One Or Two Plays
The day after the Florida Atlantic game, I was texting with a guy I know (as opposed to texting with a guy I've never met before). Looking ahead at the Big Ten schedule and trying to find four more wins (to get to six wins a bowl game), I made a very simple statement:
He and I have referenced that single text so many times over the last month. Every game is another "came down to one or two plays" game. That's what I tweeted after this one:
Last four weeks:— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) November 11, 2023
✅ Win on a last second FG
❌ Lose on a touchdown with 27 seconds left
✅ Win on a touchdown with 50 seconds left
✅ Win in overtime
We've played four consecutive "one or two plays" games and we've won three of the four. I was terrified, and now I'm thrilled.
I mean, think about it. We've experienced these moments before. Let me just comp the three wins listed there to losses from the past...
- The Maryland game last month was 100% headed for Purdue 2016. In that one, we drove into field goal range at the end of the game, we had now-making-millions-kicking-in-the-NFL Chase McLaughlin trot on the field to kick the game winner... and he doinks it off the upright. Purdue won in overtime.
- The Minnesota game last week was an exact match to the 2006 Ohio U game. In that one, we inexplicably fumbled at the 16 late in the fourth quarter to set them up for an easy go-ahead field goal. We had a similar fumble last week at Minnesota... but somehow overcame it with three passes from John Paddock.
- And this Indiana game today was absolutely Penn State 2013. We had a lead late in that one and just needed one final stop. We didn't get that stop. We allowed them to tie it with 30 seconds left, the game goes to overtime, and Penn State wins it in overtime.
Three games where we did some Illinois things and lost. And now, in the last month, three more games where we once again did some Illinois things... and still won. I just can't get over it.
I want to emphasize my point here because you might be thinking I'm saying something else. I'm saying that the mistakes happened again... but we found a way to overcome them. Last week we turned the ball over twice in three minutes late in the fourth quarter and lost our lead. And we still found a way to win. This week, we gave up a length-of-the-field drive for the tying score with 30 seconds left... but found a way to win in overtime.
And "found a way to win" is underselling it. We put up the defensive series of the second half at the start of overtime. And then we got more "we're on the same page so I'll just throw it here and he'll catch it" from John Paddock and Isaiah Williams.
I told John (the guy from the text linked above, not Paddock) that I was terrified of the One Or Two Plays that would decide these upcoming games. And yes, in the Wisconsin game, they were the team that made the One Or Two Plays. But in the other three games, when it came down to it, we made the plays. Altmyer hit Casey Washington for that big play and we got into field goal range and beat Maryland. Paddock went 85 yards in three plays to beat Minnesota (and the defense gave up zero yards on four Minnesota plays). And now the defense made three great overtime plays followed by Paddock-to-Williams once again.
Being a fan of the team that... makes the one or two plays to win a game? I could get used to this.
+ There are no words for the John Paddock story right now. I linked this last week, but here's what I wrote about him in August:
Needless to say, all objectivity is out the window for me and I now want Paddock to eventually take over the starting job and lead us to a Big Ten title. I'd write a book about it if it happens. More than anything I care about Illini fandom, and an Illini fan (and legacy) playing on the team is very important to me.
Those stories usually only exist in Hollywood, though, so I'm not looking for a publisher just yet.
Maybe... I should start looking for publishers?
It's just insane how this is playing out. When learning this week that Altmyer was possibly not going to play in this one, my thoughts drifted to "oh man, don't take Paddock's story away like that." I feared a four INT performance where the drive at Minnesota starts to fade into the background.
What did I get? The most yards ever thrown in Memorial Stadium by a single quarterback (507). I mean, just typing "507" is completely insane. What is even happening right now? John Paddock just threw for 507 yards.
And - AND - he ended the game by rolling out of a collapsing pocket and finding Isaiah Williams (who, after noticing the collapsing pocket, broke off his route and improvised.) And they did this on third and six in overtime when every single one of us feared a missed FG on the next play and an Indiana win. These are things that happened in a Big Ten football game in Memorial Stadium.
Five hundred and seven yards. How do you even think about that, let alone write about it. FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVEN YARDS through the air.
+ Isaiah Williams needs his own section as well. 9 catches for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns (including the game-winner). Marvin Harrison Jr. cleared 1,000 yards on the season in Ohio State's win, so he has all of the Big Ten receiver accolades locked up, but with two games remaining, Isaiah now has 68 catches for 893 yards and five touchdowns. Really feels like we're gonna get our first 1,000-yard receiver since Dude K in 2014.
Just watch this triple move on the game-winning touchdown. He runs his "break it out, break it back in" route. But when he goes to look for the ball, he sees Paddock bailing out to the right. So he immediately peels back in that direction again to give Paddock a target. Don't watch Paddock here - just watch Isaiah.
Target acquired. Touchdown. Illini win.
+ Please allow me to just make a bunch of ridiculous statements right here. All of these are true:
- We scored 48 points AND we also had a kickoff return for TD called back for holding.
- We've won two consecutive games on a throw from John Paddock to Isaiah Williams.
- We gifted Indiana 140 yards with 14 (fourteen!) penalties and still won the game.
- In a game where we put up 662 yards of offense... we were 3-10 on third down.
- A false start penalty on our two point conversion try in the third quarter led to us sending out the kicking team. And that's why the game was tied at the end.
I could go on and on. This game was bonkers.
+ It must be mentioned that the defense gave up 451 yards and 45 points. Indiana was 6-6 in the redzone with six touchdowns. After all of that progress over the last month, the defense just went right back to September.
I have to admit - I didn't see this cornerback problem coming. The Indiana OC was just picking on isolated corners over and over and over. They'd either get a catch of a PI call, so why wouldn't they keep going back to it? Over and over and over.
There's a lot of work to do this week. We can't let Iowa look competent on offense.
+ I'll close by noting that this was a special one for me. Most of my family was here including my mom and my son and his wife from Idaho and our granddaughter. As I tweeted this evening, what a great game for your first ever Illini game.
In my Pressbox In The Stands, I had my step-dad, my oldest son, and his girlfriend with me. Postgame hugs with your stepdad after an overtime win are the best.
And then the postgame tailgate was perfect. Carmen has this new thing where we don't light the "I" until we win. And we've lost the last three home games, so we haven't been able to light the "I". Tonight, we lit the "I".
Playing with grandkids, warm bowl of postgame chili, footballs flying among crunchy leaves... does it get any better?
Find out next week on the Paddock To Williams Show.