Pack It Up, Pack It In
Let me begin.
We've pulled some upsets on the road in the past. I was there when we won at Penn State last year (in nine overtimes). I was pacing around the Minnesota pressbox when Kerby Joseph picked off the pass in the final minute to lock up the road win last November. We won at Michigan State in 2019 when we were down 31-10 at the start of the 4th quarter.
But none of those games were like this. When we win on the road, we hang on at the end. We win with a touchdown pass in the final 10 seconds to complete the comeback. We win in the bottom of the ninth.
This game had the fans filing out at the beginning of the 4th quarter. The Wisconsin students literally ran to the exits the moment Jump Around was complete (they knew everyone else would be leaving, and they wanted to beat the others up the stairs). The hasty exit from the stands (not just the students, but all Wisconsin fans) didn't feel like the typical Illinois "game is probably already over, let's just go back to the tailgate" thing. This felt like "if this signals the end, I don't want to be here to watch it."
So when Edward replied to me on Twitter like this...
Pack it up, pack it in— Edward Alexander (@makemeamapllc) October 1, 2022
...I knew I had the title for my article.
Look, maybe Wisconsin is just really bad (and if so, yippee!). Maybe this is just like those other road games where we'd beat a 4-8 Purdue team 24-6 in the rain. Maybe this is just equivalent to one of those road wins at Rutgers in the 2010's where we'd pick off four passes and win by a few touchdowns.
Or maybe this is something different altogether. Maybe this is a decent (but not great) Wisconsin team that got absolutely thumped by a program on the rise. Maybe the reason those fans packed it in so quickly was because they couldn't stand the thought of what might be happening here. That a north wind came along and the Barry Ball they had come to love for 30+ years had suddenly taken root in the state to the south.
I mean, I've never seen a fanbase flee a stadium so quickly. I honestly can't remember anything like it. It felt like it was something more than just "game is over - might as well leave." They were hustling out. Maybe they all got confused and thought the people yelling "fire Chryst" were actually yelling "fire!"
For me, up there in the pressbox taking it all in, the symbolism was overwhelming. These are Wisconsin fans who are disgusted with their team while the Illini players celebrated with the pocket of orange and blue crazies in Section X. I've spent the better part of 13 years writing "Wisconsin stole our program in 1991 and I want them to give it back," and there I was, watching Illinois destroy Wisconsin with the old Wisconsin coach on the Illinois sideline.
I could go on and on with this point, but I kind of want to stop there and start talking about the game. I'll just say that the concept here is beautiful in its simplicity. My team beat Wisconsin so incredibly soundly that the fans fled the stadium in disgust.
Wisconsin came to the stadium to get their season back on track.
We came to win.
+ I truly did believe that there was a quarterback battle in camp. That's what Bret Bielema said, and I believed him, and the one practice we got to see didn't really do much to differentiate the quarterbacks in my brain. Even once Tommy DeVito was named the starter, I still said that I thought we'd see Art Sitkowski start at least one game this fall.
I no longer think that.
This was such an incredibly steady performance from DeVito. Let me go pull the stats real quick.
18-24 (75%) for 167 yards. 0, INT, 0 TD, 0 INT, 3 rushing touchdowns. Also, 0 interceptions.
That's all you need in a game like this. High completion percentage, no interceptions. That keeps the chains (and clock) moving and your defense can do the rest.
I mean, it's so simple, right? How to win football games:
- Play great defense.
- Have a great running back who can get the tough yards.
- Have an efficient quarterback.
We have all three and it means we might win eight games.
+ WE MIGHT WIN EIGHT GAMES. I've been holding it all in here but it's time to let it loose.
I'm not afraid to type that. We are 4-1 right now. I'll take a guess at the lines for the upcoming games:
Iowa -- Illini -5
Minnesota -- pk
at Nebraska -- Illini -4
Michigan State -- Illini -8
Purdue -- Illini -5.5
at Michigan -- Michigan -13
at Northwestern -- Illini -18
A 4-3 finish - just beat Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Northwestern (which would mean a loss to Minnesota, Purdue, and Michigan) - and that's 8-4. I don't even know how it's possible I'm saying this right now, but that's 8-4.
Let's look at this a different way. Minnesota lost to Purdue today so they will fall out of the rankings tomorrow. Michigan State lost to Maryland so they've pretty much cemented that they'll be nowhere near the rankings again this season. Honestly, besides Michigan, Purdue is the only opponent with a chance to be ranked by the time we play them, but they'd have to sweep Maryland, Wisconsin, and Iowa to get there.
So we have one ranked opponent left on the schedule. I'd like to repeat that. We have one ranked opponent left on the schedule. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is 4-1 on the season, having allowed 8.4 points per game this year, and there's only one ranked opponent left on the schedule.
Let me just take a wild stab at the final records for the teams I listed there.
Iowa - 7-5
Minnesota - 9-3
Nebraska - 4-8
Michigan State - 4-8
Purdue - 7-5
Northwestern - 2-10
A 4-1 team facing a schedule like that is gonna go 8-4, right? I really think a 4-1 team facing that schedule is gonna go 8-4.
WHAT AM I EVEN SAYING RIGHT NOW?
+ I predicted 4 wins this season. We're already there.
+ It's really hard to accurately describe the level of football we're getting from Keith Randolph, Calvin Avery, and Johnny Newton right now. They are simply taking over games. And I'm not sure we've ever had a defensive line take over games to the tune of "Wisconsin had two rushing yards".
I'll just list Wisconsin's rushing yards in each of their games this year:
- Illinois State - 221
- Washington State - 174
- New Mexico State - 260
- Ohio State - 192
- Illinois - 2
I need a cigarette.
+ The name of the game today was capitalizing on the turnovers. I just saw the stat where Northwestern forced five turnovers at Penn State... and got 0 points off those turnovers.
Illinois forced three turnovers at Wisconsin:
- Kendall Smith interception turned into the first Tommy DeVito QB sneak.
- The Taz Nicholson interception turned into the second Tommy DeVito QB sneak.
- The fumble on the kickoff return turned into the first Caleb Griffin field goal.
Three turnovers, 17 points.
And then here is the stat of the day. Red Zone Chances:
- Illinois got inside the 20 five times and scored on all five drives (three touchdowns and two field goals).
- Wisconsin got inside the 20... zero times. Not once. Nada. The big goose egg. The empty bag.
What am I supposed to do with all this information? I can barely contain my brain. Maybe I just need to get to a closing statement.
+ As I said in the From The Stands, I was amazingly calm after this win. I got back to the car to meet up with Carmen and Dave and Carmen said the exact same thing: eerily calm all day. It wasn't a bad calm, just a comfortable calm. Our team took care of business and there was no need to freak out.
The feeling can best be described as a cup of coffee in an Adirondack chair on a dock with steam rising off the water. Or a beach chair at sunset where the sand is a tiny bit chilly. Or a mountain overlook with two birds calling in the valley below. It's an "all is right in the world" happy place, not an "OH MY GOD EVERYONE PLEASE FREAK OUT" place.
Our team came into Madison and held Wisconsin in a sleeper hold until they passed out. And then we quietly laid them on the couch to rest until they regain consciousness. And then we straightened our tie and calmly walked out.
I just can't get over it. We dictated everything about this game in Madison. Our defense bullied them until they basically quit. They tried every Wisconsin Thing and nothing worked.
That's it, isn't it? They tried to be themselves and we wouldn't let them. They tried to do the things they always do and our defense said "NOPE."
Heh. That gives me the perfect way to end this. Wisconsin tried desperately to be Wisconsin. Our response:
"Try and play the role and yo the whole crew will act up."