Somewhere, among the 80,000-plus Nebraska fans at Memorial Stadium West on Saturday, a guy in a Karl Havoc suit was having a bad time.
I don't know that for sure. I'm only guessing. But the odds are good that at least one Nebraska fan is also a fan of the Tim Robinson show "I Think You Should Leave," could cobble together a costume based on the sketch about a prank show that goes sideways and had tickets to Saturday's game. Crowd shots during Saturday's contest confirmed that students were in a festive mood ahead of the Halloween shenanigans that were surely on tap for later that evening.
So, imagine that guy. He got up Saturday morning ready for a fun day of college football and partying. He put on a bunch of stuff -- too much stuff, some might say -- and headed to the tailgate. His costume was surely a hit among fellow fans of the show. By early afternoon, feeling good on a sunny Lincoln day, he headed into the stadium to watch his team try to grab a share of the Big Ten West lead as the calendar turns to November.
And then, over the course of the next three hours, everything became less fun. In listening to recaps of the game, multiple people -- including Robert, in his From the Stands -- described it as something like a chokehold, slowly draining the life from the Cornhuskers. As they've done so many times this season, the Illini offense took the air out of the ball, while the Illini defense took the air out of the stadium.
The numbers change, but they're always the same. Time of possession? 38:13 for Illinois, to 21:47 for Nebraska. Nine first downs for Nebraska; 18 for Illinois. More than three times as many rushing yards for the Illini (188) than the Huskers (60). And that's not mentioning the 4:1 turnover ratio that effectively snuffed out any chance Nebraska might have had to hang in the game in spite of those other lopsided numbers.
In the skit, a prank show host is giddy as he gets loaded up with makeup and prosthetics for a day of fun at the mall. As the day drags on, though, the host gets increasingly less enthused with the entire idea, weighed down (literally) by stuff and (figuratively) by life. By the time he's in the middle of the mall's food court, he comes to the conclusion that he doesn't "even want to be around anymore."
On Saturday, Nebraska-brand Karl Havoc also didn't want to be around anymore, thanks to the Illinois football team. Because playing the Illini -- not being the Illini -- has become the thing to fear this Halloween.
-For me, the most amazing number from Saturday's game was 1.
That's how many receptions, and how many yards, Trey Palmer had in the game. One. Reggie Love had a better receiving day. As did Luke Ford. And Nebraska redshirt-freshman tight end Nate Boerkircher.
For context, this is the same Trey Palmer who torched Purdue's defense for 237 yards and two touchdowns two weeks ago. Prior to Saturday, Palmer didn't have a game this season where he caught fewer than four balls and recorded fewer than 64 yards receiving. He is, by every metric, far and away Nebraska's best receiving threat, if not their best offensive player. Given their porous defense, he may even be the best player on the team.
And on Saturday, he had one catch for one yard. On balls thrown his way, the Illini also had one catch -- Quan Martin's interception on the first Cornhuskers drive of the game came as he was covering Palmer. So, one catch for Nebraska, and one for Illinois. Fair and square.
In the lead-up to the game, I'd posited to a friend that Palmer would be a good barometer of how the Illini secondary might fare against Charlie Jones in two weeks. Virginia has a good group of pass-catchers, and a guy like Chimere Dike on Wisconsin is a decent test, but Palmer was the best receiver the Illini has faced to this point. After the Purdue game, that distinction will almost certainly go to Jones.
So, Saturday's result was incredibly promising.
-Free Luke Ford.
The call on Tip Reiman was perhaps objectively correct but was fairly obviously not an intentional block in the back -- he was sort of running in the same direction as the defender, and when Ford made a cut Reiman bowled over the Nebraska player -- and negated what would have been Ford's first touchdown of the season.
Ford's tenure with the Illini obviously hasn't been what those of us dreaming on his 4-star pedigree had hoped, but by all outside accounts he's been a team player and has done what's asked, if not gone above and beyond. It would have been nice for him to get in the end zone, as a reward for his efforts. Here's hoping he gets there before the season ends.
-The emergence of third-down pass-rusher Kenenna Odeluga has been a welcome one.
The sack on Saturday was his second of the year, but I first noticed him in rewatching the Iowa game. That was the game in which he recorded his first sack, and at a critical time -- he sacked Spencer Petras on the final drive, as Iowa was trying to drive to tie or take the lead.
But it was actually the next play that made me take notice. On the sack, he bent around the right guard to get to the quarterback. On the very next play, he put a spin move on the same guard, essentially forcing the lineman to tackle him and take a holding penalty that negated what would have been a 12-yard gain. Obviously, Iowa didn't get any closer, and we exorcised another demon in what has been a magical season.
I see you, Kenenna.
-Caleb Griffin: back.
-It's unfortunate that it comes on the heels of a pretty gross scene in the Michigan tunnel, but the fact remains that there isn't a better time to be catching Michigan State than this weekend.
After video showed Michigan State players appearing to assault a Michigan player in the tunnel following Saturday's game for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, four Michigan State players were suspended ahead of this weekend's game. Included in those were starting safety Angelo Grose and rotational defensive end Zion Young. Grose, in particular, is a three-year starter who is third on the Spartans in tackles this season. Backups Tank Brown and Khary Crump were also suspended in the aftermath of the run-in.
The on-field losses will certainly be felt, but it's hard to imagine the off-field circus won't also impact the Spartans' preparation for Saturday. Bettors agree, and the line, which opened as low as -8.5 in favor of Illinois, has ballooned to Illinois -17 in some places.
Betting lines aren't everything, of course, and it doesn't really matter if the Illini win by one so long as they're ahead when the scoreboard hits all zeroes on Saturday afternoon. Sportsbooks are pretty smart, though, so it doesn't hurt that they think the Illini are heavy favorites to take another step toward Indianapolis on Saturday in Champaign.
It's slightly southeast, for the record. Just about two hours by car. Why am I telling you that? No reason. Just might be an important thing to know a few weeks from now.