Wait Till Next Year
I don't know how to write this article. I know how to write the other article. I've written some form of Wait Till Next Year at least 50 times. Even offseason posts have been littered with "by the time he reaches his junior year he should be..." statements. But I've never written this article.
And when I say I've never written this article, I mean I've never written this article. Ever. I've never written any words after an eighth football win. The last time we did it (2007), I was still two years out from writing my first blog post. I've never, ever written this article.
So I don't really know what to say. I sat down at my laptop over an hour ago and I've just been waiting for the words to come. I have no practice at this. My fingers have been sitting on the keys but I don't know which ones to press. I guess this is a literal "I'm not sure what to do with my hands" moment.
After flipping through twitter and watching highlights, I finally realized that I have no words because I have no practice at this. I'm taking my brain into brand new writing territory: writing about competent football.
I mean, I guess I could do the stats thing. On the Uber ride back to the hotel, I started thinking about how few points we gave up this year. So maybe I should just make a simple list. Points allowed in each of the last 10 seasons. I'm not including 2020 (only eight games), and I'm not listing the points allowed in bowl games (that would be 13 games). Very simple list here. 10 seasons, 12 games, how many points allowed?
I have no idea what to do with that number. Maybe I can put it in perspective:
Points allowed in the four October games in 2018: 175
Points allowed in the four November games in 2018: 172
Points allowed in 12 games during the 2022 season: 147
(BRB. Gotta tweet that one.)
I knew how to write those articles. "There's a reason I gave Sydney Brown 3.75 Cruises, and there's a reason I picked Quan for my Asamoah Award - wait until you see how they mature in the next few years." I got really good at asking you to wait until the struggling freshmen reached their upperclassman years. I could write that article in my sleep.
8-4 Illini football outscoring opponents 25.4 to 12.2? What am I supposed to do with that? Write about how great we are or something?
As I said in the From The Stands, I was very surprised by my emotions after the game. I was on cloud nine. We only beat 1-11 Northwestern, losers of 17 of their last 18 (with the one win only coming because Scott Frost decided to run an onside kick with the lead), but I was floating on air. There's just something about getting to eight wins that sends me.
And yes, it means that the stat I've followed for a decade is now put to bed. A quick paragraph or three on that topic.
I was whining a decade ago about how every other fanbase gets to have fun besides Illinois fans. Sure, Kansas Football is awful, but Kansas Basketball makes up for it. And even though Georgia Basketball doesn't provide one ounce of fun for Georgia fans, Georgia Football does. For us, at the time, we couldn't win in Memorial Stadium and we couldn't win in the State Farm Center.
So I came up with a way to emphasize it. I set two bars: a sweet 16 basketball season or an eight-regular-season-wins football season. And then I searched every Power Five school to see who was like us (with no Sweet Sixteen and no at-least-8-4 football seasons). I think at the time there were like eight schools that hadn't achieved either one.
Then they started to dwindle until it was just Illinois, Wake Forest, and Colorado. Colorado was "eliminated" when they won 10 football games in 2016. Wake Forest when they went 8-4 in 2019. And so for the last three years, it's just been Illinois. We're the only fanbase without a hang-your-hat season. I though we'd get there with basketball the last two years, but, um, Loyola and Houston happened.
And it was then that I absolutely hated choosing "Sweet 16" as the bar. Here we win a Big Ten title and I still can't cross us off the list. According to the rules I chose, we needed a Sweet Sixteen appearance or an 8-win football season.
Illini football, 8-4. Cross us off.
Maybe that's why I'm so excited after this one. Maybe it's why we're closing in on 1:00 am and I'm nowhere near sleep. 8-4 really feels good. Better than I ever thought it would.
And that's just the 8-4 part. After nearly two decades of Northwestern dominating us during Rivalry Week, we've now won back-to-back hats by a combined score of 88-17. If my brain thought "wow, 8-4 feels really good", wait until I tell it that we own the state again.
Bowl game? Gonna be a great one. Recruiting this offseason? Should be our best in more than a decade. Season tickets next year? I can't wait to hit "purchase."
I guess maybe I am figuring out how to write this one.
+ Take a guess at the leading tackler for the Illini this season. Nope - you're wrong.
The Dark Angel.
Isaac Darkangelo has 67 tackles now, with Quan and Syd tied for second at 59. So even after the bowl game (BOWL GAME), I'm guessing The Dark Angel ends the season as the leading tackler.
This was probably his best game. Let me see what the stat sheet says...
10 tackles (9 solo!), 2 TFL. He's not the defensive MVP - that's Syd with this two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) plus a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Syd should be Big Ten DPOW.
But this was still Darkangelo's best game in an Illini uniform. Man, what a season. I know what I should have said at the table on Thursday:
"I'm thankful Isaac Darkangelo decided to leave D-II football behind to walk on at Illinois."
+ I love a box score like this.
Total yards: Northwestern 321, Illinois 292
First downs: Northwestern 22, Illinois 16
Final score: Illinois 41, Northwestern 3
How does that happen? The all-important stat for today (besides turnovers):
Northwestern offensive plays run in this game: 80
Northwestern offensive plays run inside the Illinois 20 yard line: 5
What a clinic. Maintain good field position (Hugh Robertson's best game, averaging nearly 50 yards per punt), eliminate explosive plays, and just toy with them between the 20's waiting for them to make a mistake. They made six of them. 321 yards for Northwestern and they were never really a threat to score until their final two drives against our backups.
Final yards per play?
We simply put them in the meat grinder and cranked the handle.
+ A few special mentions here:
- Reggie Love. Weebles wobble but they won't fall down. Just amazing balance on those two runs that set up the touchdowns. 11 carries for 85 yards.
- Alec Bryant. Great play on that pass which Syd intercepted. Watch the guy's hands. If he's reaching up like the ball is coming, get your hands up.
- Hugh Robertson. Just wanted to mention him again. Averaged 49.3 yards per punt and picked up a first down (23 yards!) on the fake punt.
- Kenenna Odeluga. Great hit on that one TFL. I need to rename the "Matt Bailey Package" the "Matt Bailey/Kenenna Odeluga package."
As I'm typing that out I'm realizing I'm mentioning all redshirt freshmen. Which is really good to see. This team will lose a lot, and so we need some of these freshmen to be ready next season. Of course, we lost a lot after last year and we just went 8-4. So maybe I need to look at this differently. Maybe I need to start looking at it like this:
You think this season was fun? Wait till next year.