SOC - Penn State
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I will now cheat.
I have two unfinished articles from this week. I intended to publish both, but then I'd feel the need to write 1,500 more words about "context" and I never completed them. So now, under a post title that's supposed to mean "stream of consciousness", I'm going to cut-and-paste the unfinished "injuries" post. And kind of like Mahler's 10th, I'm just going to let it stop when it stopped.. And then I'm going to do the normal SOC thing.
Here's where I was going with that post:
Maybe I should just start with a list. A list of players in the last 7-10 years who have dealt with injuries year after year after year. I know that football is a brutal sport, and that every fanbase has the "do we have more injuries than any other team?" feeling, but in terms of players having multiple season-ending injuries, it feels like Illinois leads the nation.
This is not a researched list. Just thinking off the top of my head:
- Corey Lewis - Four torn ACL's in six seasons. His fourth tear happened in the middle of the 2013 season, and he just finished out the year with a torn ACL.
- Mikey Dudek - Was a freshman All American in 2014 and then torn ACL in the spring of 2015, partial tear of the same ACL (requiring surgery again) in the spring of 2016, 6.5 games in 2017 before a knee to the back broke a rib and lacerated a kidney, and then one game in 2018 before a helmet to the kneecap ended that season as well.
- Dre Brown - Tore one ACL in 2015 and then the other ACL in 2016, had five knee surgeries in total, including one that cost him the start of his third season, before he finally got on the field in October of 2017. He's the injury success story. 180 yards rushing in 2018 and then team Offensive MVP during the 2019 bowl season.
- Mike Epstein - Torn ACL junior year of high school. Has 346 yards in the first give games of 2017 (freshman year) but then a foot injury shuts him down for the year. 411 yards in 2018 before the same injury resurfaces in the seventh game and ends his season. One game in 2018 before an ACL tear ends his season. In 2019, finally, a healthy season (played in 7 of the 8 games) but surgery after the season put his 2020 in doubt. Decided to return, started the opener against Nebraska and was the leading rusher with 75 yards, and then an injury after the UTSA game ended his season.
- Jake Hansen - Played in a few games as a true freshman in 2016 and was set to be a starter in 2017 but an ACL injury in camp ended his season. Had a healthy season in 2018 and led the team in tackles. Had a breakout season in 2019 and was named a Butkus semifinalist in early November - and that's a big deal because it's just 12 semifinalists, usually only linebackers from top-25 defenses - but after being named a semifinalist he didn't play again. A back injury took away the final four games. 2020, healthy and All Big Ten 2nd team. 2021? Preaseason All Big Ten, injured after the fourth game, misses Purdue and Charlotte, returns for Wisconsin, injures his knee during the game and is out for the season.
I mean, just look at that photo at the top. Jake Hansen and Calvin Hart decending on Adrian Martinez in the Nebraska win. And now both are out for the season.
The list is longer than just these guys, of course. I'm listing the extreme examples. There are many other Illini players in the last 15 years whose college careers were cut down by injuries. What's that? List five off the top of my head? Miami Thomas, Justin Hardee, Zach Hirth, Marquez Beason. That's right, I listed a LONGSNAPPER on my list of Illini players whose college careers were cut down by injuries.
And there have been 4-star linebackers who develop a rare muscle disease (Famous Hulbert), promising offensive linemen who have to retire from football due to a rare tumor called Acoustic Neuroma (Andrew Carter), and even the single best Illini-to-the-NFL success story from the last 10 years (Whitney Mercilus) lost part of his index finger in a weightlifting accident. Injuries have been with us forever.
Aaand SCENE. Probably perfect that it just stops there. Because there's no answer. We will just always have devastating injuries.
(I had planned to go through The 90 Illini over the last 10 years and list how many players I had ranked #1 (like Hansen) had been lost for the season. But it would be too depressing.
OK, so, Penn State. What do I expect? I think I expect a bounce-back week. I don't expect to win. But I feel like this is a bit of a bounce-back.
What's the immediate fear when I say that? A turnover game. We still haven't had that game, and we're not going to remain 9th nationally in Turnover Margin all season, so a turnover game is on its way soon. Would actually be kind of nice to get it out of the way this week since this isn't really a winnable game. OK, now I'm kind of coming around to the idea of tomorrow being the "get the turnover game out of the way" game.
And yes, we really are 9th nationally in turnover margin. 9th in turnover margin and 2-5. Werf. 13 turnovers gained, 5 turnovers lost. Only five turnovers in seven games. That's crazy.
So am I really changing my mind here? No. I need to stick with what I was thinking all day. A bit of a bounce back game. A loss, but maybe a loss we feel OK about? Maybe we get the passing game on track a little bit? Make the Penn State fans nervous for a while? Cover the spread, too.
Yeah, that's what I think about this game. We see some sparks from the passing game that we haven't seen this season. Hang around for a while. Lose in the end, but it was close for a while and the offense rebounded and Penn State was so very obviously looking at the home game against Illinois, sandwiched between at Iowa and at Ohio State, as a cakewalk. We don't let them walk with cake until the fourth quarter. And we cover the spread of 23.5.
Penn State 28, Illinois 16