Sep 23, 2022

In my former life - Career I, with this being Career II - I used to deal with scale all the time. I'd create a drawing, and the drawing had to be to scale. 1 inch on the drawing = 30 feet, that kind of thing. You can't just zoom in or zoom out to make the drawing fit on the 30x42 sheet - it had to be to scale. Someone is going to build something using this set of drawings, and if I'm going to show the overall site plan on this page but then zoom in on a different part of the site on this other page, that person needs to know how much I zoomed in.

So a lot of my life was spent doing just that. These details on this sheet are at this certain scale, but it's not really appropriate to draw this other detail at the same scale. Really need to increase the scale for that one. Everything has to be relative.

As a result, my brain just works like that. I'm constantly adjusting things so that they're relative. Alfonso Plummer shot the ball like this against Arkansas State, but that was just Arkansas State. Once the degree of defensive difficulty cranked up and he still shot the ball well against Iowa's defense - OK, maybe a bad example (burn!) - then that's much more impressive. He did this against this defense and that was one thing but then the degree of difficulty doubled and he still produced similar results so that's a whole new thing to think about. Everything has to be relative.

I'm struggling to do the same tonight after this game. I can't scale it. Maybe a better way to say that: this performance was so solid that I'm not sure scaling it matters all that much? Let me see if I can explain this.

After the Arizona State blowout loss in 2012, we returned home to play Charleston Southern (an FCS opponent just like Chattanooga was an FCS opponent). That game played out almost exactly like this one. Illinois had 479 yards, Charleston Southern had 125 yards, Illinois won 44-0. And it meant absolutely nothing. We would go on to lose to Louisiana Tech the next week (and then we'd lose every single Big Ten game).

We talked about it at the time - 2012 Charleston Southern was maybe the worst team to play in Memorial Stadium in decades. They had lost 15 consecutive games across three seasons coming in. The previous season they scheduled Division III Wesley College for homecoming in an attempt to get a win... and they lost 32-20. To a Division III school!

So that information was useful in scaling that victory. It wasn't even an FCS-level opponent. Might not have even been a Division II-level opponent. Worst team to step out onto Zuppke Field in several generations.

Should we do the same for tonight? Should we chalk it up to "this is just an FCS opponent - you should shut out all FCS opponents"? Chattanooga is obviously better than 2012 Charleston Southern, of course. Chattanooga came in ranked 9th in FCS, three spots ahead of Weber State (who just beat Utah State 35-7) and four spots behind Missouri State (who nearly beat #10 Arkansas on Saturday). And this is a Chattanooga team that traveled to Kentucky last year - an eventual ten-win Kentucky team - and lost 28-23. 2022 Chattanooga is a top-10 FCS team and 2012 Charleston Southern was probably 125th out of 125 FCS programs, so yeah, there's some scale we can play with here.

But what how does that relate to a Big Ten opponent? Chattanooga is better than SIU-Carbondale, and the Salukis just beat Northwestern, so is Chattanooga maybe better than the bottom-of-the-barrel Big Ten teams? Maybe we should say that the 9th-best FCS school is as good as... the 100th-best FBS school? Or is that maybe exaggerating things too much?

This is my struggle with scale. It's been my struggle all season. I thought Wyoming was bad when we beat them, but now they've won three in a row including a win over a really good Air Force team. I'm pretty sure Virginia is bad, but we held them to 3 points a year after giving up 42 so that's a data point, right? Same QB throwing to the same receivers. Indiana was really bad last year, but now they've already topped their 2021 win total, so maybe they're not that bad? Of course, maybe they're just getting extremely lucky? See what I mean here? This season has been impossible to scale.

Tonight, though - tonight I started to think that maybe I don't need to scale this at all. Maybe I just need to admit that we're a pretty good football team?

I mean, let's get really, really basic. We have played 16 quarters of football this season. Here are the stats:

Illinois yards: 1,819
Opponent yards: 938

Illinois touchdowns: 14
Opponent touchdowns: 2

Illinois first downs: 94
Opponent first downs: 49

Illinois points per game: 28.25
Opponent points per game: 8

With stats like that, maybe I stop trying to scale. Maybe I don't need to play "yeah, but if this was against Iowa..." because all that means is "instead of outgaining our opponent 502 to 142, we'll only outgain them 397 to 235". Maybe when we scale this, it comes back to "well, we'll still win, but it will only by by 13".

Look, I'm not sitting here telling you we're about to go 9-3 or something. There are tough games ahead. We'll have to go on the road again (four more times), and the last time we went on the road, things fell apart quickly. The names of the next seven opponents are still Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan State, Purdue, and Michigan. There's not an "OK, well that game doesn't really scare me" opponent until Northwestern (burn!). It's about to get a lot tougher.

But still, we haven't come out of the non-conference looking like this in more than a decade. We've played a lot of easy opponents in the last ten years - I mean, we play an FCS opponent every other year - and we haven't seen "28.25 ppg vs. 8 ppg allowed" any of those seasons. "Three home games so far, three field goals allowed" is not something we say around here very often, and we regularly play teams like Akron and Murray State in the non-conference.

So for now, I'm tossing scale out the window. When I close my eyes and drift off to sleep (it will take less than two minutes because this was a lonnnng day), I'm not going to waste those two minutes wondering if Virginia and Wyoming and Indiana and Chattanooga were just "four exceptionally bad opponents leading to our misleading statistics." We've moved 1,819 yards across football fields this last month and our opponents have only moved 938 yards. That's incredibly dominating football no matter how you look at it.

4-8, Robert? Really? You predicted 4-8?

Might need to flip it.


ktcesw on September 23, 2022 @ 05:41 AM

While I think that we need to go deep with our passes a couple of more times per game, this team has been very impressive! Just don't play, "not to lose". I may have to take back some of my dislike of BB.

rml on September 23, 2022 @ 06:21 AM

I hope you're right, and I do think 7-5 is possible. But that wasn't good pass defense that we were facing. Devito still impresses me with making the right decisions about who to throw to, but in general his long balls weren't accurate enough to have been completed against a really good defense. But nonetheless the Illini are a refreshingly good team this year, and it's a joy to watch them.

PosterNB12 on September 23, 2022 @ 06:42 AM

Favorite stat so far. Per PFF, we have the number 1 coverage grade in the entire country. Last two years under Lovie we were over 100 each year. From nearly the worst for two years to now one of the best. The days of TE running free down the seam are over. on September 23, 2022 @ 06:44 AM

IlliniJoe81 on September 23, 2022 @ 07:25 AM

Some years we’ve just been decimated by injuries. We’ve lost a few guys during the first 4 games but the heart of the team is intact. (Knock on wood.) The weird schedule may help physically. So we’re going into the conference schedule in good shape.

Feels like there are wins left on the schedule. Some of these Big Ten teams stink. I wish we had beaten Indiana because then we could almost guarantee a bowl right now.

Seems like a major step forward from last year which hopefully will help recruiting and ticket sales. Lots to cheer for right now.

uilaw71 on September 23, 2022 @ 07:27 AM

To sleep, perchance to dream . . . 3-1 next 4, split the final 4 = 8-4.

gman on September 23, 2022 @ 07:27 AM

I think tonight showed why Devito was the better choice for QB1. Inspite of a few bad throws, he game managed well. Art didnt do much except gut out 1 first down. Our cooordinators continue to deliver. Im very hopeful.

BamaIllini on September 23, 2022 @ 07:55 AM

My WIFI was on the fritz last night so my game watch on Youtube was beyond bad, but I did come out of last night with one concern. The OL did not look great. There were numerous little to no gain plays for Brown, and Devito got sacked several times. We are about to play some serious DL teams and we need to clean that up. Otherwise, that was fun.

danny on September 23, 2022 @ 08:02 AM

To me a better scale is Bielema versus Lovie and Beckman. Bielema appears to be the difference; better in player evaluation, player development, preparation n game management.

The difference is Bielema and the staff he has put together. More so than the teams the Illini have played so far.

ATOillini on September 23, 2022 @ 08:35 AM

Very good introduction. Reminds me of hoops over the years when certain players have incredible (leading the nation!) stats in the first 6 or 8 games, but then reality hits as season grinds on.

Count me as cautiously optimistic. Like you mentioned in your “From the Stands”, we just looked good.

Want to be careful how I phrase this, but Jacas just jumps out at me as having a boatload of potential. We shall see. on September 23, 2022 @ 08:40 AM

I just posted the below on "From The Stands", and as part of penance for failing to Believe, I am re-posting it here:

"Wow, just wow!!! I am feeling much like Robert--WOW! I happily own-up to for completely calling it incorrectly yesterday---now, show-up and keep it close, or heaven forbid win (?) next week, now, we have something!!


jtlock2 on September 23, 2022 @ 09:50 AM

"But what how does that relate to a Big Ten opponent? Chattanooga is better than SIU-Carbondale, and the Salukis just beat Northwestern, so is Chattanooga maybe better than the bottom-of-the-barrel Big Ten teams? Maybe we should say that the 9th-best FCS school is as good as... the 100th-best FBS school? Or is that maybe exaggerating things too much?"

If you trust it, the Sagarin Ratings attempt to combine FCS & FBS. They have Chattanooga as #9 in FCS, #115 overall (would be #106 in FBS). The comparable FBS teams to UTC are NIU, New Mexico, Old Dominion, Georgia Tech, South Florida, Nevada, Ohio, La Tech.

Illiniboat on September 23, 2022 @ 12:03 PM

I think we also may be seeing how much last year was tanked by the worst QB play in the country. Illinois won 5 games with less then 50% completion percentage. Devito is replacement level and it's making a massive difference.

HailToTheOrange on September 23, 2022 @ 12:15 PM

I am firmly a [sic] Bieliver. Also, I think we can say with confidence that the shift to the new OC has made a big difference as well. I'd love to lock up these assistants for as long as possible

MuckFichigan92 on September 23, 2022 @ 01:17 PM

UTC is a good squad. As jtlock2 shared, I would think UTC would beat most of those schools with similar ratings.

SIU and whichever Dakota school went into Kinnick and held the Hawkeyes without a touchdown shows these opponents are challenges, especially early. We fared the best. I think NW or NU would have taken a similar beating last night, while the game would have been different against Minny or tOSU.

Beat Wisconsin!

HNLINI on September 23, 2022 @ 02:10 PM

The good news is that the next three weeks will give us an exceptional level of insight into how to scale 2022 Illinois Football relative to 2021 Illinois Football. Last year, Home vs. Wisconsin lost 24-0; Away vs. Iowa Lost 23-33; and Away vs. Minnesota won 14-6. Without looking at SP+, I would think that IA and WI are a little worse than last year, and MN is a little better, but we also have 2 home and 1 away. I would guess that we are far better than last year at this time (four games in). If we go 1-2, we are essentially in the same place as last year; we should go 2-1 to show progress. We were "in" 2 of the 3 games last year (I never felt that we were in the WI game), this year I expect us to be "in" all 3.

Douglascountyillinifan on September 23, 2022 @ 04:55 PM

Maybe this pecks away at the scale question. The four teams we've played haven't lost to anyone but us. Stupid IU game.

Altgeld88 on September 24, 2022 @ 09:16 AM

Nice column; I like the "scale" idea. I hate to invoke anything to do with the state of Miznoz, but my attitude remains: "Show Me." In the Big Ten. On the road.

I'm prepared to be delighted next Saturday afternoon but I'm also prepared to be resigned to "it's gonna take a little more time." I like the guy currently at the helm for us. I believe he'll produce a winner at some point.

BTW, IIRC Wyoming was missing at least two key players when they played us. I assumed they weren't as bad as they looked that day. But we've got to beat someone credible playing at full strength. I don't believe that we've encountered any such team yet and prevailed.

CraigG on September 24, 2022 @ 09:31 AM

Wyoming was missing 2 RBs and a DE who still hasn't played. The rest were season ending. The Wyoming team that has been on the field the last few weeks is the same one that came to Champaign. Which makes their wins even more remarkable. The big caveat is that was an inexperienced team, they have gelled side Week 0

Altgeld88 on September 26, 2022 @ 08:26 AM

Thanks. I didn't realize that. Makes me feel better about where we are.

ScubaFarms on September 24, 2022 @ 01:19 PM

Off the line a bit but what I'm seeing and where I'd like to see a column from you someday is our improvement in talent evaluation. (If you have written already, please direct me). The right 3 stars with the the right coaching, right? If that is our world, then how do we maximize it? It seems like Bielema understands that better than in the past. For me, the gold standard was Mike White.

on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


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