One of the things I love about football is having something fun, but inconsequential to think about and to predict. And yes, Illinois upset Wisconsin last week..by 1 point by a field goal…at the end of the game. Illinois lead for only the final play..the one that counted.
How Illinois did it:
Yes, many of the fans stormed the field:
But the reaction of the older fans around me was kind of like mine: stunned silence….not knowing HOW to process it. Reason: if you are older and have followed the Illini for 10 years or more…you probably never believed that the Illini were going to win…you just knew that they’d fumble on that last drive, miss the field goal, bad snap, etc.
The disinterested football fan would have guessed that the team in gray was making the plays needed to win the game on that day….but the experienced Illini fan was waiting for the “other shoe to drop”; this time it never did.
So what now?
Let me make this clear: that while the Illini were outgained 420 to 315, Illinois deserved to win this game. Why?
1. Red zone defense: 4 times the Badgers had to settle for a field goal attempt (and they made 3), and once they turned it over.
2. Offense: the Illini found seams in the tough Badger defense; the line does a decent job of run blocking. And in passing: they burned the Badger secondary in one and one coverage.
Mind you, the Illini missed a field goal, surrendered one touchdown on a fumble, and had a touchdown called back on an inconsequential “lineman downfield” penalty; it was a deep sideline route and an interior lineman lunged at an interior linebacker who was 30-40 yards away from the play. It was a correct call, but it was also an unforced error which did not contribute to the touchdown.
So it wasn’t as if the Illini were “lucky”; they did NOT get every bounce or every break..far from it. They made the plays to win the game.
But that game is over and now we move forward. What now?
1. The defense still gives up a lot of yards. After a 2-0 start, they’ve given up:
480 yards, 34 points to Eastern Michigan (got 464 themselves)
674 yards, 42 points to Nebraska (to 299)
487 yards, 40 points to Minnesota (to 248)
489 yards, 42 points to Michigan (to 256)
420 yards, 23 points to Wisconsin (to 315)
You aren’t going to win many games if you keep getting outgained by such massive amounts.
2. Yep, look at the offense..some neat slashing runs but not a lot of sustained drives.
3. Human emotion. Examples: last year, the Illini followed a blowout win against Minnesota by a blowout loss at Nebraska and a 63-0 loss to Iowa at home. Two years ago: Iowa destroyed top 5 Ohio State by 31 points. They promptly went on the road and got blown out by Wisconsin, and then lost a home game to Purdue. And I still remember the 1980 Notre Dame team; they came in ranked no. 1 and played Georgia Tech..who went 1-9-1 …and got tied 3-3. Next week: ND went to Alabama and got a shutout win. Georgia Tech hosted Navy and lost 19-8…and ND had blanked Navy 33-0 in a game I saw in person.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Illinois lay a couple of eggs.
BUT…sometimes a signature win CAN help a team turn a corner. It works both ways.
We shall see, and that is what makes it fun.