SOC - Minnesota 2020
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Three straight SOC posts I'm writing well after midnight. I really need to start writing these at 8:00 pm or something.
Two 0-2 teams enter. One will leave 1-2 with some hope for the season, the other will leave 0-3 and everything is already destroyed even though the season is only 15 days old. Care to guess which one of those sounds like "Illinois"?
Yeah, I haven't been able to shake it all week. It just doesn't look like it's supposed to look. It seems so simple to me at this moment. I'll just go through a few of the simple things again even though I've already written about them countless times. Of course, most of this was in the newsletter this past week, so maybe there's some of you who won't have a "we get it, Robert" moment when I write this out.
First off, as I wrote in the newsletter on Monday, the returning production numbers continue to depress me. There are 130 FBS teams. Illinois returned more production (tackles, catches - any statistic, really) than all but 11 of those teams. Bowl game, 12th in returning production, expectations should be through the roof.
And yes, every time someone pushes back with "yeah but Corbin and Brown are gone and the entire defensive line had to be replaced", I note that every school on the planet deals with these same losses each year. Compared to all 130 schools, we have more coming back than 117 other programs. 4-5 in the Big Ten last year, all this returning production, and that's our performance the first two weeks. It might be three years before it doesn't depress me.
Another simple thing: the door is wide open and it doesn't look like we're going to walk through it. Three teams finished ahead of us in the Big Ten West standings last year: Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. Wisconsin is trying to piece together a roster for next week so they don't forfeit their spot in the Big Ten Championship game. Iowa has started 0-2 and doesn't really look like a typical Iowa team. They still have Penn State and Wisconsin left so they're going to struggle to stay at .500. And Minnesota has started 0-2 and features one of the worst defenses in the country so far.
WIIIIDE open door for the team that finished fourth in the Big Ten last year and was 12th nationally in returning production. This couldn't be any more on a tee. And we topped it, then chunked it, and are laying two/hitting three somewhere just short of the ladies tee. We'll have to hole out from the fairway for par.
We don't get many chances for breakthrough moments. And this year is absolutely that chance. If we lose tomorrow, we already squandered that chance.
Hate to tell you this, but I think we're losing tomorrow. In fact, I think we're losing big. Maybe it's just this mood and I'll snap out of it once I see us take a 17-3 lead into the second quarter, but man, it just feels like the Minnesota defense gets right against our 4th-stringer and Tanner Morgan throws for 400+. Remember, in passing efficiency last year, it was 1. Joe Burrow, 2. Jalen Hurts, 3. Justin Fields, and 4. Tanner Morgan. Opposing quarterbacks so far are 49-56 with 7 TD's and 0 interceptions and now that's the quarterback coming to town? Mercy me.
I've pointed this out a few times this season but BYU is what we should look like right now. They just dismantled a ranked team tonight. Somewhere, when Kalani Sitake was 4-9 in his second season, there was a BYU blogger somewhere urging patience and pointing to their youth. And the last two years when they went 7-6 he was saying "no, this is not the peak of what he can do - next year with all these seniors in Year Five it should be a rocket ship to the stars". He was right, and they're 8-0 (and possibly a playoff contender?) while we might be headed for 0-3 tomorrow. Sitake was 25-24 his first four seasons (which was awful for a program coming off 11 consecutive bowl appearances), but it looks like he was building the rocket launcher I've been asking for each Christmas. They're getting the slingshot year and we're getting darts thrown at us.
See, it's right about now where I realize that I'm not really evaluating this game. I'm lost in Feelingsland (surprisingly pronounced with more of "lind" than a "land" like Finland). We don't get many chances at having a special team, and it feels like this could have been a 2001 or 2007, and we might be headed for 2003. That thought absolutely crushes me (mostly because we all have to look ourselves in the mirror and say "are you ready to go through all of this again?"). The thought of 2024 being our next bowl trip is just... man, how many of these do I have in me?
So I'm in as sour a mood as I can remember. I have these brief "you beat Minnesota, you beat Rutgers, you're 2-2 and right back in the season" moments - and it doesn't take much to get there when you look at the roster and the experience - but after all of my "18 of the next 31!" silliness I have all these shutdown mechanisms that kick in the moment I convince myself it's still possible. It's a simple little machine I built: I trip the wire, a panel in the ceiling opens up, and a banner drops that reads "we're Illinois football and we can't be trusted".
But this is a prediction thread, so I must predict. This one feels simple: the one thing they can do (throw the ball) is the one thing we can't stop. The only way to flip a game like that is with turnovers, and we haven't grabbed a single interception yet, so I can't see us forcing enough fumbles to make a difference.
Some of these seem pretty easy to predict, and for this one, here's the easy: Our weakness: pass defense. Yes, they can exploit it. Their weakness: defense (both against the pass and the rush), and we're missing several offensive players and are starting our 4th QB. Seems pretty simple to predict. They can exploit our weakness, we can't exploit theirs. Hope I'm wrong, but I see...
Minnesota 45, Illinois 24