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The genre hasn't aged well, but I'll own up to it: I used to watch and enjoy the "nerdy guy gets a glow up" reality shows.
The primary one that comes to mind was "The Pickup Artist," the show where a flamboyantly dressed guy who called himself Mystery taught a bunch of socially awkward guys how to get girls. Most of the tricks were gimmicky in some way -- "negging" girls with backhanded compliments, "peacocking" with ostentatious clothes or hats to get attention, etc. -- and, as noted, the whole premise was problematic for a lot of reasons.
The show that I loved, though, was "Beauty and the Geek." In the show, beautiful women and geeky guys were paired together as they attempted to complete challenges -- for the guys, social ones; for the girls, predictably, ones where they were required to use their brains -- in a Survivor-style setup.
One of my prevailing memories of the show was when one of the geeks, a guy coincidentally named Nate, got a makeover and promptly commanded some of the beauties' attention. He actually ended up dating one of his competitors for the rest of the duration of the show.
The theme in all those shows wasn't the haircuts or the new clothes that suddenly made the guys more attractive to women, though. It was the confidence that they gained as the show went along. Students of human nature know it's almost always that confidence, not the stuff that comes along with it or helps build it, that matters.
It's not just in dating or social situations that confidence matters, of course. Confidence plays a huge part in sports as well. If Omar Payne knocks down his first 15-foot jumper this year, he'll be more likely to take another; if he bricks it, he'll probably think twice before rising up for the next one.
Saturday didn't go the way we wanted it, to put it lightly, but a silver lining may have been Brandon Peters regaining his confidence as we head into November. He threw with conviction and was accurate, going 14-for-19 (73.6 percent) for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
He wasn't asked to do a lot -- the Daniel Barker touchdown, the same play they had called back against Penn State last week, was a short pass, as were many of his attempts -- but he made the throws he had to make. That's more than could be said about many of his games leading up to Saturday, and that's not mentioning the dime to Isaiah Williams, maybe his best throw of the season. Peters also reminded us of his ability as a runner, calling his own number five times for 25 yards. This was the Brandon Peters we remembered from 2019.
-The Tony Petersen discourse is hard for me to wrap my head around.
I haven't been impressed with the playcalling through nine games. How could anybody be impressed with it, honestly? The offense is scoring 17.6 points per game, ninth-worst in the country. Among the 130 FBS schools, 121 are scoring more points per game than the Illini.
With that said, I'm also not ready to write him off as inept, as many on social media are ready to do. Are we really to believe a guy with two-plus decades of experience, including multiple stops as offensive coordinator for FBS schools, doesn't understand offense? Is it a reverse Benjamin Button situation, where he's somehow forgetting football knowledge as he gets older?
Much of the emphasis Saturday afternoon was on a second half where Illinois had just one sustained drive, and that one drive, the drive at the end of the game to try to take the lead, ended in a turnover on downs. And the numbers aren't pretty -- in the first four drives of the second half, the offense had just one first down and a total of nine yards.
The missing context, which Robert also provided in his piece, is that three of those drives were set back by penalties. On the first drive of the half, a tough chop block call put them at first-and-25 from their own 21-yard line to thwart a drive that had approached midfield before the penalty. On the second drive, a Doug Kramer false start made it first-and-15 before the first play was even run. On the third drive, a first down was negated because of a Julian Pearl facemask. Three drives, three drive-killing penalties.
The fourth drive started at their own one-yard line and went nowhere. It was uninspired and was akin to waving a white flag in hopes of living to fight another day, but if one wanted to take issue with Petersen's playcalling, fine. OK.
The set of downs on the final drive is likely what's brought the most heat upon Petersen, but again, I'm struggling to get too incensed. It didn't work, of course, or we wouldn't be talking about it, but I don't know that it was the wrong course of action.
I like to watch and study and play poker in my free time, and one of the tenets of poker is that if your process is good, the results will follow. If your opponent pushes in with A-8 and you call him with A-K, he will still win the pot roughly one-fourth of the time. But those 25 times out of 100 that an 8 hits or he makes a straight doesn't mean it was a sound process or that you should always shove with A-8.
Unlike the Penn State game, the offensive line wasn't getting a push against the Rutgers linemen. So on the final set of downs, Petersen attacked the boundary, getting Jakari Norwood around the edge for seven yards on first down. The television play-by-play announcers even noted it, that since the inside game wasn't working, going outside made sense.
Keeping Norwood in the game for two more inside runs, while your horses Chase Brown and Josh McCray stood on the sideline, was suboptimal -- but again, if we're doing some game theory, Norwood is our pass-catching back and is a speedier back than the other two, so inside runs should have been the last thing the defense was expecting with him in there.
The fourth-down play was a similar thought process -- if you watch the replay, Rutgers wins the line of scrimmage on the play, so even a handoff to McCray or a Peters sneak would likely have been unsuccessful. They opted to get their All-Big Ten back in space and let him try to win a race to the edge or make a move, and it backfired. But I, at least, can understand the thinking.
In his piece, Robert made an argument for passing on fourth down, and I don't disagree, especially with Peters' newfound confidence. Not putting the ball in his hands, whether to throw or perhaps find a lane and run, was a mistake. It's just one of few that Petersen made on the day, for me, and not the cap to one of the worst OC performances anyone has ever seen, as some would have you believe.
-There's not a world where the first play of the game isn't a fumble.
-If confidence was one of the themes from Saturday, discipline was another.
It was Rutgers' discipline on that fourth-down play, with defensive back Kessawn Abraham staying home, not crashing inside, to keep Chase Brown from running free on the outside. His tackle got Rutgers the ball back with a chance to salt the game away.
Three plays later, Noah Vedral did just that. Unlike Abraham, both Owen Carney Jr. and Khalan Tolson got sucked in by the read-option, and Vedral pulled it and beat both to the edge to get the game-clinching first down.
Those two plays didn't decide the 60-minute game. It was an interesting juxtaposition, though.
-Minnesota's 2-2 start included a shaky win over Miami (OH) and a loss to Bowling Green, leading some to write off the Gophers' season.
Since then, they've rattled off four straight wins against Big Ten opponents, getting increasingly more convincing with each victory. This past Saturday, they dispatched Northwestern rather easily, winning 41-14 at Ryan Field.
I was on a family vacation in early September and flipped on the end of the Ohio State-Minnesota game. My brother-in-law, who's a Miami Dolphins fan but doesn't watch a lot of college football, saw P.J. Fleck on the screen and noted that he liked Fleck. (Don't hold that against him. He knows not what he does.)
Nobody outside of the Twin Cities likes Fleck, of course. People there probably only barely like him. You do have to respect his football team, though, which is disappointing in its own right.