Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Sep 11, 2022

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That's the rainbow which appeared with about four minutes to go in the game. Fans of other teams will look at that photo and only focus on the size of the crowd. I stare at the rainbow and dream about what's on the other side.

See, I've attended that game 35 times. 10 penalties. 4 turnovers. 2 missed field goals. Outgain your opponent by 175 yards but lose the game because of 10 penalties and 4 turnovers. Minnesota-Illinois in 2008: Illini 550 yards, Minnesota 312. Final score: Minnesota 27, Illinois 20.

Today? Illinois 24, Virginia 3. What?

Seriously, what? I cannot comprehend football where the mistakes don't matter. Mistakes have mattered in that stadium for 30 years. I've spent my Sundays thinking about our mistakes for more than half my life. And this whole time mistakes could be... overcome? Why didn't anyone tell me?

When I say I can't comprehend it, well, this From The Stands is me after the game trying to comprehend it. Maybe you already listened. Maybe you don't want to listen to me trying to figure it out. But I'll just put this here, and then I'll continue below.

As I said there, fans of nearly every other P5 program would be upset by this win. They'd be worried about how these mistakes might cost the team down the road. For me, I'm the exact opposite. I've suddenly learned that football games can be won with pure dominance. That mistakes don't have to cost you. That the best defense is a great defense.

It's hours after the game and I'm still so incredibly excited. "The mistakes didn't matter" basically describes every national champion (stay with me here - I'm not saying we're some kind of contender or anything). Every year, the mistakes-didn't-matter-iest team wins the national title. Everyone plays a mistake-filled game or two. It's unavoidable. When you're Alabama or Georgia, you overcome those mistakes with pure dominance. When you're Notre Dame, you lose to Marshall.

Seriously, think about it. Every team will have games where the quarterback throws an interception on his first pass and the wide receiver fumbles at the one when you think he's about to score and then you get to the five and the kicker misses the chip-shot. Great teams limit these mistakes, but the mistakes still happen at some point during the season. There are still flag-happy officiating crews who will flag you ten times in one game. You simply have to dig deep and overcome it.

And it feels like we haven't dug deep in 15 years. The mistakes always cost us. They just cost us last week at Indiana! Since I arrived on campus in 1991, Illini football can best be described as The Mistakes Cost Us.

Today, the mistakes didn't cost us. Not only did we overcome the mistakes, I don't think we even started to sweat. Two turnovers in the first three minutes? No big deal.

Is this what's over the rainbow? Is this what it feels like to cheer for competence? A defense loses Carney, Perry, & Gay, Hansen & Tolson, Adams & Joseph, and... they haven't allowed a touchdown in Memorial Stadium this year? I'm not sure what to do with my hands.

I was so dumbfounded after the game that this is the question I asked at the press conference. No, really, I said something like "I've sat here and talked to coaches about 10 penalties and 4 turnovers after heartbreaking losses; now I'm talking to a coach about 10 penalties and 4 turnovers after a dominating win - what's that about? (I don't think I really said "what's that about?"). I don't know why I'm telling you this because I didn't record his answer nor to I really remember what he said. I was too busy thinking about TEN PENALTIES AND FOUR TURNOVERS IN A GAME WE WON BY 21.

To win football games you have to either limit mistakes or overcome mistakes. We've had some stretches where we limited mistakes. I really can't remember many games where we overcame mistakes (unless we were playing Youngstown State or something). That's exactly what this game was. And I don't think I'll be able to sleep as I think about what that means.

Pretty sure I just wished upon a star and woke up where the clouds are far behind me.

+ That final stop at the goal line was so much fun. I was down on the field by then, and when Spoon got that penalty setting them up with first and goal, I went around behind the goalposts to watch the four plays. The starters were INTENSE on those four plays. They did not want Virginia to get a touchdown. It felt personal.

And then it was great play after great play. Pressure from the line. Great defense from Quan and Spoon. When they failed to score, that defense was FIRED UP.

Actually, that's probably the wrong way to say it. Virginia didn't "fail to score." The Illini defense stuffed them.

+ Did you see the dime package they would use when Virginia would go five wide? They'd bring on redshirt freshman Kenenna Odeluga and true freshman Matt Bailey, let Kenenna joined Tarique Barnes in mostly rushing the QB from the linebacker position (bunched up at the line), and then we'd have four safeties on the field with Kendall Smith, Sydney Brown, Quan Martin, and Matt Bailey. Kenenna got pressure on the QB a few times, Bailey got an interception - it was a very successful package.

Speaking of, I didn't think it would be possible to be more excited about Matt Bailey than I already am, but my goodness. An interception. A fumble recovery for a touchdown on the failed Virginia punt return. What was that quote from that one story when Ryan Walters called Bret Bielema after seeing Bailey work out? Something like "we're insane if we don't offer this kid"? I'm so glad we're not insane.

Write him down in ink at safety in 2023, 2024, and 2025.

+ Reggie Love had another "everyone thought he was down, but his knees and elbows didn't touch" run. That's two now, so it's officially a pattern.

If you're wondering what my "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down" tweet was all about (shoutout everyone 45 and older), that was it.

+ Also, shoutout to my Asamoah Award. Quan Martin was a monster out there. So was Pat Bryant. Seth Coleman had a couple big moments. Next up: time to get James Kreutz on the field to show us that the 2022 Asamoah Award winner is ready to join the club.

(But seriously - how good was that Pat Bryant catch at the five? Ball winner. It's been a long time since we had a ball winner. Please continue to be that ball winner, PB13.)

+ Walking out of the stadium I was behind some people talking about how the offense "really needs to step it up", but I wasn't all that upset with the offense today. Yes, they only scored 17 points (the other 7 came on the fumble recovery), but Pat Bryant was a yard away from scoring and we missed two field goals. The offense put up 198 yards rushing, 196 yards passing, and would have had 30 points if not for the fumble at the one and the two missed field goals (I don't count missed field goals against the offense - I count them against the special teams because the offense did their job).

Penalties held down our scoring total as well. The long Isaiah Williams punt return was nullified by a penalty. And I believe there was another moment just like that but I can't think of it right now. My point: a whole bunch of stuff happened which kept our point total at 24, not something like 38. Hopefully, that stuff stops happening. (Especially the missed field goals.)

But overall, I couldn't be more excited. I've always been an "other teams overcome their mistakes - why can't we?" guy, and now we play a game where we made double-digit mistakes and still won handily. A great defense + a great running back can do so, so much to cover up your blemishes. Virginia was 1-16 on third down? Yeah, that's how a defense can dominate a game.

Which had me staring at that rainbow near the end of the game. Is this what it feels like to be a Wisconsin fan the last 30 years? Is this what's on the other side of all this? Is there some mythical land out there which Barry Alvarez discovered in 1990 where you can make mistakes and still win football games with a solid run game and a great defense? I guess what I'm saying is...

(you knew this was coming)

If happy little Badgers fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why, can't I?

Maybe I... can?


SactownIllini on September 11, 2022 @ 02:23 AM

Haha that's a hilarious ending!! But so dead on in this article. The last time I remember a team that could overcome its mistakes is the 2001 team. I seem to recall the Penn State game as the game we just kept at it until we won...when normally we lost that game hundreds of times (like 1994). You can suddenly see we have a team that can win the weak Big Ten West. It's there for the taking if we stop shooting ourselves in the foot.

mdonsbach on September 11, 2022 @ 05:03 AM

That swim move to get that second sack for Jacas had me drooling.

PowerGranger on September 11, 2022 @ 07:13 AM

Announcers went on about the defender biting on Bryant’s double move, but he recovered. That pass was exactly where it had to be.

jkibler on September 11, 2022 @ 09:17 AM

How about Mathew Bailey! We lost a safety to Wisconsin and we found a great replacement. Robert, if you do a check the tape, look for a play he made when he flew up and put a lick on the Virginia RB. It was like 3rd and long on the 20-25 yard line and he was playing deep on the west side of the field. Virginia threw a pass on the opposite side of the field and it looked like we had it covered but the RB spun out and looked to have some room to run. I watched Matthew back pedaled at the snap before I focused on the play. As the RB was turning up the field, I saw an Illini player fly in and land a blow. They didn’t bring the guy down but certainly slowed his momentum and he was soon tackled by others. I quickly looked for the guy that made the hit and it was Mathew. I was like “damn, where did he come from!” It reminded me of the play you covered in his high school tape where he came clear across the field and drilled the player short of the first down marker. A great play by a great kid and I am looking forward to watching him the next 4 years. Quad City kid doing big things!

MNIllini96 on September 11, 2022 @ 10:39 AM

I know the play you are talking about. Great hit. Just needed to wrap up. Kid’s got a bright future in orange and blue.

Duce20 on September 11, 2022 @ 09:44 AM

Robert! We returned punts! Like for yards and stuff! How awesome was that? I thought it was Eugene Wilson or Gary Voekler (sp?)out there!

Duce20 on September 11, 2022 @ 09:46 AM

Oh and we can win the West!

Douglascountyillinifan on September 11, 2022 @ 09:48 AM is my personal rendition, although JG killed it also. Have to agree with Devito that this could have been a 50 point beat down. It feels weird to be vaguely disappointed in a 3 TD win over a P5 opponent, especially since we've only had a few wins of any size over the past few decades.

Duce20 on September 11, 2022 @ 10:02 AM

Robert! Love letting the band play! That’s what from the stands is. That’s why you’re different. You’re one of us! I know it’s a fine line between this being your profession and being a fan but I love it. I am on cloud 9 because the mistakes we have can be corrected. What can’t be corrected is being physically outmatched. We’ve physically imposed our will on 3 straight opponents. Now we need to fine tune some things and learn how to put teams away. Love it!

Duce20 on September 11, 2022 @ 10:02 AM

Robert! Love letting the band play! That’s what from the stands is. That’s why you’re different. You’re one of us! I know it’s a fine line between this being your profession and being a fan but I love it. I am on cloud 9 because the mistakes we have can be corrected. What can’t be corrected is being physically outmatched. We’ve physically imposed our will on 3 straight opponents. Now we need to fine tune some things and learn how to put teams away. Love it!

MNIllini96 on September 11, 2022 @ 10:49 AM

Talk of winning the west seems a bit premature. Yes, it was a solid win. Yes, the west looks weak. But let’s not forget it was another week of losing the turnover battle and shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties and bad kicking. We say that is easily fixed, but is it? We have kind of being doing that for most of the last 25 years.

With that said, if our defensive backfield can continue to play straight up man coverage, we can send a lot of stunts at good QBs. That is a formula for winning some football games.

Duce20 on September 11, 2022 @ 07:17 PM

Is it? Who in the division scares you? I’ll hang up and take your answer off air.

MNIllini96 on September 12, 2022 @ 08:03 PM

The University of Illinois.


BamaIllini on September 13, 2022 @ 01:12 PM

I am not saying we will, but no team in the west in unbeatable. Even if we somehow go 6-0 against the west, we could finish 6-3 and place 2nd or third in the west.

IlliniJedi on September 11, 2022 @ 04:17 PM

Football is and always will be simple. Run the football and play GREAT defense. It is awesome when Illinois does it.

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