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When I was a freshman living in the Illinois Street Residence dorms, the concept of a soft-serve vending machine in the cafeteria blew my mind.
Ice cream on tap, free, whenever I wanted? Unbelievable. I had a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone after lunch virtually every day of my first semester.
(The Freshman 15 is a trope for a reason, you guys.)
Eventually the novelty wore off, and I stopped having ice cream daily. We don't even keep ice cream in the house now. Eating ice cream is a nice treat, but not generally something that should be done with that much regularity.
As the Illini were attempting to come back from the 31-10 deficit they'd created, I had trouble mustering the kind of excitement that usually accompanies big comebacks. I was pulling hard for a game-tying score, of course, and was living and dying with each play, but there was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that a comeback win wouldn't leave me as satisfied as they have in recent years.
The Wisconsin and Michigan State comeback wins last year were exciting for different reasons, and not just for the fact the Illini overcame deficits. Beating No. 6 Wisconsin was obviously exciting for the magnitude of the win; toppling Sparty meant they were going bowling.
Like daily ice cream, though, the novelty wears off quickly when comeback wins are the only way you get victories. It's an untenable strategy -- as though "fall behind and lull the opponent to sleep before staging a frenzied comeback attempt" is a strategy -- that produces results like Saturday's much more often than it produces memorable wins that leave their fans with warm, fuzzy feelings.
-Robert already said most of what there is to say about Coran Taylor's day, but one thing that struck me while watching the game was his decision-making ... as a runner.
Here's a line: 17 rushes, 32 yards, long of 33. One run went for 33 yards. The other 16 went for -1. And only one was a sack.
It felt that way in real time, too. It seemed like Taylor was always picking the wrong lane, getting two yards when he could have gotten seven. I love having a running quarterback, and he'll break off some runs like that 33-yarder from time to time, but knowing where to go with the ball as a runner is among the areas of his game in which he needs to improve before Saturday.
-six tackles, three sacks, 3.5 TFL. Welcome, Owen Carney. (Kidding. Sort of.)
-four receptions, 97 yards, one touchdown. Welcome, Brian Hightower.
-10 carries, 73 yards; one reception, five yards. Welcome, Chase Brown.
-two receptions, 43 yards, one touchdown. Welcome, Daniel Imatorbhebhe.
-14 tackles, two TFL, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery. Welcome back, Jake Hansen.
(I'll stop now.)
-One theme from Saturday was Nate Hobbs repeatedly getting burned.
Hobbs was a revelation, relatively, in his freshman year in 2017, but he hasn't really made much in-game progress since then. Last season he had 67 tackles but just one interception and nine passes defensed.
Linebackers should, and usually do, populate lists of leading tacklers. Cornerbacks shouldn't. Now, 67 tackles doesn't sniff the top of any lists, but a look around at other corners says it's not a number that's not the norm, either.
Which says that instead of forcing turnovers or incompletions, he's simply stopping receivers from gaining _more _yards than they already have. On Saturday, David Bell caught nine balls for 122 yards and a touchdown; Hobbs was also seen left in the dust on Milton Wright's 45-yard score. And when the team needed a stop the most, it was Hobbs watching as Bell hauled in his ninth catch of the day to convert on third-and-long with a minute left.
Of course, he wasn't the only one to blame for Aidan O'Connell's 371 yards in the air, but he's perhaps the public face of the secondary's failures through two games. (As a team captain, he's literally the one who might have to answer to reporters for the group's struggles.)
It's just that, in the kind of meritocracy that Lovie Smith installed from the outset -- the same one that got Hobbs on the field as a true freshman -- it's worth wondering if, or perhaps when, Marquez Beason or another young corner comes for Hobbs' starting spot.
-This is a small thing, but it was funny listening to the Big Ten Network announcers continue to call Caleb Griffin the "backup kicker," which is both true and fairly misleading.
Caleb Griffin is on scholarship, fellas. This isn't the guy who played soccer in high school who walked onto the football team. They were perhaps surprised when he drilled the 28-yarder at the end of the first half like it was nothing, but few Illini fans likely were.
-We got two Kyron Cumby sightings on Saturday, and both were exciting.
The sweep where Taylor tossed him the ball as he was running across the formation showed off his blinding speed, and the 17-yard catch proved he can take a hit and hold onto the ball, too. Maybe he's still a gadget player at this stage of his college career, but here's to hoping Rod Smith continues to find more ways to get him the ball.
-The clock had barely hit zero when my friend AJ texted, "I have no idea what to think about next week's game."
My reply? "Ugh. I kind of think they win?"
What a life.