Three Penalties

Oct 31, 2021

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Illinois receives the opening kickoff of the second half. The defensive stop at the end of the first half seems even bigger now. We scored to take the lead, forced Rutgers to punt in their two-minute drill, and now we get the ball to start the second half.

The first set of downs goes well - third and inches is converted by a QB sneak - and then Isaiah Williams sets up a 2nd and 3 by making something out of nothing. Wait, there's a flag. Chop block on Illinois. 2nd and 3 is now 1st and 25. This is not an offense that will convert many 1st and 25's. The Illini have to punt.

No damage, though. Rutgers gets into field goal range, barely, but their 46-yard FG attempt into the wind falls woefully short. Illini take over at the 28.

On the first play for the Illini, a false start penalty. Instead of first and 10, it's first and 15. Carlos Sandy gets zero yards on a jet sweep, Isaiah Williams gets seven yards on second down, and then on 3rd and 8 (not 3rd and 3), an incompletion and the Illini have to punt.

This time, there's damage. Rutgers goes 88 yards in 13 plays, assisted by a ridiculous catch on third and nine by former quarterback Johnny Langan and a fourth-and-five completion thrown by third-string QB Gavin Wimsatt. Rutgers punches it in and takes the lead 17-14.

On the third Illinois drive of the second half - it's already the fourth quarter at this point - Illinois starts with a five-yard run from Chase Brown followed by a two-yard run. On third and 3, a nice completion from Brandon Peters to Michael Marchese to pick up the first down.

Wait, there's a flag.

Facemask on Julian Pearl. First and 10 at the 37 becomes third and 18 at the 17. The Illini do not pick up this first down and have to punt. You probably know the rest. Rutgers has to punt and their punter hits a beaut that goes out of bounds at the one. Three conservative play calls later Illinois punts. Rutgers tries to ice the game but can only get a field goal. Illinois, down six and driving for the win, gets to the Rutgers 34 and... I don't want to talk about it.

For me, this game hinged on those three penalties. You probably already knew that because it's mostly all I tweeted about in the second half. Penalties can absolutely destroy a drive - first and 25 is a tiny bit harder to convert than first and 10 - and after two really solid touchdown drives to end the first half we began the second half by firing the gun at our foot three consecutive times. The Illini played a mostly clean game with only three penalties. And all three penalties eventually led to punts. Add Rutgers' punt going out at the one and the first time we got a clean look at an offensive drive in the second half was with 3:53 left in the game.

As I said on the From The Stands, this was mostly an even game between two rebuilding Big Ten teams, one in Year Two and one in Year One. It was a bit of a slugfest, with Illinois punting 8 times and Rutgers punting 6 times. It was going to be the team that made the key plays that would win. Rutgers made those key plays, converting all three 4th-down attempts (including one when their QB had been knocked out for a play and their third-string guy came in cold and threw a perfect pass). Rutgers made the plays, Illinois stalled three consecutive drives with penalties.

Rutgers 20, Illinois 14.

+ I want to address a comment I received today. It's a comment that I've gotten before. And I just want to address it. This is me addressing it. I will address it now.

The comment is always something along the lines of "you just predict losses as a hedge so that if we lose you can say 'hey, don't get mad at me, this is what I predicted'." That may seem like the case, but that's not what I'm going for. We, uh, well - we lose a lot.

And I'd like to point out that when I use that line - "this was the game I expected" - it's because the final margin is close to what I predicted the night before. (As I'm typing this out here I'm realizing that if you want to get to me, send that comment my way. The whole "I won't predict the game until the night before" thing isn't just shtick - it's my process and it puts me in the best position to make the prediction. So when that's minimized to "just a hedge", I grumble under my breath for hours.)

I'll just make my case. Here's the last six SOC predictions and the result:

  • Maryland - I predicted a three point loss and said that I didn't expect the Illini to win but I expected the Illini to cover. Result: Illini lost by 3 (didn't win but covered).
  • Purdue - I predicted a 21 point loss. Lost by 4. Bad prediction and I wasn't on the right side of the spread because Illinois covered.
  • Charlotte - I predicted a 14 point Illini win. Illini won by 10 (and the spread was 10 so a push).
  • Wisconsin - I said Wisconsin would win by 26. Wisconsin won by 24.
  • Penn State - I went with Penn State 28, Illinois 16 and said I expected a bounce-back game (much like my Maryland prediction). Illini won 20-18.
  • Rutgers - I said close game with Rutgers pulling it out in the end and predicted a four point Rutgers win. Rutgers won by six.

(I'm not sure why I only picked the last six games. I had Virginia covering the 10.5 point spread as well. I just didn't predict a blowout.)

As I always tell people when I write something like this, do not ever attempt to bet my predictions. Especially not after I point out how I have a pretty good handle on the team. Ego is now involved, so my Minnesota, Iowa, and Northwestern predictions will all be clouded by pride (and wrong).

But the point of this is to say that I feel like I've built up enough cred to say "this is the game I expected". Besides the Purdue game, in the last seven games, we've mostly seen the game I wrote about on Friday night. I feel better now and will stop talking about this.

+ I rarely take things in the "if I was the offensive coordinator, here's what I would have done" direction, but that's what I'm going to do right now. If I was the offensive coordinator - and you'd probably hate me as an offensive coordinator simply because of stuff like this - on 4th and 1 from the Rutgers 34 with 1:11 to go, I'd throw it. Maybe even throw it to the endzone.

Think about it. Fourth and one. They're completely focused on the run. Every muscle of every Rutgers defender is just waiting for the snap of the ball because they want to fly forward, make the stop (which they did), and win the game for their team (which they did). So why not fake the handoff and see if you can get Daniel Barker streaking past the safety?

I know, I know. If Rutgers plays sound defense now you're putting the game in a jump ball situation when you could have just gone QB sneak for the first down. And if you do connect on some crazy, ballsy touchdown pass, now there's still a minute on the clock for Rutgers to try to win it with a field goal. So yeah, this idea is stupid. Told you you wouldn't want me as your offensive coordinator.

But I still wish we would have made that statement. I still wish we'd play football in a way that attempts to rid the world of Same Old Sorry Illinois. We didn't get the first down anyway, so the result was the same. I just want to see an Illinois team approach things with a "things are different now" mentality. Mike White throwing deep on the very first play from scrimmage in his very first game, just in the form of throwing it to the endzone on fourth and one from the Rutgers 34 with 1:11 to go.

End Same Old Sorry Illinois, is what I'm saying.

+ It's fairly amazing how many "final drive, we have the ball and a chance to tie or win" moments we've had in losses this season. The list:

  • UTSA, down seven, driving trying to force overtime. Got to the UTSA 15 yard line, but the final pass to Casey Washington is too deep - he catches it but can't get a foot down inbounds. UTSA wins.
  • Maryland, tie game, Illinois gets the ball with 2:13 remaining. The drive goes backwards, Illinois punts from the goal line, and Maryland is able to set up the winning FG as time expires.
  • Purdue, down four, Illinois gets the ball with 5:44 remaining. Drive gets all the way to the Purdue 19 before stalling out. A rush for no gain and then three incompletions and Purdue wins by four.
  • Rutgers, down six, Illinois gets the ball with 3:53 remaining. Drive gets all the way to the Rutgers 34 before a turnover on downs. Rutgers ices the game and kneels it out.

It's not like those four drives lost those games. There were other mistakes along the way that led to the games even being close. But the thought hit me while watching the crowd file out. Just think of some Illini fan who has attended the six home games so far plus the road game at Purdue. In four of those seven games, they had the "getting the ball here - come on, offense, just one time" feeling. And all four times they shuffled out with the same feeling they had today.

+ I was just sitting here wondering how to close this post and so I took those stats above and tweeted them. And I just got this response, so let's close with that. One question mailbag!

Could not embed tweet.

Fair point. My response: what are the other options?

You could quit, I guess. Many have. I can't. But you could quit. That has to be the easiest option here.

You could go the "no money until it's fixed" route. I know several people who have done that. Remove your donation, dump your season tickets - not one single cent until it's fixed. But I've always made the argument that with college athletics, that's quite counterintuitive. If you want Illinois football to win, the best possible thing you could do is give them your money. I'm totally and completely serious. We still lack resources, and you could personally be responsible for some of those resources.

Since you're tired of "it will be a few years of rebuilding", I guess the only option there is to take the "win now or get out" stance. Personally I don't see any shortcut here and believe that "it will be a few years of rebuilding" is the only route, especially for one of the five-worst Power Five programs in America the last 30 years, but I do have "win now or get out" friends who view college football the same as the NFL. "If you can't win immediately, you should be fired immediately." Keep firing until you get a coach who wins immediately.

But short of any of that, I don't have answers for you. Four coaches have tried to rebuild Illinois football and failed. With each failure, it becomes harder to sell the program and the next guy has an even bigger task. Lou Tepper was handed a rock-solid boulder on top of a mountain and now it's at the bottom of the valley needing to be pushed back up to the top. Each time a coach attempts to roll it to the top and fails, the footing gets trickier for the next coach. Oh, and it just started to rain.

All of that is basically why I'm Positive Polly. If I know one thing about myself it's that I can't quit, so if I can't quit, I don't think I really have any other option than to hope. I, too, often have the "it's never going to change" feeling, wondering if I'm going to write about the same thing for decades and never see it happen in my lifetime. But this is my school, and these are my guys, so I'm going to hope and hope and hope until I see the boulder rolling up the hill. And when it gets to the top, I'm going to experience a feeling that no Ohio State or Alabama fan could understand.

We'll all be Andy Dufresne in the rain with our face to the sky, and it will be amazing.


IlliniJoe81 on October 30, 2021 @ 10:53 PM

I read your SOC and could only follow Gamecast today. You were right on. Going to lose by one score because you can’t trust our offense and Rutgers is decent and will know how to stop our runs. I didn’t even need to watch because that mental picture you painted explained the game. Also your 4-8 season prediction looks really good. I thought 6-6 and you basically explained that first year coaches haven’t figured out how to win with the inherited players. BB punts two games away because he doesn’t understand our personnel and now we’re staring 4-8 in the face instead of 6-6.

I’d say you are Nostradamus this season. It’s not a hedge. You’ve been doing this forever and you call it based on your experience. Puff out your chest a bit. You’ve earned it.

NC_OrangeKrush on October 31, 2021 @ 07:01 AM

The frustration is that most are confident that we have a coach that will build it.. just after waiting almost decades of rebuilds - it would have been nice to win with this group prior to another rebuild that is coming and necessary..

To have it so close in those games.. and coaching calls potentially killing those chances is very frustrating. The fact is that the play calls we hate work with players we don't have yet. As frustrated as it makes me knowing that they could have called it differently.. they are in year 1 setting their culture... They will get the players and the calls won't matter... Meaning the future is now about waiting 3 years..
Frustrating for those who have been around... the coaching staff hasn't lived our woes.. this is year 1 for them.. year 15 for us.

rml on October 31, 2021 @ 07:30 AM

One pleasant surprise was that BP was able to throw the ball reliably well.

purcy51 on October 31, 2021 @ 08:20 AM

But it is also frustrating that we couldn't win with Good Brandon finally showing up. However, it was a bright spot and gives me hope for the rest of the season!

thumpasaurus on October 31, 2021 @ 11:57 AM

I credit the receivers more for getting open and playing a lot better. Of course, the QB has to deliver the ball, so peters gets some credit. Wish he’d see things faster and hit guys in stride, but it’s encouraging to see things available in the pass game.

iluvrt on November 2, 2021 @ 03:36 PM

I was surprised they stopped throwing in the second half. 7 balls I think.

Nabor568 on October 31, 2021 @ 07:46 AM

I laughed a bit at myself because while perhaps not on 4th and 1, I do wish we would take a couple shots at the end zone when we get the ball with 30 seconds to in the half. Perhaps not the wisest call….but it’s not like a bowl game is seriously on the line…let’s take some shots.

PowerGranger on October 31, 2021 @ 08:14 AM

I recall a 4th and trailing late at Wisconsin. Fake handoff and EB Halsey all alone downfield. The Juice overthrew him by about 10 yds because we are Illinois, but great call.

ATOillini on October 31, 2021 @ 08:55 AM

Ah yes….remember that as well. At Wisconsin. I believe Juice was a freshman. He was indeed wide open.

WHWizard on October 31, 2021 @ 12:02 PM

Can anyone explain the officiating errors of the first half? Rutgers had 12 men in the huddle on 4th and 1 and no flag was thrown. It should have been 4th and 6 and they may have punted. Instead, the first touchdown was scored (I believe).

Also, trying to figure out how we were called offsides when a timeout was apparently called at another critical juncture. That ghost penalty gave Rutgers a 1st down on the 8, which lead to another score.

Officiating in the first half was not kind to the Illini in those two cases, and the offensive line holding by Rutgers was repeatedly being ignored.

I'm still extremely hopeful for our team. It's nice to be in the game to the very end instead of being blown away by halftime and watching the mass exodus from the stadium.

thumpasaurus on October 31, 2021 @ 01:07 PM

??they say it’s a hopeless fight but I say I gotta try??

the year that song was released, Tony Eason led the illini to six entire big ten wins for the second straight year

if 1981 was the year the illini finally emerged from the wilderness (with a prelude in 1980), then 1966 was their last year in civilization, beginning their foray into the unknown in ‘67. 14 years of wandering. I choose ‘67 as Wilderness Year 1 because the slush fund scandal happened that year to clearly mark the beginning of the First Illini Football Exile.

How long have we currently been wandering the wilderness? Many definitions could be accepted. 1992 (post-Mackovic), 1996 (when Tepper fell apart), 2009 (when Zook fell apart), 2012 (post-Zook, after our last bowl win).

I was not into college football at all before I went to school in 2007. Had I been five years younger, I might not have ever gotten bit with this particular bug. I routinely talk to students as part of my fraternity’s homecoming every year. The last 5-6 years no students have understood what it was like to have the place buzzing for college football like it used to even in the Zook era. Never had an inciting incident that would lead them to believe Illinois football is an exciting way to use their limited time on the magical UI campus when there are so many other things to do. I still have a recording I made back in Sept 2012 of the “thousands of drunk guys yelling in the distance” ambience you’d hear on many football game mornings from half a mile away from the stadium or so.

No student younger than me would have hope. The last freshman class that got to experience THIS IS ILLINOIS FOOTBALL was from 2011, my last year, when they got that ASU game and the Northwestern comeback and a 15th ranked home favorite against Ohio State.

Then the team lost 6 straight and fired the head coach. And that was BY FAR the best football experience those students would get.

Thank the lord for Grange Grove. It’s the only think that makes these students associate anything fun with Illinois football.

thumpasaurus on October 31, 2021 @ 01:17 PM

Those are classes of alums we’ll never get back. Someone from the class of 2016 is at least 26 years old now, and what has Illinois done to make them invest emotionally in football now? All their friends have graduated and some of the restaurants and bars they knew have changed. Illinois would have to be consistently ranked for years before those people would decide to get into illini football and make it A Thing. And every year that goes by without making football A Thing You Gotta Do As A Student again, that’s another class that’s not coming to the games as adults.

All the adult fans that don’t remember Mackovic are trained to expect disappointment, as evidenced by most of the crowd not even sticking around to watch the defense give up the first down. I of course stayed. But we have a crowd that bailed on their Illini when they had all their timeouts and a 6 point deficit.

So, while Illini football fans in their 20’s basically don’t exist, illini football fans between roughly 30 and 50 have this learned helplessness trained into them.

This game didn’t really set us back that much in this goal; Bert could maybe still make that happen some day. But it was a stark reminder.

Sweetchuck13 on November 1, 2021 @ 08:18 AM

I'll echo all of this - we're going to have a severe issue of a lost generation of Illini football fans that only gets deeper each year. And losses like this - while seemingly minor in the grand scheme - only reinforce most fans' view that Illini football isn't worth paying attention to. Every time we have a big win and get some eyebrows raised, we can't follow it up with just a regular win to show some progress.

I'm probably about 8 years older than you. When i was in school, we actually had a really solid/fun 4 year run under Turner, with lots of fun games and some sellouts. But even among my friends, there's only 2-3 of us that have season tickets or make any real effort to go to games, mainly because it's been so depressing and inconsistent. I can't imagine how little they would care if they attended in the 2010s.

The most glaring way to see this is the East Balcony. The fact that it's not even close to full even up to the portal entrances at midfield is truly glaring. Even a few years ago most seats up to the portals would be season tickets between the 35 yard lines or so. Now we can't even fill those spots with single game seats.

HiggsBoson on October 31, 2021 @ 04:05 PM

Repeated stupid penalties are the result of poor coaching.

And I have to laugh because Robert goes through the same pattern with every new coach. Maybe this one will be different, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

iluvrt on November 2, 2021 @ 03:35 PM

When is 3 penalties all game poor coaching?

PosterNB12 on October 31, 2021 @ 04:37 PM

I get the point Robert, but our penalties as a whole were low for the game. Good teams can get over 3 penalties. To me the story is not 3 penalties, it’s Tony Petersen. BP finally has a good game, and TP calls 4 passes in the second half. They stack the box, and we run 4 times in a row. SP+ has us as the 50th best defense and 100th best offense. That’s the story of the year, and I really believe Tony’s play calling is the biggest issue.

thumpasaurus on November 1, 2021 @ 08:13 AM

One thing that I was worried about absolutely came true: that a lot of the running plays we used to maul Penn State wouldn't work against Rutgers because they'd be more prepared for it than PSU was.

The way Bielema wants to manage a game is to control the clock, shorten the game, lean on the defense. Unfortunately, that means you really can't make mistakes like those drive-killing penalties. We couldn't recover because the defense got beaten down up front in the second half.

I give Petersen and the receivers some credit; they made some passing plays work and actually gave this offense some explosiveness. Unfortunately, our bread and butter wasn't getting the job done and that's what we lean on late in the game. It's a nitpick, but definitely more of a nitpick than a "this is so broken that there's no hope it will ever improve."

Petersen has actually drawn up some pretty decent plays that are tailored to our personnel. The game management and timing of when what play gets run and basically the game script has been a bit shaky, but there's reason to believe it'll improve.

Nothing bothers me as much as the fourth and one playcall though

Illihawk on October 31, 2021 @ 04:40 PM

At times that it mattered they made plays & we didn’t

Sweetchuck13 on November 1, 2021 @ 08:22 AM

When was the play when Rutgers had switched personnel and clearly had like 14 men on the field, and everyone in the stadium seemed to notice it but our offense? I want to say it was late in the game (maybe even our last possession - it was definitely on the north half of the field) and could've been an easy first down if you just snap the ball, but I don't remember exactly.

Rutgers eventually called timeout and reset, and we lost the advantage. Would love to see us more opportunistic in those situations. There was another one in the first half where no one was on Deuce Spann out wide, but that one didn't last as long and Schiano quickly called time.

Robert on November 1, 2021 @ 09:06 AM

If you watch the TV replay on that play, Schiano is standing with the official ready to call timeout. Had we tried to snap it, he would have called timeout (which he kind of did once he realized that their defensive switch was bad).

Sweetchuck13 on November 1, 2021 @ 01:02 PM

Ah ok - nevermind then. Didn't notice that from the stands - just felt like an eternity that we were set and they had way too many guys out there.

iluvrt on November 2, 2021 @ 03:37 PM

I totally agree with Robert's take. Three stinking penalties and they all killed any momentum. Then the punt put the icing on.

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