Happy Sunday, Illinois Land!
We love no other.
There was never a doubt…except for most of the game.
I’m on a statement kick recently. The simplicity, depth and finality of a profound statement cannot be overstated. Paradox at its finest.
Here are the two statements to focus on after Week 1 of the 2023 college football season is in the books.
Bret Bielema’s program made a statement: Illinois football is now capable of winning games when they don’t play a perfect 60 minutes.
Luke Altmyer, the new transfer quarterback made a statement of his own: Illinois football now has a real-life quarterback. More on this in a bit.
Wide receivers Pat Bryant and Casey Washington didn’t so much as make statements, but provided the necessary punctuation in the form of an exclamation point during the second half.
In a truly wild contest, Illinois seemingly lost and won three separate times before Caleb Griffin’s game-winning field goal sailed through the uprights.
Illinois beat Toledo 30-28, and had no business winning this particular game. If the below recap by Kyle Tausk seems improbable, don’t feel ashamed. It should, because it is bewildering, befuddling and betwixt.
Let me explain the betwixt above that reads non sequitur. It reads that way because it is somewhat out of context.
I’ll explain the betwixt by starting an entirely different train of thought. It will all make sense, I promise.
This is what I would consider a program win. Don’t confuse program win with program-defining win.
They are similar, but not the same.
The game, and victory, is impossible to individually categorize. It is between any label, regardless what some will say on the internet, in chat rooms and during text threads.
How a game can be a program win yet be unbelievably flawed remains a head-scratcher. That’s not a commentary that Bielema will be unable to build a program that can compete for a College Football Playoff spot.
That’s also not a direct commentary he will.
It’s impossible to bring a program from the depths of hell and into the national spotlight without winning games you should lose.
Paradoxically, his team will likely lose games that they should win.
It’s the nature of progression. Sometimes progression feels like you’re going backwards.
See where betwixt comes from? Bielema’s program is between a rock and a hard place.
Damned if you do, really damned if you don’t.
Regression doesn't start with “be,” so I couldn’t use it to make my above sentence as cool.
Regression isn’t what you think. Regression is a measure of the relation between the mean value of one variable (e.g. effort) and corresponding values of other variables (e.g. skill and scheme).
For the sake of argument — and reality — regression is a statistical qualifier that essentially means the results on the field will match the expected outcomes, as more data becomes available.
This can equally qualify as going forward (in a slump) or backward (on a hot streak).
“Regression to the mean” is a beloved term in the baseball world. That term applies to Bielema, and where his program currently resides in the Big Ten West, and the overall landscape of the Big Ten.
Mean is another way to say “the average.”
Although Bielema’s team has vastly improved and continues to do so, “the average” expectation on performance will simultaneously raise, at scale. It becomes a near impossibility to assess the program on a day-to-day basis when overall improvement is coming to fruition at a rapid pace.
This victory over Toledo (won the MAC last year and will likely repeat in 2023) is a program win. It’s a last-second victory over an elite mid-major program when your team didn’t play particularly tough, smart or dependable.
The One and Only Pleas Honeywood fought through his victory-induced euphoria and dropped some objectivity for TCR last night.
The main reason this is a program win is the Illini now have a program-defining player at most important position in football. Altmyer has arrived.
The numbers were good for Altmyer. His intangibles were better. Oh, one more thing. He can run the ball...extremely well.
Here’s the thing about Illinois football, and specifically quarterbacks. They’re both historically not good, and bordering on inept.
We know the head coach can get it done. The new QB showed us that he is looking to break the mold of expectations as well.
Here are Altmyer’s Week 1 stats:
- 18/26 (69.2%) for 211 yards
- Two TDs
- One INT (outlier horrific decision)
- Nine carries for 69 yards
- QB Rating: 79.2 (scale of 100). He is No. 25 in the country, according to ESPN.
Not bad for a first game in Champaign.
After a single game under center, it’s glaringly obvious: Altmyer is the best passer Illinois has had since Kurt Kittner (Second Team All-Big Ten) won the team’s last conference title in 2001.
That’s high cotton for Altmyer. Somebody call Cyrus McCormick.
Let’s talk about the tangibles a little more, before we get to the intangibles.
Exhibit A: With the game on the line facing a a 4th-and-4, Altmyer had pressure in his face and dropped a perfect pass to Washington for a gain of 33 yards. Washington was neither open nor was it an easy catch.
Here’s some proof.
This is a play that Illinois football never makes, on either end. This is what happens when you get a coach that knows what the hell they’re doing so that you can attract players like Altmyer to the middle of nowhere Illinois.
A program win.
Let’s get back to the intangibles. In his post-game press conference, Bielema had this to say about his new quarterback:
“I think Luke Altmyer came in and really probably has one ball that he wants to take back (the interception). But, just his presence, his composure, his demeanor. That guy taking the field, I just looked at him and he gave me a wink, right? At the end, there, I told him we needed to get to the 25 (yard line). He said, “I got you.” I mean, just his presence, his calmness. It was very impressive.”
Bielema also mentioned Washington’s journey, and what he means to the program. He has been through a lot, to say the least.
Bryant caught two TDs in the second half, and looked amazing with the solid orange socks pairing with the orange pants. He led the Illini with 64 yards.
Miles. Scott. To the house! https://t.co/EU9b6Ot0nD— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) September 3, 2023
Miles Scott (former wide receiver) had a game-changing Pick-6 in the second half, after Altmyer had just inexplicably thrown it to Toledo. That was a crazy few minutes.
Milk Carton: Isaiah Williams is missing from the gameplan...again.
Second-year OC Barry Lunney, Jr. did open up the playbook. Please turn to the page(s) with plays for Isaiah Williams as the primary target. Williams caught some passes late in the game when Toledo utilized some “prevent defense” looks.
Do we not have any crossing routes in the entire playbook?
Please take my scientific poll.
What was the best thing about the Week 1 victory, other than the score?
This poll is closed
Pick 6 by Miles Scott
Pat Bryant’s two TDs.
Casey Washington’s catch and Luke Altmyer’s throw.
We won and can move on.
Enjoy the 2023 football season. If Week 1 is any indication, this is going to be wild.
This is Week 1. This is 1-0. This is the regression to the mean.
This is Illinois football.