Postscript, Northwestern

Nov 29, 2022

I used to think of myself as someone who didn't like to be alone.

That was before I had kids.

Now, doing literally anything alone -- stringing Christmas lights, seeing a movie, going to the grocery store -- is at the top of my self-care wish list. You don't realize how much you enjoy the quiet freedom of being able to do whatever you want until that freedom is gone.

I don't think that's a universal thing, that everyone enjoys being alone. My wife, for example, never wants to be alone -- she likes having some personal time to herself, but she wants it to be a nice dinner with me or an afternoon shopping with a girlfriend. She has no interest in a solo grocery store trip.

So, I think having kids helped me realize that I'm someone who likes to live in my own head a bit. And when you enjoy spending that much time with your thoughts, you realize other things about yourself as well. This is maybe conceited to say, but I think I'm one of the more self-actualized people I know. It's what happens when you spend your day having conversations with yourself, I guess.

One thing that's come of that self-awareness is the ability to recognize and admit when I'm wrong. I may still be a jerk in the heat of the moment, but I also usually know pretty quickly that I was in the wrong.

If the point of all this candor is to get around to talking about Illinois football, somehow, then here's how it all ties in: a theme for me in Saturday's rout of Northwestern was realizing that I was wrong about a few guys.

The guy who changed my mind the most on Saturday was Reggie Love. All year, I've thought Love looked pedestrian as a runner; sure, he had that one impressive run against Wyoming in the opener where he was never down, but otherwise it'd been an unimpressive showing for the sophomore this year. When he entered the game for Chase Brown, it was often noticeable.

On Saturday, Love looked as good as he has all year. I perhaps wasn't wrong about the fact that he'd been rather forgettable prior to Saturday, but after seeing him look explosive in rushing 11 times for 85 yards and a touchdown, I may have been wrong about his ability to contribute in a meaningful way in the future. Keep proving me wrong, Reggie.

Another guy I think I was wrong about is Sydney Brown, specifically his ability to play at the next level. I know there's been smoke about him as an NFL prospect since his emergence in Ryan Walters' defense last season, but I've just struggled to see it. I've mostly just seen a very good college player. (Also, I'm not a scout, so what do I know.)

Defensive scores are fluky, so I don't think scoring twice Saturday magically makes him an NFL-caliber player, but I do think that the season he's now put together strengthens his case to be a draft pick next spring. Six interceptions turns heads, and the work he's done covering the other team's best tight end -- mostly good, some not so good -- is valuable practice for what he'd be doing on Sundays next year. He's likely still a day three guy, but hey, so was Nate Hobbs.

-When cruising the box score, the first thing that strikes me is how many defensive players contributed. That's a product of the game being out of hand, but I'm less concerned with the why and more interested in the fact that a bunch of backups who will likely be thrust into bigger roles next year were able to get reps in a real Big Ten football game. Among them:

*Tyler Strain had seven tackles, 0.5 TFL and that late-game interception. The question of who replaces Devon Witherspoon next year -- or, if you can't replace a guy like that, at least filling his starting spot -- is becoming increasingly clear.

*Evan Kirts had two tackles, including one tackle for loss. I have no idea if he can be a decent rotation piece for the defensive line next season, but just to get on the stat sheet after being an offensive lineman a year ago at this time is a notable accomplishment.

*Sed McConnell, Dylan Rosiek and Elijah Mc-Cantos all had a tackle. Negligible, but I think all three of those guys are on the short list of players who might find themselves with big opportunities in front of them next summer.

-Shoutout to Hugh Robertson for choosing to lower the shoulder against old friend Donny Navarro instead of sliding or going out of bounds. I see you, Hugh.

-A few weeks ago on his podcast, Robert floated the idea of getting me to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game if Illinois made it. I, in turn, floated the idea to my wife, who was shockingly receptive to letting me make the hypothetical trip and leave her with the two boys for the weekend.

Separate from that, last week a friend of mine from my sports journalism days messaged me out of the blue to ask if I wanted to freelance for him this past weekend and cover a couple of the IHSA championship games in Champaign. Christmas is expensive, and the Big Ten West was trending toward Iowa, and I didn't have a good excuse not to, and so Rebecca encouraged me to do it.

As Purdue messed around with Indiana, 12 hours after Iowa fumbled the metaphorical ball against Nebraska, there was about an hour on Saturday afternoon where I was dreading having to tell my wife that Illinois had, in fact, made the conference title game and that my presence in Indy was requested. Reader, it wouldn't have been a popular conversation.

So, while I'm obviously disappointed that Illinois fell just short of its first-ever Big Ten West crown, I wasn't that disappointed. Priorities, y'all.

I'm now excited to see where the Illini will be bowling, and against whom they'll be playing. I won't be at that game, either -- priorities, y'all -- but I can't wait to watch this team a 13th time.

Thanks for a fun regular season, fellas.


on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


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