Safe to say John Paddock putting together one of the best quarterback performances in Illinois football history wasn’t on most people’s bingo cards for the 2023 season.
Coming in cold in Minneapolis to bring the Illini back from the dead would’ve been a moment that lasted a lifetime for the Ball State transfer. But why stop there?
Paddock went out and found a way to top it on Saturday against Indiana, throwing for 507 yards and four touchdowns, including a walk-off strike to Isaiah Williams in overtime to outlast the Hoosiers in a shootout, 48-45.
Aside from one poor decision on a second quarter interception, Paddock was in full control all afternoon. He was decisive, confident and composed.
Watching Illinois on offense was actually an incredibly enjoyable experience with him under center. Who would’ve thought that was possible?
The guy just went out there to sling it. A MAC transfer, preferred walk on who came to Champaign without knowing if he’d ever get a chance to step on the field for meaningful snaps. Turns out, he may have played some of the Illini’s most important snaps of the season.
Let’s dive into Paddock’s all-time showing in all its glory.
Paddock’s day was one for the record books.
His 507 passing yards on Saturday is the second most in a single game in program history, trailing only Dave Wilson’s 621-yard performance against Ohio State in 1980. It’s the most ever in a game at Memorial Stadium.
He became just the fourth Big Ten quarterback since 2010 to throw for more than 500 yards and four touchdowns in a game.
As an offense, Illinois put up 662 yards, the most by any Big Ten team all season and tied for the second most by an Illini offense in program history.
The beauty of Paddock’s huge day was that all of his top targets stepped up and got a sizable piece of the pie. Isaiah Williams went for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Pat Bryant hauled in 131 yards and a score. Casey Washington added 99 yards and his very long-awaited first career touchdown. Even Ashton Hollins entered and came up with 46 important yards.
Had Washington found his way to just one more yard, it would’ve been just the second time in Illinois history that three receivers all tallied 100 or more yards in the same game.
Paddock was sacked just once, on a desperation play to close the fourth quarter. Much of that credit goes to the offensive line and its marked improvement over the last few weeks, but Paddock also made that happen with his decisiveness and willingness to get rid of the football quickly.
Here’s the craziest stat of all of them to me, though:
Paddock completed 24 passes. NINETEEN of them went for 15 or more yards. In an Illini offense that for years has left us begging for more explosiveness, Paddock could barely go three minutes of game time without delivering a chunk play.
The top throws
Paddock made so many impressive throws on Saturday and the Illini needed every single one of them to stave off the Hoosiers.
As soon as he found Pat Bryant on a crosser for his first completion, he was locked in the rest of the way.
He threw a couple perfect back shoulder balls right at the sideline where only his guys could get them. Casey Washington and Ashton Hollins each made great plays to stay in bounds at key points in the game.
Paddock was in complete command of the two-minute drill before halftime, capping it off with a perfectly timed dart to Pat Bryant near the front pylon. For a time, it looked like the Illini could enter halftime down 27-12 but Paddock’s dominance put not one, but two scores on the board before the break.
Paddock throws an absolutely perfect ball to I-Will for a touchdown while taking a hit. Stepped up in the face of pressure and delivered a strike.
And of course, the game-winner. A phenomenal play to evade the pressure, roll right, and deliver an absolute dot on the run to Isaiah Williams so he can stroll into the endzone. Paddock, with the help of Williams’ perfect route adjustment, created this one out of nothing.
What John Paddock has done for this Illini team has been massive.
For the first time this year, Illinois has won back-to-back games.
In a year filled with lackluster home showings and multiple letdowns, Paddock gave Memorial Stadium a thrilling, memorable walk-off victory that will stick in the minds of Illini fans for many years.
It would’ve been very easy to let an injury to Luke Altmyer derail the end of the season. The Illini already had an uphill climb towards bowl eligibility and thrusting a backup into action seemingly wasn’t going to help matters.
Paddock’s heroics on Saturday, paired with his miracle drive in Minneapolis a week ago, instantly turns the Illini season from one of major disappointment to one with plenty of remaining hope.
The Illini need just one more win to reach bowl eligibility. Dreams of a Big Ten West title — albeit unlikely — remain.
We’ll see if Paddock gets a chance to continue his magical run in Iowa City. But if this was it for his contributions to the orange and blue, it was enough to leave quite the legacy.