Way Too Familiar
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Let's start here:
I predicted the score to be 27-24. I thought we'd rebound from the awful performance at Virginia and I think we rebounded from the awful performance at Virginia quite well. The defense was much improved, the offense had its moments, and the game I was hoping to see, I saw.
Here's what I mean by that. The last few lines of the SOC from last night:
Do I think that might mean an Illini win? I do not. But I think it might mean an Illini cover. The starting QB returns, Bret Bielema said they're going to tighten up the rotations a bit because they now know who they want to utilize the rest of the season, and I can see a rebound performance from Illinois while Maryland gives a "why do bad things keep happening?" performance.
I think that means we keep the game close. But I don't think that means we win.
Maryland 27, Illinois 24
I see nearly exactly that. "A rebound performance from Illinois while Maryland gives a 'why do bad things keep happening?' performance." And the whole "I think that means we keep the game close but I don't think it means we win" thing was 100% accurate. Wrote out what I thought I'd see, that's what I saw.
So why do I feel so awful? I can tell you why I feel so awful. We Illinois'd the final five minutes and let them turn a 17-10 deficit into a 20-17 loss in regulation. This could have been everything I wrote above - an encouraging loss where we rebounded after a drubbing last week - and yet it wasn't because we hit on all the Illinois notes in the final five minutes. Can you design a more "we're Illinois football and we can't be trusted" five minutes? I just went though all of this in the From The Stands but it bears repeating. After second and four from the Maryland 40...
- Two yards on second down
- One yard on third down.
- Punt instead of going for it on fourth and 1 from the Maryland 41.
- Watch Maryland march right down the field.
- Wince as Maryland gets to the 10 with a run where the guy broke four tackles.
- Cover our eyes and Maryland scores on the next play with another two broken tackles.
- Get the ball back and start to think about driving for the winning field goal.
- IMMEDIATELY regret that thought after the first sack when "oh God, we might have to punt and Maryland could win this in regulation" entered our brains.
- Cover our eyes as intentional grounding pushes us back to 4th and 37. Our two-minute drill to go win the game ended up in 4th and 37.
- Punt from our endzone, giving them the ball in our territory.
- Watch helplessly as they drive right down the field to set up a short field goal.
- Watch the field goal sail through the uprights and lean into that feeling that is way, way, WAY too familiar.
I'm just so very tired of that feeling. This should have been "nice rebound after the Virginia debacle" but instead it's just "oh man we lost in regulation the only way a team could lose that game in regulation: we Illinois'd it".
And until we stop Illinoising things, we're just always going to... well, fine, yes, it's all very simple.
We're Illinois Football And We Can't Be Trusted.
+ Actually, you know what moment felt like the most Illinois moment of the game? It's when both Chase Brown and Josh McCray were injured and left the game. We figured out the running game, we're really starting to grind out some yards, and then both tailbacks go down with injuries and have to leave the game.
Which makes me think of Calvin Hart in the opener. We have this transfer linebacker who is All-Everything against Nebraska... and then he gets injured late in that game and is out for the year. And now, tonight, we have these two tailbacks who are really running hard. And then both are knocked out of the game with injuries.
That Illini drive that got to the 40 but then we punted? I have to think second and four or third and two are converted if McCray or Brown were on the field. Maybe the entire game spun on those two injuries.
Why does this always seem to happen?
+ Maybe it's just the fact that it's after 2:00 am and my brain is loopy but is there a curse on Illini passes to the tight end? Like, does the bulldozer that was buried under the field after it got stuck in the mud during construction somehow curse our ability to throw to the tight end?
Look at the two massive TE moments in this game. First, right after Seth Coleman rips the ball out and we're set up in Maryland territory, Brandon Peters is throwing to Luke Ford, sails the pass over his head, and it's picked off.
And earlier in the game, when we had first and five from the seven (play our cards right and we could have scored on six consecutive 1.25 yard runs) and we try throwing to Daniel Barker over and over and over and we can't get him the ball so we settle for a field goal.
It's the buried bulldozer, right? None of this will change until we dig up the bulldozer. Sure, it's late, and I'm loopy, but now I'm 100% certain the bulldozer is the reason we cannot get the ball to our tight ends.
+ I have to think that there's a QB battle now. I hate to say that because I wanted BP to have a huge senior season, but 10 for 26 with an interception (plus the two sacks and a grounding call on the final two-minute drill) probably means that there's an open battle at QB in practice this week. 10-26 with an interception from one QB, 32-43 with no interceptions from the other QB. There's your ballgame.
OK, I'm actually falling asleep now. Which is fine, I guess. Not much more to say.
Until we stop doing Illinois things, we're always going to be Illinois.