My son loves Spider-Man.
I don't have anything against Spider-Man or anyone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, per se. But I wasn't raised on it, and I didn't care about the MCU before he got into it a few years ago. Now, I'm the kind of person who goes to see Avengers: Endgame without my kids.
He's the reason why, though, and Spider-Man is his favorite. So, when No Way Home came out a few years ago, I took him to see it in theaters. A lot for a six-year-old? Maybe. Did he ask questions in his regular, not-movie-theater-approved voice throughout the entire movie? Also maybe.
The point, though, is that one of the main characters, Peter Parker's love interest MJ, repeats a mantra over the course of the movie: "If you expect disappointment, then you can never really get disappointed."
MJ is clearly an Illini fan. That approach to Illinois football has been popular with this fan base for as long as I can remember. Expectations? Underpromise and overdeliver. (Or, you know, just deliver. Even underdeliver sometimes. Illinois football -- underpromise and see how it goes.)
As hard as I tried to be Robert and truly believe that Illinois was going to lose on Friday, I couldn't help but find myself in the MJ camp. I was expecting disappointment solely for the purpose of not being disappointed. In my heart, though, I really thought it was going to go differently.
It didn't, of course, and Robert proved once again to be correct. (We doubt him at our own risk at this point.) I do think, though, that it's interesting that this feeling felt a bit foreign, at least to me. If the predictions in the IlliniBoard Slack channel are any indication, I'm not alone, either. All those years of training our brains to expect disappointment have been erased by Bret Bielema's past 18 games. Genuine disappointment is a part of being a sports fan, but expecting disappointment? That's a hallmark of a fanbase used to losing.
Slowly, we're becoming a fanbase that isn't used to losing. So, I hope that feeling remains foreign. I hope Friday was the last time for a long time that I try to convince myself that disappointment is inevitable.
It's a new day, MJ. Forget what you know.
(Great joke, IMO.)
-At some point in the second quarter Friday, ESPN's sideline reporter Paul Carcaterra had a throwaway report about how the Kansas defense had shut down the Illini running game.
It was a fairly benign report, expect for the part where it was wrong. With no context, sure, the Illini hadn't racked up many yards on the ground to that point. But it wasn't the Kansas defense doing anything. When you can't sustain drives and fall behind a dynamic offense by multiple scores early, abandoning the running game is a byproduct of the game script, not the result of a stifling defense.
On the contrary, I thought the running game was pretty effective Friday. Luke Altmyer's 72-yard scamper skew the yards per carry, but even without his statistics, Reggie Love averaged 5.6 YPC. Josh McCray averaged 5.0. Kaden Feagin gained five yards on his lone carry.
I suspect we'll see some offensive line shakeup ahead of Saturday's game against Penn State, but I was encouraged by the running game Friday. No thanks to Paul Carcaterra.
-I know that it's been said that Dequan Finn and Jalon Daniels are possibly the two most dynamic quarterbacks the Illini will face all season, but I've been really discouraged with the defense's ability to get them on the ground.
In particular, I've noticed several times that Illini defenders -- I'm sure there's blame to share, but Gabe Jacas is the one I've seen the most -- overpursue and get victimized by cutbacks. That's just fundamental stuff. The backside has to be shut off.
Poor angles have been another issue. Multiple times defenders have simply been beaten to a corner. I'm willing to believe that some of Kansas' athletes are just faster than the Illini defenders, but some of those misses were just bad lines. Stuff that's gotta get cleaned up before Big Ten play.
-Altmyer's second start in an Illini uniform was a little more up-and-down than his debut, but I still thought it was an overall positive performance. The second interception was a ball put in harm's way, but it was also one that Isaiah Williams had both hands on. The first one was clearly on Pat Bryant.
He brought his eyes down too often, failing to keep them downfield in hopes of making a play, but when you get sacked six times and Zy Crisler is a turnstile that's understandable. I don't think the Illini can run out that same offensive line configuration on Saturday morning unless they know something I don't -- hard to imagine they would know more than me, a guy sitting on my couch, but I guess it's possible -- and hopefully they figure out some formation that keeps Altmyer upright and looking downfield against a tenacious Penn State defense.
-Robert harps on the turnover fairy every summer, and the luckiness of turnovers was never more evident than on Friday. Both of Kansas' interceptions were fluky, balls that easily could have ended up a million other places than floating into a Kansas defender's hands.
Let's hope we got some of that bad luck out of the way early.
-Help us, Matthew Bailey. You're our only hope.
-It's hard to glean anything meaningful from one catch, but I'm probably not the only one who watched the bowl game against Mississippi State and immediately knew that Griffin Moore had hands. Friday night confirmed that, and not only that, but he might have some juice in the passing game as well. Moore averaged 17 yards per catch in the game, and with his long being 22 yards it's not a number that's distorted by one long catch. I'm making a lot of assumptions about one game, but I think he a chain-mover.
-I'll be back in Champaign Saturday for the Regular Noon Kickoff. Look for me on TV. I'll be the one wearing orange.