You Guys

Sep 3, 2023

Immediately after the game, I tweeted that we're going to remember the fourth down play "for a long, long time." And I say those things out loud with the full realization that 83% of the people reading will think "a 4th down catch to keep a drive alive to beat Toledo by 2 is something you're remember for "a long, long time? Really?"

Yes, really. In fact, when I went down to the field to take my "what happened here?" photo for this game, I found that the scuff mark was still there from where Casey Washington caught the ball and then slid on the turf with the Toledo DB trying to rip the ball out. I took photos of the scuff mark from every angle.

Yes, really. Here's my collection:

The 83% are embarrassed for me. Illini football only exists within What It All Means parameters for them, and when the "doesn't matter within the grand scheme" light is on, no great play can be praised. We are either attaining the level of a top-25 program or we're making fools of ourselves. Praising a catch like that is worse than saying nothing at all. They believe I'm creating a world where a 4th down catch to beat Toledo is important, and they don't want to live in that world. Top-25 program, right now, or nothing.

The 17% understand what I'm saying {wink and a little click sound with my mouth}. When I tweet the photo of the scuff mark and exclaim "YOU GUYS, it's still here!", they know they're included in "you guys." They're not embarrassed for me because they feel the same way. There's not an ounce of shame in beating Toledo 30-28. We've all suffered through a dozen games just like that - that awful feeling when you look up at the scoreboard and see Toledo 19, Illinois 7 - except this time, by the end of the game, our total was higher. Somebody go cut out that section of turf and hang it in the Louvre.

The ironic thing? The 17% care more about becoming a top-25 program than the 83%. The 83% just want to have the correct sports opinion to present to the world; the 17% would seriously consider prison time if there was a guarantee of a top-25 program at the end of the sentence.

My point is that I'm going to continue to tweet "embarrassing" things forever. I'm going to praise our team in a way that makes you cringe. I am, in fact, going to remember that throw and catch for a long, long time. If you stop me at the grocery store in 2037 and you tell me that your first game as a student was the Toledo game in 2023, I'm immediately going to say "oh my God that fourth down toss to Casey Washington!" And then I'm going to pull out my phone and show you all the photos I took of the scuff mark.

I basically go through life cataloging Illini Football moments in my head. If you listened to the 24+ hours of the podcast series this summer, you know this. And now I have another one. Losing to Toledo, 2:15 left, 4th down, at our own 31, first down or die, and this happens:

Unreal throw a millisecond before he gets hit, unreal catch while getting PI'd to death. First down, drive alive, we keep it going all the way to the 12, take a timeout, and kick the winning FG. 1-0.


+ First, the bad.

Outgained by Toledo. First downs were 28-20 in favor of them. A top-5 defense last year gave up 186 yards rushing and 230 yards passing in the opener this year (to a MAC team). NINE PENALTIES FOR 90 YARDS IN THE FIRST HALF.

I feel like this was a full-on reset game. Ten times more people joined me at "just get to 6-6" than were joining me on Friday night when I wrote the SOC. As I said in the From The Stands, this game probably fully resets us from all of those "it's either 8-4 or 9-3" predictions. Replacing a bunch of great players is hard. Especially when you're replacing them with more than a dozen guys taking their first ever Illini snap. It's going to take a bit for it all to congeal.

Still, when we were down 19-7, I was in a dark place. I just sat there thinking about how we were losing the line battle on both sides of the ball. That was supposed to be the "well, at least we'll have that" part to this season, and if we don't have that, we're in trouble.

So there's a ton of work to do in the coming weeks. Literally three minutes ago I saw a tweet saying that Kansas' quarterback (Jalon Daniels) will return for the Illinois game on Friday night. If we play like this against Dequan Finn (and against Toledo's offensive line), Daniels is going to run for 200 and throw for 350.

They always say you make the most progress between Week 1 and Week 2. We have a TON of ground to make up.

+ Second, the good. When was the last time you felt this good about an Illini quarterback after his debut? Let's just go with the main quarterbacks of the last 15 years.

  • Juice Williams at Rutgers in 2006: "He has a cannon but wow does he have a long way to go."
  • Nathan Scheelhaase, now that I think about it, was really solid in his debut in the Missouri game in 2010. That's probably the closest comp here.
  • Wes Lunt struggled against Youngstown State in 2014 (we needed a fourth quarter comeback to beat an FCS team).
  • Chayce Crouch looked OK against Ball State in 2017 but I feel like we could tell that his shoulder injury from 2016 wasn't ever going away.
  • AJ Bush was... fine against Kent State in 2018.
  • Brandon Peters looked good against Akron in 2019 but Akron was in the midst of a 21-game losing streak across three seasons. Our 5th string quarterback would have looked good. So I always think of Peters "debut" as the UConn game the next week (where he was good in the second quarter but bad in the first, third, and fourth).
  • Tommy DeVito looked great against Wyoming last year.

My point in going through that list: I think it's only Scheelhaase and DeVito that left me with this level of confidence after their debut game. And Altmyer is probably a better runner than both, even including Nate. The combination of throwing accuracy and running ability had me sitting up in my seat.

And Altmyer is still just a sophomore.

+ All of the sudden, I feel like I know that we know our safeties for the next three years. When Matt Bailey returns he'll be the strong safety and I now feel like Miles Scott has free safety on lockdown. Here's hoping Scott was awarded a scholarship somewhere between the 10 and the 5 on his pick six.

(I know that awarding a walkon a scholarship is way more complicated than "Laine Jenkins left so just give his scholarship to Miles Scott." So don't take that statement to mean anything more than this: "I had Miles Scott at #25 on my 90 Illini list and he probably should have been in the top-12. A top-12 player will likely be on scholarship as soon as it's roster-feasible.")

Not only did Scott have the pick-six that changed the game, he also made the play on that two-point conversion stop (which meant that Toledo led by one, not three). Now I probably a good time to link those gifs I tweeted this morning:

What a walkon find during the pandemic.

+ One more thing and then my wife and I are headed to brunch with our son (and I probably won't look at this keyboard for 48 hours because I wrote 40,000 words in the last two weeks and I need to recharge the system).

I wrote in the SOC on Friday night that there were only two possible emotions after the Toledo game. Lose and we're all going to be saying "oh God, if we lose to Kansas, an 0-3 start is a certainty and we're all going to be going into the FAU game saying 'are we going to actually start 0-4'?" Win and we're all going to say "just get me to 2-0 after the Kansas game so that I can spend 48 hours the following week coming up with what sign I'm going to make for Fox Big Noon Kickoff in the Grange Grove."

Just get me to 2-0. I don't care how. Just get me a week where I can hardly sit still because I can't stop thinking about beating #7 Penn State on national TV.



IlliniJoe81 on September 3, 2023 @ 11:53 AM

That play is going to matter a lot because it’s the difference between 5-7 and 6-6 (probably 7-6 after the bowl.)

Rough night though because 9-3 or 8-4 is gone. This team is a huge step backwards from last year.

I do love that we have a solid QB for the next 3 years.

I’ll just pray that we were over-rotating on a hot night and we’ll tighten everything up for Week 2. Maybe more of this is fixable than it appears.

I thought we’d dominate the LOS and it was very worrisome that we didn’t.

Lots of mixed emotions right now.

Helps a lot to be 1-0 and not give away a close game.

cmi2phx on September 3, 2023 @ 12:33 PM

Indiana 23 - Illinois 20, September 2, 2022.

We might not be an 8-9 win team, but it’s way too early to say it’s a huge step back from last year.

Thaillini22 on September 3, 2023 @ 06:37 PM

Thank you. Every September I'm shocked at how certain everyone is about how everything is definitely gonna shake out for every team's season... based on 1-2 games.

drewpershing on September 3, 2023 @ 02:37 PM

I strongly disagree here. I think a great season is still in play. I have confidence in the staff to make adjustments, and I especially have confidence in them to be prepared for the big ten west. Grinding out a W in the first game could go a long way!

RochIllini on September 3, 2023 @ 07:03 PM

We lost to Indiana, but outplayed them. We got the win against Toledo, but were outplayed. Consensus was line play would be an advantage, it was not. Josh McCray was not back to his Freshman level. Hoping for growth and improvement.

RetiredHSCoach on September 3, 2023 @ 12:26 PM

Bielema said in his press conference that Miles Scott was put on scholarship in the Spring. He wanted to move him to FS last year but felt it was wrong to move a kid not on scholarship.

BriCrozier on September 3, 2023 @ 01:15 PM

Another short-term benefit of winning last night's game: If this team had started 0-3 after all the pre-season hype (Whether deserved or not), they would have lost a significant part of the fan base again. Penn State would have been the last big crowd of the season. Many people may scoff at this, but there's a difference between the volume that 35,000 people can generate and 50,000-ish people can make. We saw it with a couple delay of game and false start penalties in the middle of the game from Toledo.

tgb on September 3, 2023 @ 01:53 PM

Why didn't we throw to the tight end after the first series? This question needs to be asked.

mrozny on September 3, 2023 @ 02:09 PM

I am still on the 9-3 bandwagon until I can’t.

The biggest disappointment was the biggest known coming into the season, line play and dline in particular. If that doesn’t get fixed then Ryan Walters was a much bigger loss than anyone thought he was.

Biggest unknown coming into the season was the bright spot last night. So if anything that game last night made me a little more comfortable with my 9-3 prediction.

Illiniboat on September 3, 2023 @ 04:38 PM

Yeah, not impressed with the DC last night. Throwing out the results that were concerning, there were multiple times the D seemed to get the call late, I'm not sure they ever put a spy on Finn which prob should have been tried at some point and UI had to burn a TO before the PAT because there weren't 11 on the field for what ended up being a massive play.

I do feel like there are a lot of players on that side of the ball so I'm hopeful. And Altmyer is above replacement level and came thru in the clutch which is a very welcome development.

KaseyLikesDepthCharts on September 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM

Toledo is a good team, that first game goes better if you fix penalties and line play(both sides of the ball). I believe the pieces are there to fix both issues.

DB50 on September 3, 2023 @ 04:17 PM

"would seriously consider prison time"? Robert, that is what Illini Football has been except for 3 "paroles" 1999, 2001 & 2007! Thank God for Luke Altmyer because we lose this game without him! He has the potential to be the best Illini QB in decades!

thegoah on September 3, 2023 @ 04:28 PM

I think that it is a universal urge to read way too much into the first game. I honestly feel like our chance at 8 or 9 wins went up last night—not down. Why? Well, because we now have one fewer game we have to win in order to accomplish that goal.

I don’t think we’ll get to 8. I called for 6-6 before I knew that Robert did. But I hope I’m wrong. And maybe I am.

But that week between week 1 and week 2 is the weirdest week all year. It’s that time when no one actually knows who is good, and we evaluate EVERYTHING based on our preseason expectations, which are never completely right. But people bark and scream and panic and gloat and none of it plays out the way you think it will.

We considered MSU a “bad loss” last year, but we wouldn’t have if we had played them in week 1. We’d have been so excited about how closely we played them.

If Toledo goes 11-1 and gets invited to a January bowl, does that change how you process this game? (Not saying they will. But they could, right?). If Toledo goes 7-5 in the Mac then yeah this looks scarier. But would that guarantee we will be bad?

The one thing I agree with is that we looked awful in the trenches, but our O-line didn’t look good at all last year at Indiana, and our secondary gave the game away. So was last year’s secondary atrocious?

TLDR version: don’t get too high or too low after week one. No one has any idea yet who is actually good (or bad). The staff may be able to fix what went wrong in the trenches.

All I know is that I know nothing.

But super glad we won.

orangejulius on September 3, 2023 @ 04:46 PM

The most notable deficiency in comparison to last season is a lack of overall team speed on defense. Big step back on d equals a 500 season in my view.

cmi2phx on September 3, 2023 @ 05:46 PM

Was our team speed on d evident when our secondary got torched by IU last year?

BelieveInIllinois on September 3, 2023 @ 05:02 PM

Only thing I quibble with is it is really important to get to 7-5. I would take 6-6 but 7-5 ensures a winning record which is critical for program momentum. 6-6 to a bowl game can still leave you with a losing tecord after bowl game.

Reykjavik4 on September 3, 2023 @ 05:53 PM

Was gonna give it up to that Toledo o-lineman, No. 71, in the 2-pt conversion video, to say, well, he certainly did HIS job on that play, basically blocking two Illini at once -- shoving Randolph straight back into a linebacker. But then looking again, I see had actually wrapped Randolph up and TACKLED him backwards. Uhhhh...that's a penalty, but like so many Toledo penalties last night, there was no flag. :-\

MIlliniB on September 3, 2023 @ 10:15 PM

Altmeyer looked great. And he certainly has the pedigree. Having a long term solution at the most important position is a real boon to sustain our success. on September 4, 2023 @ 07:27 AM

Before last season began, I posted on Rivals that Spoon was the best Illini DB since Vontae Davis. I may have underestimated him. My twelve this year, 1) Newton 2)Williams 3) Adams 4) Pearl 5) Crisler 6) Randolph 7) Jacas 8) Coleman 9) Nicholson 10) M. Scott 11) McCray 12) Reiman. I would revise my pre season list by replacing Crisler with Altmeyer and Reiman with Washington. M. Scott will be top 5 by year end; he was our best defensive player Saturday, and he’ll only get better. Such an important win, these are the games that you can’t squander.

cuinsocal on September 4, 2023 @ 01:52 PM

I'm still confused about our defensive scheme. I don't get playing most of the game with a 3 man rush and 8 dropping back. Was that supposed to take Finn's running out of the picture? Seems like we hardly blitzed at all. I hope we don't make the same schematic errors Friday night.

BamaIllini on September 4, 2023 @ 04:20 PM

Robert, Please rank - Which Catch is more impactful and more historic, the Michigan State catch or this one?

Maybe to early to tell.

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