Postscript, Chattanooga

Sep 24, 2022

I quit.

No, that's not right. Sorry to anyone who got excited, Robert included. I'm still here.

I was a quitter? Maybe that's closer to what I'm going for. I was … a quiet quitter.

Quiet quitting is one of those buzzwords that's omnipresent right now. The phrase makes me envision something like an Irish goodbye, just someone in the workplace sneakily moving out all their stuff and then one day, poof. They're gone. They quietly quit.

That's not the essence of the phrase, though. Quiet quitting, for the uninitiated, is the idea that hourly employees are working only the hours they get paid for -- no more, no less. Gone are the days of putting work above all else. The current working class is increasingly cognizant of the fact that it holds the power.

So maybe that's not the right phrase, either. I wasn't reclaiming my time from Robert. I don't punch a timecard, and he doesn't monitor my keystrokes from his home office.

On Thursday night, though, I did find myself reclaiming some of my time. For swaths of the matchup with Chattanooga, I was downstairs playing with my boys while the game was on in the living room. At one point I did the dishes. I listened as my first-grader read me a book, and I sang him "Landslide."

Hardcore fans may not like the idea of only keeping one eye on the game, but that's where I find myself with this Illini team. I was not nervous in the days leading up to Thursday, despite the fact that winning close or even losing to an FCS team is very much a thing that Illinois football has been capable of in recent years. (It's arguably been expected of us in some seasons.) I didn't feel the need to be glued to every possession for fear I'd need to be.

Instead, I would pop in and watch a handful of plays, or maybe even just check the score. 10-0? Seems about right. 24-0 at half? Awesome. 31-0, a score that could have been more lopsided if they hadn't taken their foot off the gas? Ho-hum.

I've written about it in recent weeks, and Robert talked about it in Thursday night's From the Stands, and it's hard to imagine anyone who's watched the first four games -- er, most of the first four games, as it were -- hasn't felt it: this team is competent, as competent as any Illini outfit in recent memory. Consistent. Steady. No surprises. This isn't a team that plays down to an FCS team. This is a team that tidily takes care of its business and goes home.

So, yeah, I took back some of my time. Time I lost worrying about being down late to Ball State in 2017. Time I lost fretting over trailing 17-3 to Kent State at halftime in 2018. Time I lost pacing over UCONN driving with a chance to tie the game in 2019.

I quietly quit. Because I knew this team wouldn't.

-One thing I noticed in real time was the aforementioned deceleration when the game was clearly out of reach.

Because high-level college football is something of a popularity contest, teams are often incentivized to run it up on opponents to score style points with the voters. For example, in their three wins this season, Minnesota has outscored its opponents 149-17. Some of that has been the quality of their opponents -- FCS-level Western Illinois has arguably given the Golden Gophers the most trouble of any of the three thus far -- but in those games, Tanner Morgan was still throwing touchdown passes up 35-0 on Colorado and up 38-3 on Western Illinois.

There's certainly justification for those who would like to justify it -- Minnesota has clear aspirations to rise up the ranks and be viewed as national contenders, and it was still early in the third quarter when both those games got out of hand, so it's not unreasonable that Morgan would still be in there -- but there's still some part of it that feels egregious. C.J. Stroud probably doesn't need to be throwing into the end zone when the Buckeyes are leading Toledo 56-21 in the middle of the third quarter.

So, I appreciated Bret Bielema calling off the dogs after the Isaiah Williams touchdown made it 31-0. Everyone knows they could have tried to punch it in on their last drive to make it 38-0, perhaps could have even touched the 40s with a different approach in the fourth quarter. And that's fun, I guess, but it's also reminiscent of the "Stop! Stop! He's already dead!" Simpsons meme.

Maybe 41-0 would have been even more impressive. But if people can't see that this was utter domination by the home team, they're not paying attention anyway.

-One of the big things this offense has been missing in recent years is the presence of a third thing.

They've had teams with two avenues for moving the ball. The 2019 team had a two-headed rushing attack and Fourth-and-Bhebhe. Plenty of their less-successful teams had even fewer than two things. Rod Smith's 2018 team -- not a good team, but a good example of a bad team doing one really good thing -- was incredibly one-dimensional, but ran the ball amazingly well.

You have to go back to 2015 or maybe even 2014 to find the last time the team had a ground game and two guys who could get open with consistency. If Pat Bryant is as good as we hope he is, this could be the year that they rediscover that Third Thing.

Bryant's impressive six-catch, 112-yard, one-touchdown performance Thursday could have been even more impressive without the 79-yard catch-and-run getting called back -- of course, without Brian Hightower's hold, it might have been a much-less-impressive three-yard catch-and-run, so, what are you gonna do -- but obviously even without the highlight-reel play he still had an incredible night. We've seen it coming over the past few weeks -- the bomb down the sideline against Virginia, the fumble at the one-yard line that easily could have been his third touchdown of the year, etc. -- but it all came together against Chattanooga's leaky pass defense.

Things will get tougher in Big Ten play. His quietest game of the season thus far has been the Indiana game, in which he had two catches for 43 yards. That's likely not a coincidence.

Thursday night's outburst didn't appear to be a coincidence either, though. Bryant is increasingly looking like a guy Tommy DeVito can rely on to be open and make the catch. And if he's a reliable third weapon to pair with Williams and the running game, watch out.

-The same caveats apply to Gabe Jacas -- maybe even more so, since Jacas is a true freshman -- but, hoo boy.

-I'd gush over Johnny Newton, Keith Randolph and Quan Martin again, but you guys all watched the same game.

One guy who did show something new on Thursday: Taz Nicholson. He was viewed as the starting cornerback opposite Devon Witherspoon heading into camp by little more than process of elimination -- the guy who got heavy run at cornerback last year, Tony Adams, is now in the NFL, and Nicholson was really the only other returner who played negligible minutes -- but if there was any doubt about whether he deserved the role, it's gone now.

-I love the way this schedule sets up for the next two games.

The long layoff ahead of Chattanooga allowed the team to get mostly healthy, sans Josh McCray. Now, a game that more or less served as a warmup will be followed by an eight-day break heading into a big game in Madison. The Badgers, meanwhile, will be coming off a big-time matchup against the Buckeyes in Columbus.

Then, Illinois will return home for a (Night? Please? Pretty please?) game against Iowa. In the meantime, the Hawkeyes will have traveled to Piscataway for a (sold out, night) meeting with Rutgers followed by a showdown with Michigan. Everything will have to be earned, but it's hard to ask for a better schedule heading into an incredibly important month of October.

~~Wake me up when September ends.~~

See you guys there.


iluvrt on September 24, 2022 @ 06:42 PM

Nice Green Day reference

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