Nov 6, 2022

I'm at the tailgate talking to a friend and I hear this cracking/popping sound. Someone yells "the tree!" and I turn to see this really big Silver Maple crashing to the ground. If you're wondering "was it really all that windy in Champaign today?", yes it was really all that windy in Champaign today. There were times where you would think "maybe it's starting to taper off" and then a gust would hit you and you'd remember.

If you're curious just how windy it was today, watch this video. Better yet, check the anemometer at the airport. A 68 MPH wind gust at 9:53 am! A tropical storm is upgraded to a hurricane when the winds reach 75 MPH. And keep in mind that these were not winds during a storm. This wasn't some severe thunderstorm with a gust front that sent patio furniture flying before the rains hit. The storm had moved out of the area at dawn. These were just... winds on the prairie.

Thankfully, when they toppled that tree, no one (and no cars) were underneath it. There was a kid playing football about 15 feet away, but he was unharmed. And the furthest branches came within a few feet of some cars on the far end there, but again, no damage. If you take that tree and draw a radius around it where it could have fallen, it fell within maybe a 30 degree window where nothing would be damaged. The other 330 degrees, it would have hit a car (or a porta-potty - that would have been quite the surprise for someone inside).

Some people from our group ran over to make sure no one was tangled within the branches. Thankfully, it fell in an empty drive aisle. As I was watching the scene, someone next to me said "hope that's not an omen for today's game". I didn't tell them that I was having the same thought. I mean, we're Illinois fans. We can't help it.

I should note - I don't see it as an omen. I don't view the world like that. But I do see it as a metaphor for the way I was letting myself look at this season. All of my "but what if we're really going to make a run at it?" thoughts came crashing down.

"I mean, we win these next two and that Michigan game has serious national title implications."

{cracking/popping sound}

"And then if you win that game, you're going to beat Northwestern, which means the Ohio State game would legitimately be a play-in game for the playoff."

{"The tree!"}

"Is it all that crazy to think that this defense could keep Ohio State in check? Could this season seriously end up with us saying 'somehow, Illinois made the playoff'?"}


All of that is gone now. It was never going to happen, but I at least entertained the thought for a bit. I never seriously considered a playoff run, but I did let myself daydream about a crazy scenario where we were in the team picture off to the side. Now that's gone. My daydreams crashed to the ground after a 68 MPH wind gust.

The focus is still the same - get to Indy. Thoughts beyond that? They're gone now. The chainsaws will be along in the morning to remove them. We're now left with two thoughts:

  1. Thank you, Iowa, for beating Purdue.
  2. Beat Purdue.

+ I made the entire From The Stands about this, so this is me repeating myself, but I just hate losing a field position game. Especially during November Champaign winds.

I've always made wind my thing. After Ron Zook ignored the wind, the first question I asked Tim Beckman, Bill Cubit, and Lovie Smith? The wind in Champaign and how it can be an advantage. (My first question for Bret Bielema was not about the wind because I had the opportunity to be the first Illini interview for him and asking about the wind there would have been the dumbest question imaginable.)

So seeing us lose a wind game, man, that's disappointing. This game came down to field position and field position alone. Turnovers were even (one each), and yards came out 441-294 in favor of Illinois... but we lost. How?

  • We had a 53-yard drive that ended with no points.
  • We had a 63-yard drive that ended with no points.
  • We had an 80-yard drive that ended with no points.
  • We had a 55-yard drive that ended with no points.

Talk about 1-6 on 4th down all you want, but this list right here was the game. Two hundred and fifty one meaningless yards. All of that and we didn't even attempt a field goal. One fumble and three turnover-on-downs.

How is it possible to put up that many yards and not get any points? The starting field position of each drive. The 53-yard drive was your typical starting field position (at the 25 after a touchback). But the others? We started at the 8, and at the 1, and at the 20.

It's how I've discussed football for at least 10 years. When you start at the 45, your 56-yard drive ends up in the endzone. When you start at the 8, your 56-yard drive ends up at the 36 and then you have to make a decision to punt it, attempt the 53-yard field goal, or go for it. Everyone moves the football, and so where you move the football from is massively important. Because of (former Illini walkon punter) Bryce Baringer, Illinois had a point-less 63-yard drive and a point-less 80-yard drive. This entire game is found in one stat:

Hugh Robertson - 3 punts for 63 yards
Bryce Baringer - 5 punts for 248 yards

Crazy, right? Lovie Smith went the Pro-Kick Australia route and brought in Blake Hayes in the summer of 2017. Hayes (rightfully) won the starting punting job so Baringer transferred to Michigan State after the 2017 season. Lovie then went the Pro-Kick route again and brought in Hugh Robertson as Hayes' replacement. And those two stats - Baringer averaged 49.6 yards per punt, Robertson 21.0 - were the entire game. All of this recruiting, all of these practices, all of these "if we can get Tommy in sync with Isaiah Williams..." debates and the only thing that mattered today was that MSU had Baringer and we had Robertson.

I'm not putting that all on Hugh. The gust he had to kick into on his punt that went nowhere took the cap off of the ref and blew it 40+ yards down the field. Gusts can't be planned for - Baringer would have maybe netted 25 yards if he had to kick into that gust. And the punt that deflected off Jamal Woods - the snap took Hugh two steps out of his normal footwork (I think the wind bent the snap) and he simply rushed it. There were #reasons his three punts only traveled 63 yards.

But still, we recruited 84 other players, developed those players in successful schemes, built the #16 team in the country, outgained MSU 441-294... and lost because their punter was significantly better than ours.

+ The whole fake injury thing is such a great gambit. Cheating where it's 100% impossible to prove you're cheating.

Think about it. You could have a team that's faking injuries after every three plays. And even their own fans are saying "OK, this is getting ridiculous." And then during the next play a guy is legitimately injured and he's rolling around on the field and the crowd is booing... and then they bring out the cart and everyone realizes he's actually injured.

Because of that hesitation, I don't think I could ever boo a fake injury. I didn't today. There's just no way to know. I mean, Michigan State was 99.9% faking injuries to stop our offensive momentum and give their defense a breather, but what if the 0.1% is true?

Such a great way to cheat. There's no way to know that you know.

+ There's one scary theme that's developing with this offense and that's short-yardage situations. We've talked about the red zone thing all year, but third and one is starting to drive me insane again. The most vocal I got in the stands today (and I never do this) was the third and one (after Reggie Love nearly got the first down) where we didn't sneak it. I'm suddenly so obsessed with "just sneak it" for every third and one we face.

Honestly, my rankings would be 1) sneak it, 2) try a deep pass when you think they're biting on a third-and-one Chase Brown handoff, and 3) a shotgun handoff. At this point I think I'd prefer a 40-yard pass into the wind that falls woefully incomplete over what we chose to do on 3rd & short (and 4th & short) today.

+ Maybe I'll close by noting how I'm feeling tonight.

Because the wind has been my pet project for a dozen years, losing a wind game (with a coaching staff I absolutely trust) is very difficult for me. It's not their fault per se - there's a reason they've offered a punter a scholarship for next season - but losing simply because of field position is an extra special knife twist for me.

I don't expect you to feel the same. You have your own football pet peeves. For me, though, after spending more than a decade preaching "a 75-yard drive from the 25 is a touchdown, but a 75-yard drive from the 11...", a field position loss on a windy day will keep me up most of the night. It's 12:49 as I type this and I can tell you there's no way I fall asleep until 3:00. I still feel sick to my stomach.

Here's the best way I can describe my mood: I was just scrolling through Twitter, and I saw several "Hey Illini fans cheer up - we're still 7-2!" tweets. They made me so angry. Not angry in a "but we should be 8-1!!" sense, but angry in a "losses still hurt, guys, and with the way we lost, I'm gonna need a minute" sense. I'll cheer up when I'm good and ready, thankyouverymuch.

It's pretty simple. The stakes are higher now. That's an incredible feeling, and I wouldn't trade it for anything, but it also means the tightrope is no longer two feet off the ground. This one is stretched between two tall trees. And the wind is blowing 68 MPH. And the one tree is starting to make cracking/popping sounds.

Heads up down there.


HNLINI on November 6, 2022 @ 01:21 AM

It was fun to dream about making the playoff and being nationally relevant, if only for a week or so. Almost like buying a PowerBall ticket when the pot goes over $1 billion and imagining what to do if you won . . .

Beat Purdue. Don't worry about anything else.

Ellisrt1031 on November 6, 2022 @ 05:44 AM

Yeah. Frustrating game. Hand offs to Chase 4 yards behind the line on obvious run downs (2nd, 3rd, 4th and 1 or two) were frequent and mostly unsuccessful. The pitch was right out of Petersens playbook in a game last year with a similar result. We have a very accurate passer and he can also run. We need to mix it up more.

ATOillini on November 6, 2022 @ 06:34 AM

Yes, he’s a good punter, but the out at the 1 punt was essentially 100% luck. Took an odd bounce left just before heading into end zone.

With that said, you’re supposed to beat a 3-5 team on your home turf when they just had several starters suspended. I thought MSU played with that proverbial chip on their shoulder.

Carry on.

escot on November 6, 2022 @ 09:41 AM

I guess I wasn't the only one wondering about fake injuries

Brave Illini on November 6, 2022 @ 11:32 AM

Offensive line had an off day, and MSU called good offensive plays.

orangejulius on November 6, 2022 @ 02:21 PM

I think the wind had quite a lot to do with this loss. You look at how much Ohio State struggled against NU (a much worse team than MSU) in the same conditions. I feel like we win that game on an ordinary day.

Where's the Chief? on November 6, 2022 @ 11:02 PM

What if losing to Michigan State is just another necessary cog in this great season we're having? After 24 hrs to digest the game, I've concluded my glass is half full:

Going into the past weekend: Illinois 4 - 1 Purdue 3 - 2

Imagine Illinois thoroughly beats a depleted Michigan State team. And Purdue still loses to Iowa...

Illinois 5 - 1 Purdue 3 - 3

Illinois would be feeling pretty cocky with a 2-game lead. They might even be looking past Purdue that just got embarrassed by Iowa 24-3.

Now imagine they lose to Purdue.

Illinois 5 - 2 Purdue 4 - 3

Next game Illinois most likely loses to Michigan, while Purdue easily handles Northwestern.

Purdue 5 - 3 Illinois 5 - 3

In the final weekend, Illinois beats Northwestern and Purdue beats Indiana.

Final Standings Purdue 6 - 3 Illinois 6 - 3

Purdue wins the head-to-head tie breaker to represent West Division in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.

So, by losing to Michigan State the week prior to playing Purdue, the Illini are gifted an opportunity to get their heads right, focus, and come out ready to play.

Glass half full! ??????????

LongLiveTheChief98 on November 7, 2022 @ 10:07 AM

This is where my thoughts have been as well. I'll take a loss vs. MSU and a win vs. Purdue than the opposite, which would be catastrophic for winning the West. Obviously winning both would be the preferable option, but hoping that this loss is the wakeup call the team needs to refocus and play with a much-needed chip for the Purdue game.

And please, Lunney, solve the red zone issues. Beyond maddening to think how this team could be 9-0 had we been able to punch in several of these drives in both the MSU AND Indiana games. Nine games in which we've statistically dominated the opponent, only for the offense to stall out, basically giving the opponent in two of them a chance to stay in and eventually win the game. Have we ever had a season in which through each of the first NINE games we have outgained our opponent?

Eagle on November 7, 2022 @ 10:28 AM

There’s another option for short yardage situations that I’ve been asking about for weeks and nobody mentions - a two back set.

If the defense has to be prepared for a run to either side or up the middle, they can’t stack the box like they do now. I agree with you and The Champaign Room. We are way too predictable. Let Williams line up at QB with Chase and Reggie on either side. Try to stop that!

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