Postscript, Wisconsin

Oct 11, 2021

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The grass is always greener.

It was on the green grass of Grange Grove, steps from Memorial Stadium, that I was reminded of this truism. As I mentioned in the Charlotte Postscript, this past weekend was my group of friends' annual trip to Champaign to relive our youth -- tailgate, football game, bars, the whole deal. For one day, we do our best to forget that we're not 18 years old anymore.

As a mid-30s husband and father, being a college freshman again is a key theme in daydreams. I might be alone in this, but for me, few times matched my freshman year of college. When I'm fantasizing about being free of all my responsibilities, that's usually where my head goes. Nobody is as free as a college freshman.

Amid the drinks and food and tailgate games and trying to forget that I'm no longer 18, though, something unexpected happened -- I realized that I don't actually want that life anymore. It's fun enough to do for a day, but thinking about it being your reality day in and day out is exhausting.

I'm sure some of that is a byproduct of physically being 35 and not 18, and the pure exhaustion that comes with simply being twice as old, but I don't want any part of it. I don't want to be alone. I don't want to have to go out to bars and be on all night. Hell, I don't even want to drink that often.

Illini fans may have needed a drink after what transpired inside Memorial Stadium on Saturday. After weeks of wondering what the coaching staff's breaking point would be with an ineffective Brandon Peters, we got to see the alternative, Artur Sitkowski, in action Saturday after Peters was knocked out of the game.

It didn't go well. Peters went 3-for-7 for 12 yards before exiting, and in relief Sitkowski went 8-for-27 for 55 yards. Illinois quarterbacks combined for two yards per attempt. Eleven-for-34 for 67 yards. In a Big Ten game in early October.

Now, that's not to say Sitkowski was the same brand of bad as Peters. Their differences, which were on display Saturday, have been part of the conversation around the duo in recent weeks. Peters has looked indecisive but at least hasn't turned the ball over. Sitkowski shows no fear but frequently puts the ball in harm's way.

That was evident early on Saturday, when Sitkowski came out firing with more conviction than Peters has shown at basically any point in 2021. In that sense, it was a refreshing and welcome change, even as Sitkowski was woefully inaccurate and downright careless with the football. At least someone was trying something.

It was a good reminder that while the backup quarterback is the most popular guy on campus, there's also a reason he's the backup quarterback. Bret Bielema and Tony Petersen were hesitant to unleash Sitkowski on the Big Ten because they knew his risk outweighed his reward. That risk was on full display Saturday.

There's a reason we like to dream on four-star recruits, or fantasize about being young, wild and free, or pine for the backup quarterback -- there's something alluring about the unknown, the "what if?" of it all. As Saturday reminded both me and Illini fans, though, it turns out the grass is not always greener on the other side.

-There's something interesting going on inside the Smith Football Center.

Illini Inquirer Publisher Jeremy Werner has been driving this bus for a few weeks now, but throughout his struggles this season, Brandon Peters has not been made available to the media. The last time an Illinois quarterback spoke to the media was following the Virginia game -- a game started by Sitkowski.

The last time, that is, before Saturday. After the loss, Sitkowski was once again made available to the media, despite not starting the game and not having anything noteworthy to say. If he'd led a comeback charge or had a good individual game against a losing backdrop, it would have at least made sense to make him available where Peters has not.

To allow Sitkowski to talk to the media following a game in which he was a disaster, though, feels off. Perhaps the staff is trying to protect Peters' psyche by shielding him from questioning. Maybe they give him the option and he declines. Maybe some of both, maybe neither one. We likely won't ever know the real reason.

It's certainly curious, though.

-The most frustrated person in Memorial Stadium on Saturday had to be Chase Brown.

Everyone in the building knew of Wisconsin's defensive prowess coming in. After Saturday, they're now second in the country with 219 yards per game allowed, behind only Georgia. Their 42.6 yards allowed per game on the ground is tops. It's not a defense that gives much, and most of the success had by other teams has come through the air.

Even so, Illinois has begun to establish its identity as a team that runs the ball first and foremost, and Brown is at the head of that. An early dedication to the running game would have been the Illini putting their unstoppable force up against Wisconsin's immovable object and seeing who prevailed. It probably would have been Wisconsin anyway, but at least they would have tried.

Instead, they came out with six consecutive passing plays to open the game, and finished with just 13 total carries on the afternoon. Brown had eight of the team's 13, but this was a week removed from his 26-carry, 257-yard performance against Charlotte. Eight carries. After 257 yards the week prior.

And it's not as though Brown was a complete zero in those eight rushes. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry on the day, and his 23-yard run on first down near the end of the first half was the team's longest offensive play all day and was one of a handful of first downs earned by the offense that didn't come by way of a penalty flag.

On a day when the offense was a disaster, he was once again the least-disastrous of the group. And was basically an afterthought in the gameplan, somehow.

-Another week, another week of Kerby Joseph cementing himself as a key part of the defense going forward.

-Why is the return unit not trying to provide a spark? Donny Navarro fair-catching kickoffs so that the offense can start at the 25-yard line, run three ineffective plays and punt the ball away is not productive. Would it kill someone to have an electric returner try to break a big one, maybe flip a game?

-See you guys after the bye for the Penn State autopsy. It's going to get darker before the dawn.


Eagle on October 10, 2021 @ 10:37 PM

We had to try something different, but eliminating most of the runs should not have been it. We had to make it really hard for Wisky to read the plays. Mix in some bubble screens, shuttle passes or something. Put both backs in the backfield a few times. How many times did we put IW in motion and then use him? Once? Agreed on taking some risk on kickoffs. What did we have to lose? I saw several teams use flea-flickers successfully on Saturday. We needed to be more creative.

ATOillini on October 10, 2021 @ 10:58 PM

Hmmm…..I remember feeling exactly as you did at your age. Who would ever want to be 18 again? Well, at 64 it sounds rather enticing. Just sayin’…

Regarding the qb focus written here, I have to say this…Our first play from scrimmage made me wonder if Tom Brady might actually need more than .4 seconds to accomplish anything before a defensive lineman is chasing him down.

It’s a rebuild. A big one.

ktcesw on October 11, 2021 @ 03:51 AM

Practicing more than 5 minutes/day on pass blocking (per the OL coach) might help.

Robert on October 11, 2021 @ 02:20 PM

What is this referencing?

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on October 11, 2021 @ 08:43 AM

To be fair, I believe I think I recall Navarro trying to return a Punt and getting negative 3 or 4 yards. . .

illinizeeman on October 11, 2021 @ 01:58 PM

We should be able to leverage our QB legs, backs, and TEs on offense: none of which happened. I understand the lack of blocking, but they knew where we were running. I don't understand the fact they're not using a FB once in a while.

DB50 on October 11, 2021 @ 02:23 PM

So far, Petersen as an offensive coordinator, has been as inspiring as Rod Smith was. Ryan Walters has adjusted and improved the defense. Taking away your strongest part of the offense, running the football, and opening the game with six straight passes is mind boggling!

iluvrt on October 12, 2021 @ 05:09 PM

Rod Smith is a national treasure compared to this dude

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