SOC - Indiana 2022
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I mean you already know what I'm going to say so I'm not sure I should even say it. I'm a broken record when writing these since... 2015 North Carolina I think? When we go on the road for the first time, it's usually a disaster. To win, we have to play a horrific opponent. Is Indiana that horrific opponent? I'm not sure.
Let's just go through the list from 2001 to 2021. The first time we ventured away from home:
- 2021 - lost at Virginia 42-14
- 2020 - lost at Wisconsin 45-7
- 2019 - beat UConn 31-23 (UConn finished 2-10)
- 2018 - beat Rutgers 38-17 (Rutgers finished 1-11)
- 2017 - lost at South Florida 47-23
- 2016 - lost at Nebraska 31-16
- 2015 - lost at North Carolina 48-14
- 2014 - lost at Washington 44-19
- 2013 - lost at Nebraska 39-19
- 2012 - lost at Arizona State 45-14
- 2011 - won at Indiana 41-20 (Indiana finished 1-11)
- 2010 - lost (neutral) to Missouri 23-13
- 2009 - lost (neutral) to Missouri 37-9
- 2008 - lost (neutral) to Missouri 52-42
- 2007 - lost (neutral) to Missouri 40-34
- 2006 - lost at Rutgers 33-0
- 2005 - lost at Cal 35-20
- 2004 - lost at Wisconsin 24-7
- 2003 - lost (neutral) to Missouri 22-15
- 2002 - lost (neutral) to Missouri 33-20
- 2001 - won at Cal 44-17 (Cal finished 1-10)
So from 2001 to 2021, four wins the first time we left Champaign. And those four opponents combined to go 5-42. If we play anyone decent at all, we lose the first time we leave Champaign.
"But Robert, that was then and this is now. What does Ron Zook getting shut out at Rutgers have to do with Bret Bielema in 2022?"
Nothing, of course. But also, everything.
What that list says to me: it's very hard to win away from home early in the season. Even the great Illini teams of the past inform us of this. The 1983 Rose Bowl team went undefeated in the Big Ten... and lost the opener at Missouri 28-18. The next year the Illini went 7-4... but lost at 5-6 Stanford in the first road game. The next year we went 6-5-1... but lost the opening road game at Nebraska. The 1990 team - a team that would beat eventual national champion Colorado and an Illini team that would find themselves ranked #5 going into November... lost the opener at 7-5 Arizona. And don't make me rehash the September losses at Missouri in 1991 and 1993 (both of which I attended).
If you want to know why us graybeards talk about the 1989 game at USC so much, it's because that's basically the only road opener we've won against a strong opponent since we've been fans. Honestly, I haven't checked every schedule, but I feel like 1999 Louisville is the only other road win against a quality opponent in the road opener. There was San Diego State in 2000, but that SDSU team was awful (let me look it up - 3-8).
Anyway, I've made my point by now. Even great Illini teams struggle the first time they get on a bus or plane. Early road games are just different. It requires an epically bad 2-10 or 1-11 team to get a win, apparently.
Oh hey look at that - Indiana was 2-10 last year. Does that mean we can add this game to the list of 2001 Cal, 2011 Indiana, 2018 Rutgers, and 2019 UConn? I don't know. I have no idea what to make of this Indiana team.
Last year? Bad. Really bad. They beat their FCS opponent, they beat Western Kentucky by two, and they lost every other game. They were "lose to Rutgers, at home, 38-3" bad.
This year? They changed everything but the head coach. This was basically Zook in 2010. Indiana has a new OC, and new DC, and a bunch of transfer portal players. Their quarterback is (likely) the transfer from Missouri. Their tailback rotation goes transfer from Auburn, transfer from North Carolina, true freshman. All in all, 13 transfers brought in to overhaul the roster.
Does that mean we have the upper hand? I'm not so sure. My concern on our end: the lack of TFL's last week. We had one tackle for loss against Wyoming. That goes to the whole "havoc" thing in college football. Is your defense disruptive? Because your defense needs to be disruptive.
The defense wasn't disruptive against Wyoming (although, to be fair, it didn't need to be). So I'm concerned that the lack of disruptiveness is the thing that costs us this game. On the road, at night, in the opener, and we're not getting any disruptive plays which means Indiana is putting together 10-11-12 play drives and our defense is tired. That's the game I'm concerned we're going to see.
I think it will be competitive. I would so very much love to win because I'll sell 5,000 tickets to the Virginia game with my postgame article. But I don't think Indiana is awful (I don't think they're great, but I think they're maybe a 5-7 team), and without playing an awful opponent, we just always struggle the first time away from home.
Unfortunately, I expect that to continue tomorrow.
Indiana 27, Illinois 20