Postscript, Akron

Sep 02, 2019

Of all the possible outcomes Saturday, a 42-3 beatdown is the one that tells us the least.

Get blown out by a lower-level MAC team? Buckle up. The foreseeable future is going to be miserable.

Lose a close game? A lot of the same as above, just with less dread.

Win a close game? Here we go again, barely beating a MAC team in the opener. A win is a win, but shouldn't we be blowing these teams out?

But 42-3 doesn't tell us a lot. Great teams are supposed to win by that margin. So are good teams. Mediocre Power 5 teams should probably win by a similar score.

It does tell us that this team isn't awful. It tells us that the talent is better than it's been in years past, when we've struggled to put away MAC opponents. It tells us that we should probably be 3-0 going into the game against Nebraska on September 21.

Until that game, very few conclusions about the team can be drawn. Beating Akron at home holds very little relevance to what you do against Minnesota on the road.

It still felt good, though.

-We can't say anything definitively, but we can surely draw positives from the game.

The biggest, to me, was the defense holding Akron to three points. If we would have rolled our eyes had the team struggled with another MAC team, we must also be impressed that this year's team had no such troubles against a similar foe. Kent State scored 24 points on our defense last year. Hell, Western Illinois scored two touchdowns.

Akron had 192 yards of offense. Illinois had 12 tackles for loss. Two turnovers, and Devon Witherspoon could have had a third. It was a great day for the defense as a whole, in a game where they needed to have a great day.

-The other big takeaway was Brandon Peters' wheels. Since the courtship began this summer we've heard that he can move, not like AJ Bush could move, not like Isaiah Williams can move, but that he's mobile enough.

On Saturday he showed that he's not only mobile, but that he can run. It feels like there's a distinction there. MJ Rivers was mobile. On that 20-yard touchdown scamper, Peters set up his block, he found running lanes, he accelerated, he ... ran. It was really promising to see.

-You'd like your clear-cut starters to separate themselves from the rest -- like on the offensive line -- but one perk of a competition like the Illini have on the defensive line is that it's a meritocracy. Wole Betiku is dominating reps? He's out there ahead of Owen Carney. Tymir Oliver is a senior but you can't keep Jamal Woods off the field? Start the redshirt sophomore.

One notable name missing from the box score, and from my memory of Saturday's game, was Calvin Avery. Avery would flash in practice and reportedly got better as camp went on, so it was a bit surprising to see him absent from the stat sheet. Something to monitor.

-I really enjoyed seeing the Illini use five tailbacks, and even get Kenyon Sims some run late. I know it was partly out of necessity, with Reggie Corbin nicked up and, later, Mike Epstein out, but having five guys who you feel comfortable playing in a must-win game is still a nice position to be in.

-It certainly looked as though Nate Hobbs might have broken something on that play where he tried to punch the ball out early in the second quarter. Good to fade that -- as has been noted more than once, the starters in the defensive secondary are airtight; it's everything that follows that's uncomfortable.

-If there's a knock to be had against Peters it's that some of his throws were flat-out bad.

He probably should have hit Ricky Smalling on the slant in the end zone at the end of the first quarter. Later, on two consecutive plays he airmailed his receivers before the James McCourt missed field goal. He had a bad overthrow later as well.

I'm not sure what that is. Touch? Not wanting to underthrow a receiver in the end zone and possibly take points off the board with a pick? Whatever it is, it wasn't my favorite. But that's about the only thing bad you could say about Peters on Saturday.

-On McCourt, the miss was bad. If he and Caleb Griffin are close, though, and you can pocket a year of Griffin eligibility for down the road, perhaps that's the play. (Update: Griffin redshirted in 2018, so, there goes that. Tie goes to the runner, I guess?)

-The Kyron Cumby play was electrifying.

I was at camp for the first weekend of practices, so what I saw was very limited, especially with a true freshman like Cumby. But I just didn't see anything like that at practice. It's one of those things where, when the lights go on, playmakers make plays.

-Some of the freshmen clearly don't know the words to "Hail to the Orange," which, what were you guys doing for the past month? Learning a playbook? Practicing? Working out? Convenient. Get it together, Casey Washington. You too, Nick Fedanzo.

(Bonus points to Ricky Smalling for really hitting the "Illinoissssssssss." Now THAT'S a veteran leader.)

-On the radio after the game, Lovie Smith said the biggest difference you see in a football season is between weeks one and two. That's an interesting observation from a guy who's seen a lot.

It's also an interesting thing to keep in mind when looking across the college football landscape after the first weekend. Is Northwestern going to be bad? Purdue? Minnesota? Iowa let Miami (Ohio) hang around. Nebraska didn't really put away South Alabama.

Which brings us back to the beginning. I'm not sure what we draw from Week 1, but I'd be cautious to glean much of anything. Teams are working the kinks out.

That Illinois opened as an 18-point favorite on the road at UConn next week is interesting, though. Per Trevor Vallese, it's the largest spread for a road game in which the Illini have been favored since 1998.

That tells us something. Now, we just need to see it.


Bear8287 on September 02 @ 04:31 PM CDT

That tells us something.

Yeah, UConn is not a very good football team. [See: The preseason Bottom 10 is ready to do its worst] :-D

-On the radio after the game, Lovie Smith said the biggest difference you see in a football season is between weeks one and two. That's an interesting observation from a guy who's seen a lot.

Well, it looks like it's an opinion that he shares with the coach who will be standing on the opposite sideline next Saturday.

The Huskies return to action on Sept. 7, playing host to Illinois of the Big 10. "It's a big step up for us," Edsall said. "But hopefully, we'll be at full strength. Tonight, this team really needed a win and we played hard for 60 minutes. There's an old adage in football that you improve the most between Game One and Game Two."

ktal on September 02 @ 06:39 PM CDT

I'd argue that this game told us the most important thing; that they can put together a game like this.

That wasn't true last year, and for one series it looked like we still didn't have it together. And then they made an adjustment and dominated, which was our best case scenario.

The reason we couldn't do this last year wasn't because of the competition, it was because we couldn't do it.

DB50 on September 02 @ 09:39 PM CDT

The reason for the misses by Peters was he didn’t have his feet set under him caused by him having “happy feet” in the pocket. I agree with ktal, the Illini have better & more experienced players this year and had a generally solid game against a mediocre Mac team.

ATOillini on September 02 @ 09:49 PM CDT

I haven't seen anyone else mention this, but the most impressive thing to me about Peters was the pass to (I think) Smalling in the (I think) first quarter where a defensive guy had him wrapped up low and yet he still fired a not so short bullet to the sideline. I couldn't believe it at that moment. Took some serious arm strength.

Illinimac68 on September 02 @ 10:34 PM CDT

I respectfully disagree about the relevance of what you can do to Minnesota on the road. If you have one of those squeakers against a lower MAC team you know damn well you're not going to beat Minnesota on the road. After this, maybe you don't know you will but you know you might as long as you take care of business. You know you can hang with anyone on the schedule with the possible exceptions of Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Bear8287 on September 02 @ 11:25 PM CDT

From ESPN:

DATE          OPPONENT           RESULT/PROJ
Sat, Aug 31    vs Akron                 W42-3
Sat, Sept 7    @ UConn                  92.3%
Sat, Sept 14   vs Eastern Michigan      81.5%
Sat, Sept 21   vs #24 Nebraska          44.7%
Sat, Oct 5     @ Minnesota              25.0%
Sat, Oct 12    vs #7 Michigan           12.4%
Sat, Oct 19    vs #19 Wisconsin         23.5%
Sat, Oct 26    @ Purdue                 41.0%
Sat, Nov 2     vs Rutgers               72.3%
Sat, Nov 9     @ #18 Michigan State     12.1%
Sat, Nov 23    @ #20 Iowa               18.7%
Sat, Nov 30    vs Northwestern          51.6%

I think I agree that Michigan State on the road is probably a tougher win than Wisconsin at home (not that either would be "easy").

Edit: At a 92.3% chance of winning at UConn, that would be roughly equivalent to a 1 in 13 chance of losing.

Sweetchuck13 on September 03 @ 01:41 PM CDT

You're right that we didn't learn much, but on the flip side there's not much to panic about either - which is where we often are after one game.

Peters had a couple of bad throws, but I'd rather have him miss by throwing it long in those endzone throws than short. Overall I was impressed with how solid he looked. Just looked like a solid B1G starting QB, which would be fantastic.

Bear8287 on September 03 @ 02:35 PM CDT

Well said.

taz on September 04 @ 09:04 AM CDT

Agree about the panic. I'm just happy not to have to give up hope after 1-2 series in the first game, like many years past.

lucasmeducas on September 03 @ 06:57 PM CDT

Such a satisfying win. I can't wait for Saturday!

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