

"ChiefGritty" posted this info on IllinoisLoyalty (247 2019 College Football Team Talent Composite):

Illinois: 37th nationally
Akron: 124th
UConn: 101st
E. Michigan: 121st
(and looking ahead to the next game: Nebraska: 24th)

Their quarterback was outstanding. Excellent receivers. Running backs that have more power than we do.

Running backs that have more power than we do?!? So, only if we could recruit like EMU? (Maybe the issue isn't the talent on the Illinois side of the ball?)

What else might we glean from EMU's recent victories over B1G teams?

2018: EMU 20 Purdue 19 -> Purdue went on to beat Nebraska, Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa, Indiana, Lost to Auburn in the Music City Bowl
2017: EMU 16 Rutgers 13 -> Rutgers went on to beat Illinois, Purdue and Maryland

Well both of those B1G teams went on to win at least 3 conference games, but both of those teams also beat Illinois in the same season. (It does seem to be an unfair disadvantage though that Illinois doesn't get to play Illinois doesn't it? And does this also mean that Illinois hasn't really been good enough to beat EMU the last 3 seasons now?)

Purdue lost their first 3 games of the season last year (one of those to EMU) and still made it to a bowl game. Illinois has the talent to win some B1G games this year, but in year 4 of a "rebuild" that really shouldn't be the question, should it?

Groundhogday on September 16 @ 08:18 AM CDT

Sure would be nice to see Illinois look well coached for a change. Perhaps the light bulb comes on later this season. But it is looking increasingly unlikely. One win against a bowl team (7-6 Minny) in 4 years? Ouch.

HiggsBoson on September 14 @ 07:09 PM CDT

Don't despair, Robert. 3-9 is still in play. That seems to be Lovie's sweet spot.

HiggsBoson on September 14 @ 07:09 PM CDT

Don't despair, Robert. 3-9 is still in play. That seems to be Lovie's sweet spot.

walshm40 on September 14 @ 07:29 PM CDT

Robert - just wanted to say I feel your pain - I have been a football first fan now since 90 and this is just another gut punch. After several years of no expectations but still watching I began to have hope after the spring. And that is gone now. This was a very important game and to loose like we did as u described is unacceptable. My only purpose going forward is to make sure when the story is told of the demise of Illinois football (if anyone cares anymore) that its an accurate one. The uninformed will say that we are a bball school. The young will blame Lovie. The bitter will blame Mike Thomas. There are many sub plots that can be honestly mistaken for this situation. But I believe its important to take a step back into history and acknowledge who is has more responsibility than anyone for the our joke of a program, Ron Guenther. When he took over at AD for John M. we were the 4th best program in a strong B10 (an argument could be made for 3rd). When he left we were one of the worst programs in the nation much less the B10. He controlled the program for 20 plus years and those 20 years were critical for NCAA FB. D1 football absolutely exploded in terms of popularity, money and national exposure. While programs like Wisco, Va Tech, Boise and Oregon were built from seemingly nothing. Ron Guenther took a strong program with a lot of support and ran it into nothing. I bring it up because I think Illini media have largely let him off the hook at least publicly. I believe that NCAA FB will not be recognizable in ten years or so with regards to conferences, the size of D1 and payment to players. I personally envision some 35 to 40 teams making the cut. If I am correct, at this point I don't see Illinois making the cut sadly. Here is to hoping I am wrong.

Tuba Fossil on September 14 @ 08:02 PM CDT

I gotta admit, I hadn't really thought about how "the football guy" drove the program downward, but you are right. Thing is, that was 10 years ago. How does it get fixed now? We can't go back and hire Mike Leach instead of Tim Beckman. God I wish we could.

Eagle on September 14 @ 10:45 PM CDT

Leach was by far my preference at the time too. I figured he was redeemable. Would we be 20th ranked now instead?

Joe Edge on September 15 @ 12:05 AM CDT

Tear it down, fire someone (maybe everyone?) then start over AGAIN... That seems to be the only answer offered up .... Seems to me that that's ALL we have been doing for the past 60 years... Yet, some say we should just keep doing the same thing over, and over and over, and over.... AGAIN ???????

IlliniHimey on September 14 @ 07:46 PM CDT

One thing that is fantastic about Illinois losing- what it does to you. God you are weird.

orangeandblue on September 14 @ 09:44 PM CDT

Well he is the kind of weird that scores of Illini fans listen to and feel he puts words to our fandom. So if that’s weird then throw me in that mix too.

AngeredSnowmen on September 15 @ 05:51 PM CDT

What are you, an elementary school bully?

HiggsBoson on September 16 @ 05:49 PM CDT

He's Jackass Jim from Rockford and he's here being a jackass because he's been banned from pretty much everywhere else. Which would be a good idea here, too.

IlliniHimey on September 16 @ 08:49 PM CDT

There there. It will be OK. If not, just give Robert a hug.

Douglascountyillinifan on September 16 @ 10:16 AM CDT

Damn, you must be one miserable human being, Jim. Too bad you're allowed to share your miserable existence publicly.

IlliniHimey on September 16 @ 08:50 PM CDT

Ah yes. Another liberal that takes issue with freedoms. The U of I indoctrinated you well.

Douglascountyillinifan on September 17 @ 02:51 PM CDT

I'm about as far from a liberal as you can get. In fact, I'm a small town redneck, but I recognize a miserable human being when I see one, and taking the time to kick someone who is down and then trying to make it a FOS issue when you're called on it is pathetic and shows how miserable you really are. As an aside, a puckered up miserable fool like you telling someone else to lighten up is laughable.

OrangeBlazer on September 15 @ 12:44 AM CDT

2009: Another season where lots of experience and starts doesn't mean anything if the scheme and coaching is bad.

It's time to let go of that idea that plugging experienced players into the same scheme year in and year out will automatically equal success. For every Iowa and Wisconsin there are twice as many examples of other programs and rebuilds that find success differently. There is no one formula that leads to a program, and certainly not one where experience will overcome subpar talent or coaching.

SactownIllini on September 15 @ 01:31 AM CDT

Robert I feel so bad for you. I also feel like it's probably inevitable that Lovie and possibly Whitman lose their jobs and we have a brand-new rebuild. BUT maybe there is a shred of hope:

The 1999 Illini lost at home to Minnesota 37-7 to fall to 3-3. The next week they won at scUM and their only loss the rest of the season was to #2 PSU to finish 8-4.

The 2001 Illini nearly lost to NIU at home and lost by 25 to scUM before winning the Big Ten and heading to the Sugar Bowl.

The 2007 Illini lost to Missouri, Iowa, and scUM before going on to the Rose Bowl.

Some teams just clicked late. But what's happening to the OL is extremely concerning. GO ILLINI!!

IlliniHimey on September 15 @ 09:56 AM CDT

BAWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

ktal on September 16 @ 12:34 PM CDT

I'd point out that you should be ashamed of yourself, but you're too selfish and psychotic to feel shame, aren't you?

I see you for who you are, d bag.

IlliniHimey on September 16 @ 09:04 PM CDT

Lighten up Francis. You are obviously miserable because you are liberal AND an Illini sports fan. Why be angry at me?

MinnIllini on September 15 @ 05:44 AM CDT

I’m morbidly curious as to the exact spot on I-57. Is that wrong?

Sweetchuck13 on September 15 @ 07:18 AM CDT

Why doesn’t this program love us back?

?? Amen, Robert. Can’t put it any better than that.

This loss is hard to come back from. Every single time there is a semblance of hope or momentum, however slight, the rug is ripped out from under us and we’re slapped in the face for good measure.

We’re Illinois football and we can’t be trusted.

IlliniHimey on September 15 @ 09:57 AM CDT

Semblance of hope? Oh, you counted UConn as a win. That cracks me up. I saw enough then to realize that this team sucks anus.

Bear8287 on September 15 @ 06:36 PM CDT

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ktal on September 16 @ 12:37 PM CDT

Imma take a little break. But I'm renewing my subscription so you know we're still out here.

lucasmeducas on September 17 @ 04:28 PM CDT

Thank you for putting into words my exact thoughts. I have avoided all things Illini football since leaving the stadium until now because I feel this same way. That's why I come here and I appreciate not being alone in this frustration/despair.

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