In theory, apparently, there is nothing that Illinois quarterback John Paddock could do to get the start against Iowa on the road this Saturday.
Nothing is often thrown around hyperbolically.
It’s a flippant way to excuse any behavior due to unforeseen circumstances. A window into the past that oozes impossibility, rather than inevitability.
In this instance, I mean nothing in a literal sense. Paddock threw for almost 600 yards with five touchdowns and only one pick, in 1.02 games as the QB, after all-season starter Luke Altmyer left the final minute of the Minnesota due to injury.
Important to impart: Illinois won both of these contests. It is almost entirely a result of Paddock’s play.
“No one can lose a job due to injury” is not only a dated phrase that you heard NFL coaches say in the 1980s, it’s illogical and excusatory.
Let’s unpack why this mode of thinking is illogical. We’ll get to the excuses in a bit.
Read the above caption. Read it again.
Now scroll back up and read that quote again.
When you analyze the difference in the positive statistical variance of Paddock at QB vs. Altmyer, and a theory as no job lost to injury, the cart isn’t before the horse.
The cart is at midfield, and the horse is in the endzone.
Bielema is an old school guy, in almost every sense of the word. A throwback to, some would say, the 1980s smash mouth, defense-first grinders that made football famous in the first place.
Maybe not three yards and a cloud of dust, but not too far astray from that metaphor.
Ball control. Run the ball. Don’t lose the game.
“Before you can win games, you have to keep from losing them.”
Bielema said this in his opening press conference after taking the job in Champaign.
This line of thinking is not a logical fallacy. This line of thinking is simultaneously conditional.
If the roster and the program are at a point that wins are so few and far between that a few victories, even moral ones, define success, by all means. Keep it close and hope for a mistake by the other team.
Bielema is past that point at Illinois.
He can look no further than the last two games, both victories.
Rather than ask a rhetorical question, I’ll make a statement.
Illinois beat Minnesota and Indiana. Minnesota and Indiana didn’t beat themselves.
Paddock and Co. executed play after play after play. In the usual pattern of Bielema and OC Barry Lunney, Jr., after a few turnovers in the first half (muffed punt by Isaiah Williams and an interception), the game would have been all but over.
Down 27-12 in the second quarter, Illinois fans across the country felt the inevitability of defeat in a game that should be a victory. It’s happening. Again.
Paddock squeezed two TDs into the last half of the second quarter, and the rest is history.
Lunney called that game to win it, and Bielema didn’t stand in his way. Injuries at tailback forced Bielema’s hand. Most would argue for the better.
Players lose jobs to injuries all the time. Don’t cherry pick the narrative.
One more logical theory. What would make more logical sense in Iowa City remains a point of discussion.
Here are the two options: Benching a surging Paddock, or benching a struggling Altmyer.
I’m not arguing that Paddock should have been the guy all along.
I’m also perplexed that he has been this dominant this quickly, when the coaching staff’s hand is forced to make a decision, and Paddock was an afterthought before Altmyer’s ailment.
Now, let’s get to the excuses that coaches make for players that they have chosen and that player gets outshined by a replacement.
This one is a little more, shall we say, on the nose.
Everyone loves a great loyalty story. Going down with the ship is one famous metaphor.
I get why coaches do this, in some cases. You have to create a culture of “earn it and don’t have it handed to you,” if you want long-term, sustained success.
On board with this sentiment.
Paddock and Altmyer do not fit into this nice, cozy box narrative.
Paddock gives you the best chance to beat Iowa on Saturday, particularly with All-Big Ten cornerback Cooper DeJean reportedly out with a broken foot he suffered in practice.
This remains important: Illinois can still win the Big Ten West. It’s not as far-fetched as you would think.
Paddock has earned this opportunity. He got an opportunity and he took it. Plain and simple.
Bielema’s employment of the “starter’s advantage” is another way to say, in layman’s terms, “I already picked this guy once and I’m the coach and I’m right.”
Of course you’re going to make excuses for people you have picked. It’s human nature. I get it.
It feels like insecurity to insert Altmyer as the starter.
It looks like a lack of confidence.
It sounds like you’re making an excuse.
If Paddock plays at Iowa and throws for 300 and three TDs in an easy Illinois victory, it will made Bielema look like chose the wrong guy all along.
Bielema’s job isn’t just to make the best decision. His job is to make the best decision with the information he has at the time.
The information has changed. The decision should follow suit.