SOC - Maryland 2021
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This game just feels WEIRD. Everything about it is weird. It's the first time Maryland has ever visited Champaign (they joined the Big Ten in 2014). It's only the second matchup between the two schools ever (2018 was the other). Their head coach is Mike Locksley and their special teams coach is Ron Zook. The game is on a Friday night at 8:00. Weird weird weird.
Maybe this is the best way to say it. The game is on September 17th. It's on a Friday night. We're playing Maryland. Not one ounce of this feels like a Big Ten game. It's the least Big Ten-y game ever played in Memorial Stadium.
It's also the game after our Non Conference Road Game Blowout. I made the list of those games on Saturday. Here's the list:
2012: Arizona State 45, Illinois 14
2014: Washington 44, Illinois 19
2015: North Carolina 48, Illinois 14
2017: South Florida 47, Illinois 23
2021: Virginia 42, Illinois 14
So maybe we should start by looking at how we performed in the very next game:
2012: Illinois 44, Charleston Southern 0
2014: Illinois 42, Texas State 35
2015: Illinois 27, Middle Tennessee State 25
2017: Nebraska 28, Illinois 6
OK so that doesn't tell us much. Charleston Southern was a winless FCS program so that taught us nothing. Texas State we were down big but fought back to win. Middle Tennessee State missed a field goal as time expired that would have given them the win.
And the only thing I remember about that Nebraska game was that Nebraska was dominating yet we cut it to something like 14-6 and then forced a fumble at the Nebraska 30 so we're in field goal range already with a chance to make it 14-9 or even 14-13. And then I want to say it was something like sack, unsportsmanlike penalty, sack, and suddenly we were punting from our own territory. That's So Illinois.
So maybe there's not much to learn from "how we rebound once we return home after getting blown out on the road. But I will say that I do remember a lot of weird stuff in September night games. Remember that Penn State game in 2018? That was a Friday night. Penn State was favored by 15,000 points but then after a Trenard Davis end-around TD pass in the third quarter, Illinois is leading top-10 Penn State. And then Penn State had like a 35-0 fourth quarter and won going away. I mean, if the subject is That's So Illinois, going into the fourth quarter trailing (gonna have to look this up) 28-24 and then losing 63-24 is SO ILLINOIS.
Illini Football. Home of That One Time Mark Hoekstra Threw Five Interceptions IN ONE QUARTER At Arizona.
I need to stop doing that because I actually don't feel awful about this game. But hey, this is a Stream Of Consciousness post, and the rule is to just set my mind loose and record whatever it says. And it's currently stuck on That's So Illinois moments.
I'll focus. Illinois vs. Maryland in Champaign. My mind just reminded me of something I wrote on Slack this week so I'll go cut-and-paste that over here. Someone was asking why the line was so close - they were quite tempted to bet the house on Maryland -7.5 - and this was my response:
Maryland has played twice at home. Now they go on the road on a Friday night. We just played a 10:00 am body clock game - now Maryland gets to play a 9:00 pm body clock game. There's all kinds of things that would scare bettors away from Maryland here.
Remember 2013? Cincinnati beats Purdue 42-7 in the opener. We struggled to beat FCS Southern Illinois (SIU was driving, down 8, and we had to bat down a pass in the endzone to finally secure the win). Cincy would go 9-3 that season and end up ranked. Illinois would go 4-8. Cincy comes to Illinois for their first road game of the year and...
Illinois 45, Cincinnati 17
So I'm always "don't fear an unproven team until they win on the road". I mean, I've never said those words before, but after games like 2013 Cincinnati (or even #10 Penn State leaving Pennsylvania for the first time back in 2018), sometimes other teams go on the road and do what we just did at Virginia. Yes, Maryland looked really good beating West Virginia and Howard at home. But how will they perform at 8:00 CDT (9:00 EDT) on a Friday night?
I do think this is a pretty good Maryland team. Certainly more talented than Illinois. DJ Durkin had recruited well before he was fired, and Mike Locksley has recruited well. Taulia Tagovailoa is a solid QB and they have two really good wide receivers. After what we saw last week, it's easy to see 400+ passing yards again.
But the line is only 7.5 because this is Illinois returning to the comforts of home and Maryland going on the road for the first time. I'm not saying that will mean something like the 2013 Cincinnati score, but that's a thing that happens in college football. A team that should easily beat another team doesn't easily beat the other team simply because it's on the road and late at night. A couple weird turnovers happen, an otherwise solid offensive line starts false-starting on third-and-one making it third-and-six, and the whole thing snowballs from there.
Do I think that might mean an Illini win? I do not. But I think it might mean an Illini cover. The starting QB returns, Bret Bielema said they're going to tighten up the rotations a bit because they now know who they want to utilize the rest of the season, and I can see a rebound performance from Illinois while Maryland gives a "why do bad things keep happening?" performance.
I think that means we keep the game close. But I don't think that means we win.
Maryland 27, Illinois 24