The third quarter of Illinois' game against Nebraska has just ended as I type this, with the score Nebraska 38, Illinois 14.
What did you expect? The spread for this game was over 21 points just about everywhere, and that was before Illinois' most important offensive player, Wes Lunt, was held out of the game with an injury. Again, the spread was 21 points B-E-F-O-R-E Wes Lunt was ruled out of the game with what seems to be a minor leg issue. Without Lunt, that line probably jumps towards 30-35 points.
Given everything that has gone into this game, from the struggles through the first few weeks to the loss of Lunt, one might think that Illinois fans would react rationally and treat this game as a throwaway. Frankly, both the Illinois offense and defense were hung out to dry today. They were placed in front of the buzzsaw that is this Nebraska Cornhusker team, and they have reacted accordingly. The team has not played well, but why would anyone expect that from them? And yet, somehow, we see things like this:
Watching now. The Illini are just outclassed. Again.— Dave Wischnowsky (@wischlist) September 28, 2014
Illini fans deserve better. They flat out deserve better.— Dave Wischnowsky (@wischlist) September 28, 2014
Illinois can't compete against legit teams. The program remains a joke. Sad.— Jason Patt (@Bulls_Jay) September 28, 2014
This is all, quite frankly, pretty stupid. Why on Earth would this game be the straw that breaks the camel's back? Why is this the exact time when people are deciding that Beckman has to be fired? The same thing happened during the Washington game: people talked down the Illini's chances all week, and yet when they ended up getting rocked, people lost their minds.
This team, believe it or not, is an average Big Ten team at best. Regardless of whatever fantastical dream world one lives in, that is ultimately the quality of the team. Yes, the defense looked awful tonight. I imagine it's fairly difficult to play defense against a top-15 offense in the country. It doesn't help when the offense is struggling to move so much that Nebraska has excellent field position on several drives.
Given the talent gap between these two teams, 38 points seems like a relatively small number. That doesn't mean it's not okay to complain about the defense-- that means that this game taught us essentially nothing about the quality of the defense that we didn't already know. The run defense struggles to stop opponents when they batter away with option plays. Anybody who paid attention to the first few games of the year had a pretty idea of what would happen tonight-- a beatdown. And it did. So why are people up in arms?
Further, did anyone really expect Illinois to move the ball without Lunt? He has been the entire offense in three of the four games this year. Reilly O'Toole is a back-up quarterback for a reason. He was not prepared to start and was completely thrown into the fire against an excellent team. It's no surprise that he's thrown (at last count) three interceptions. His decision-making has always been the biggest problem. There's no reason to hate on O'Toole or the offense as a whole for this performance. O'Toole is the back-up quarterback for a reason, and that's the main reason Illinois couldn't move the ball (let alone the fact that Nebraska's D is pretty solid).
.@brepp310 He has the decision making skills of a freshman at Kam's after midnight.— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) September 28, 2014
Illinois was not expected to compete with Nebraska, Ohio State, or Wisconsin this year. Not even the most homerific Illini fan would've put any of those games down as a probable win before the season began. To be honest, this Nebraska team is better than both Wisconsin and Ohio State right now. Wisconsin has a dude without an arm playing quarterback and Ohio State lost their best player for the entire season. Both of those teams will still beat Illinois, but the Illini will at least have a better shot. Maybe they'll have their quarterback, too.
This season is going to come down to five games. Five critical match-ups, all of which Illinois has a greater-than-40 percent chance at winning. Purdue at home, Minnesota at home, Penn State at home, Iowa at home, Northwestern on the road. The Nebraska game is not the time to break out the Beckman measuring stick. If Illinois loses to Purdue, then I will hand craft a torch and pitchfork and join these fans at the gates of Hell. Until Illinois loses a game that they should win, I'm not going to get my blood pressure up for no good reason.
One final note, on Aaron Bailey and the rather idiotic notion that perhaps the Illini should play him in this game.
Illinois doesn't have time to plan for the future, that's why. Play Bailey now, see what happens. Can only help recruiting in Chicago.— Steve Greenberg (@SLGreenberg) September 28, 2014
I'm begging you, #illini beat writers. Just ask Beckman this tonight: "Coach, why did Aaron Bailey not play tonight?"— Brian Crozier (@BriCrozier) September 28, 2014
A quick message to everybody complaining about this: Aaron Bailey could not beat out Reilly O'Toole for the back-up quarterbacking job. Whether it's decision-making or injury, he did not beat O'Toole out in the preseason. If he were out there lighting it up with third-string reps in practice, he would be the back-up quarterback. At this point, the best thing for this football program is letting Aaron Bailey take a redshirt and come back better than ever next year as a redshirt sophomore. That will guarantee him at least one year at the helm of the program once Lunt either graduates or heads to the pros.
Throwing Bailey out in a tire fire of a game which Illinois was always going to lose regardless of quarterback does absolutely nothing for the team and absolutely nothing for his development, unless you're interested in seeing how hard he can get sacked or how many interceptions he can throw. The coaches made the right decision in sticking with O'Toole tonight. If Lunt remains injured and the Purdue game is fast-approaching, then perhaps Bailey should be given a chance. That is a winnable game in which his skill set could be of use, and would perhaps be worth burning the redshirt in a bowl game push. Doing so against Nebraska accomplishes nothing.
Forgive me for not losing my mind when the Lunt-less Illini get blown out by a team that should blow them out. Sometimes, Illini fans complain just for the sake of complaining. Tonight is a prime example of that mentality. This game taught us nothing about Illinois that we didn't already know. On to Purdue, and greener pastures.
Illini fans need to realize this season is far from over— graham pocic (@pocic) September 28, 2014