Holy smokes. Three weeks ago we were reveling in the fact that Illinois Football became bowl eligible. Illini fans were overcome with joy after the largest comeback in school history against Michigan State. Last week, we were frustrated after a competitive loss to Iowa where it looked like the Illini had several opportunities to snatch victory from the Hawkeyes. And then Saturday happened, and we feel yucky again.
Northwestern — 2-9 this year, winless in the B1G, starting their QB4 — dismantled Illinois 29-10 on a cold, rainy, gross day in Champaign. The only thing uglier than the weather was the way the Illini played — and maybe the TCR Twitter feed.
Thump, you’ve been very vocal about the direction of this squad. For better or for worse. You’re (at least) three shots of Malort in by now. What say you?
Thumpasaurus: It’s hard to imagine that Lovie Smith could have made a worse statement about his football program than Saturday’s game. Here we all thought the game at Iowa proved that this team could honestly compete in the Big Ten without a turnover margin win, and the Illini go out and get steamrolled by an offense in ways we’ve seen in chunks all season.
Illinois has been out-gained by every Big Ten opponent except Rutgers. The Illini were once again completely unable to defend a read-option offense, overpursuing plays, missing tackles and falling apart in zone coverage. This wasn’t some new wrinkle Northwestern rolled out just for this game; this is a core part of their identity, and it’s also something that virtually every Big Ten offense tries to run from time to time. There’s no excuse for looking that inept on read-option plays.
I was stunned by the difference between the quarterbacks. Once again, second-string Illini Matt Robinson spent chunks of the game scrambling into losses and missing throws. He made some nifty plays, but was incredibly unsteady throughout. Meanwhile, FOURTH-stringer Andrew Marty ran decisively and with authority. It’s incredible that losing our starting quarterback seems to just disqualify us from being able to compete. This doesn’t seem to be the case for other teams in the league.
What bothers me so much is that I can’t imagine we will ever see a more beatable Northwestern team under Pat Fitzgerald, and that team beat the living daylights out of the Illini on Senior Day in Champaign. If Lovie Smith can’t win THIS game, how will he EVER beat Pat Fitzgerald?
This is a problem because as I’ve outlined, good Illinois teams don’t lose to Northwestern.
You know what that means?
This is not a good Illinois team.
DP: This is what perplexes me, too. I predicted a 6-6 record for this season, before we really knew anything about this team. So, I’m glad for that. I’m glad that they won a few games they weren’t supposed to win. And yet, when burdened with any kind of expectations (UConn, EMU, Northwestern), they’ve really struggled.
Was this loss an anamoly? As you pointed out, not really. Illinois was out-gained in eight of nine conference matchups. The team has started out flat in virtually every game this season, including against Rutgers. They’ve frequently been dominated in time of possession, but in this game it was alarmingly bad. Northwestern had the ball 25 MINUTES in the first half. There might have been more commercial breaks than Illini offensive plays. The Wildcats did whatever they wanted.
This was more than just a bad game. Illinois was totally unprepared and it genuinely felt like nobody on the Illini wanted to be there.
Brandon Peters is a perfectly okay quarterback. For all his warts, he helped lead Illinois to this point. He doesn’t make too many mistakes and he’s shown he can make big time throws when needed. But Trevor Lawrence he is not. The fact that there doesn’t appear to be a viable second option should be very concerning. It bears repeating that Andrew Marty was Northwestern’s FOURTH quarterback. As the FS1 broadcasters pointed out, Marty wasn’t even on the Cats’ depth chart until the Minnesota game. And yet he executed Northwestern’s offense like he’d been starting for years — comfortable, composed, confident.
Imagine if the Illini were 5-6 and NEEDED that win Saturday? Would you be shrugging off this performance? I highly doubt it.
We aren’t “bandwagon” or “fair weather” fans when pointing out bad things. I can speak for Thumpasaurus and everyone else that writes for this site when I say that the reason we do so is because we are passionate — we love the Fighting Illini and want to see them succeed. A bowl appearance is good. A bowl win would be awesome.
But if you watched this game and your reaction is anything other that “What the f*** was that?” I have no patience for you.