Strictly talking football, I tripped to Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State my first season on the beat. Visits to Nebraska and Penn State were in order this year. The game at Nebraska was fun for me. Not as much for Illinois. That loss started the circling of the drain effect for my Penn State plans. Losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State further pushed the chances away. The draw for Big Ten Basketball Media Day didn't help. The second basketball exhibition scheduled for Sunday made it worse. And then the chance to visit Cliff Alexander provided the end – I wasn't going to Penn State. A 20-hour round-drive car ride, 600 bucks and a probable loss dictated I stay home and focus on basketball… We know now how that decision panned out -- I only missed the most exciting game of the Tim Beckman Era. Yay me!
Instead, I kept a running journal of my thoughts while watching the action unfold on my computer. Here it is – the Illinois-Penn State Retro Diary.
11:03 - Apparently my computer doesn't think this is a good idea. I can't get the game to load. I have two rules – never talk smack about any man nicknamed Snake. And don't start drinking before noon. I may have to break one or two here in a second and head to a bar if this keeps up.
11:05 – Checking Twitter, Nathan Scheelhaase threw a pick in the red zone. At least Illinois was in the red zone, right?
11:09 – My computer changed its mind! We're up and running. I tune in just in time to see Illinois get a stop on third down in the red zone. … but wait… a personal foul on JB. Seriously?!. I think we all know what's about to happen.
11:10 - Yep. Touchdown on the very next play. One letdown leads to another. I'm going to make a sandwich. Penn State leads 7-0. Offensively you can't turn the ball over, especially not in the red zone. And defensively you can't do dumb things to keep an offense on the field, especially not in the red zone.
11:15 - Steve Hull makes one catch and on the next play gets leveled trying to make another. Wasn't put in the best position there by Scheelhaase, who was scrambling to his right in order to save himself.
11:19 - I have a feeling Nathan is going to be running a lot today. He just took a big shot getting a first down. He's gonna get hurt.
11:20 - Nathan passes Kurt Kittner in total career yards. He now trails only Juice. Kittner shouldn't get down about this – he still holds the record for strongest goatee by a quarterback at Illinois.
11:22 - TOUCHDOWN ILL… Oh wait… Another penalty nullifies a big play. Chop block on Hill and Heitz nullifies a long touchdown pass to Spencer Harris. It's almost like going out and buying a nice, expensive suit and wearing it to a mud-wrestling tournament.
11:25 - And Illinois has to punt. Illini haven't scored a touchdown in a while now. Been two weeks since the Wisconsin game.
11:31 – Penn State has a third and 5 -- bubble screen to Allen Robinson looks killed at first, but he makes a few dudes miss and picks up the first down.
11:33 - Why is only one person covering Robinson? Another catch.
11:34 - Houston Bates drops an interception. It's been 56 days since the Illini had an interception.
11:35 - It's third down again. It's gonna happen this time, they're gonna get a stop.
11:35 - You know what happened. Penn State got the first down. It was Robinson. Why is only one person covering Robinson?
11:35 - Cut to Tim Banks on the sideline No. 1. The people directing these moving pictures know how to aggravate the fans watching these things.
11:40 Fourth and one. It's gonna happen this time, they're gonna get a stop.
11:40 - You know what happened. Penn State got the first down.
11:41 - Good defense by Eaton Spence on a fade route. Spence made the play but again, why is a probable All-American covered by only one person?
11:47 – On that run by Hackenberg, one of the announcer dudes calls out JB for not making the tackle. "That isn't Steve Young," the announcers says of the freshman quarterback. … By the way, Steve Young was my left-handed hero growing up.
11:49 - Clips of the defense on the sideline. It's two days after Halloween. Why is everybody still dressed up as corpses?
11:50 – That Illinois drive didn't last long. Punting. Again.
11:54 - Well, Bill Belton is on pace for like 200 and something yards. Averaging over six-a-carry. Am I the only one who isn't impressed with Penn State? I really like Hackenberg, but he's just a freshman. Allen and Belton are the real deal but I couldn't name you two other players on offense.
11:56 - Pass interference on a deep pass to Robinson. Why is Robinson being covered by one person? And why is it a true freshman? CAN SOMEBODY TELL ME WHAT THE END GAME OF THIS INSANE PLAN IS?
11:58 - It's third down and three to go. It's gonna happen this time right?
11:59 - Holy wow it happened. The defense is gonna get off the… wait… Penn State is going for it on fourth down.
12:01 - They got it. Ran the ball on fourth and three. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about this defense. Total disrespect from Penn State to run. Total disrespect from yourself by not stopping it.
12:05 - Third and 15. It's gonna happen right? They can't get this one right?
12:05 - It happened! Illinois gets the stop. Penn State is gonna kick the field goal. And it missed. First time Penn State hasn't scored. It wasn't pretty but a good job by the defense to keep points off the board. That's what you need to see… Limit it to 3s instead of giving up 7s and hell, sometimes they miss the field goals.
12:09 - It was third and five. A false start on Heitz makes it 3 and 10. Barr makes a catch but gets drilled out of bounds and drops the ball. Review… Confirms it. That was a tough catch to make. Gotta have it though if there's any chance to not let this thing get away. Third-and-10s aren't any fun. The false start penalty killed that drive.
12:14 - Penn State goes back to work and Hackenberg completes a pass to, you guessed it, Robinson. I'm gonna stop asking why he's not being double covered. You know what, no I'm not. Why is he being covered by one person? I understand Illinois might be in a zone at times, but… ah, let's not worked up. We've got a long way to go.
12:17 - Illinois defense gets a sack on third down. It was JB and Finney in on the play and a personal foul on Penn State knocks them out of field goal range. I don't know how but the defense has made two good stops in a row. Once is a fluke. Twice is a coincidence. You get to three or four though and you can start pounding your chest.
12:18 – Punt is downed at the two. Hold your breath for a while. Illinois needs points but this is not ideal. Yeah, I just said starting at the two wasn't ideal. I'd also like to point out that Harold's is awesome and the sky is blue.
12:19 - Fergy with a 10-plus yard run on the first play. You can exhale. Maybe I worry too much. Do you think I worry too much? Damn, now I'm worrying about if I worry too much.
12:20 - Illinois moving the ball and near midfield. Poor Steve Hull is getting crushed on the regular. Tough dude. He might want his buddy Scheelhaase to laser the next few passes instead of hanging him out.
12:22 – Hey, it's a Donovonn Young sighting! It's true what they say – he's still alive. He picks up a first down and on the next play Scheelhaase avoids a sack to lead the Illini deep into the red zone. Defense makes a few stops and now the offense has a drive going that started at the 2. Hmmmm…
12:29 – Well… Yanno… That was… I don't know what I'm trying to say. I'm gonna need some time to talk about what just happened inside the 10. Wow. So… it's third down and the clock is running and Scheelhaase gets the play call to everybody and the call is running and now Nate is changing things up and the clock is running and Nate's still making checks and THE CLOCK IS RUNNING AND UNDER 10 SECONDS and what the… the clock runs out. Illinois runs a play that doesn't work and there's no time left… Wait… Penn State roughed the quarterback who spent that entire sequence roughing himself up. What a bailout play by the defender. The Illini add 3. I have no idea what just happened. I just know that I didn't like it. I don't know who I am anymore after that.
Halftime score 14-3.
12:31 – The guys back in the studio are as messed up about that dumpster fire as me. Rece Davis says: "To call that atrocious clock management is an insult to atrocious clock management everywhere. That was disgraceful."
Mark May goes in deeper: "Poor play calling. Poor clock management."
Lou Holtz who may or may not need help locating his car in the parking lot after his shift is over: "I wish they'd interviewed the Illinois coach instead of the Penn State coach (heading into the locker room).
Rece ain't got time for that: "What plausible explanation would there be?"
Illinois football, ladies and gentlemen!
12:48 - And we're back underway. Sideline reporter guy tells us Beckman told him the team isn't capitalizing on offense. Yeah, we know. And the defense has to recognize where Robinson is each and every snap. Yeah. He's the wide receiver lined up either left or right. I dunno. Maybe point at him or something?
12:51 – Penn State has the ball. It's third and 3. Does the defense know where Robinson is?
12:51 - Nope. Robinson makes the catch and gets the first down. Robinson is wearing the same number as in the first half, in case anybody needed to know.
12:55 - On third and 5, Mason Monheim does a good job in coverage to knock the pass away. Defense has now had three stops in a row. That's a streak folks. Giving up yards but doing a good job to get off the field. Losing the field position battle but doing what they need to do to give the offense a chance to even the scoreboard war. Props to that group. After getting down 14-0 I was afraid this one was going to get ugly.
12:59 – Uh oh. Computer seems opposed to watching this game again.
1:02 - I'm back just in time to see the offense convert on 3 and 10. Spencer Harris now has 9 catches for 75 yards. If Nate has time to make throws the offense can move.
1:07 - Touchdown Illinois -- Josh Ferguson gets in the end zone. The Illini finished a drive and have now scored 10 straight. I'm still needing therapy after the way the first half ended, but I guess it doesn't matter now. Call it a comeback? Finally seeing both the defense and the offense having some success together at the same time. Pressure is now on Penn State to answer.
1:12 - Belton has 120 yards -- a career high. He's the third running back this season to have a career day against the Illini.
1:13 - It's third and six. Wanna bet it goes to Robinson?
1:13 - Yep. It did. First down. Remember, Robinson is the receiver. He wears No. 8. He was the Big Ten Receiver of the Year last season.
1:15 - Third and one -- Illini stops the QB sneak. Good play by Neal. Fourth and one -- Illinois stops Belton. Neal again. Big time plays by that young fella. The defense did it again. Four stops in a row, none bigger that this one. If three's a streak, four's a statement! The offense now has the best starting field position of the day. The comeback continues.
1:21 - Third and two past midfield and Penn State called timeout just before Illinois snapped the ball and ran a quick pass to Steve Hull. Out of the break, the Illini run the same play. I see you Cubit. Trick them by not tricking them. It worked.
1:29 - Illinois needed 10 on that third down. Got nine on a pass to LaCosse. Sets up a fourth and one. A field goal here makes it one possession. Going for it with all the momentum makes sense though. Illinois hasn't had the most success in these situations. I'd go for it, and I won't criticize the call if they don't make it.
1:31 - I said I wasn't going to criticize the call. But I was talking about the call to go for it. I will question that play call. I know they can't run the ball, but what was that? The Illini showed a run look coming out, then broke out into an empty backfield set and Nate threw the ball to a place with two receivers standing together. That meant there were two Penn State defenders standing together. This is hindsight talk (OBVIOUSLY) but why not run Aaron Bailey? Where is Aaron Bailey? Probably hiding wherever Allen Robinson does just before snaps. No points after another trip to the red zone. I always talk about the big-punch-in-the-mouth moments that the Illini have to deal with and keep trudging on. This is it.
1:39 - Well the Illini defense did it again. That's another stop and Penn State will punt the ball back to… Wait a minute… No… Surely not… Justin Hardee ran into the punter and drew the yellow flag. First down Penn State. What a deflating penalty. It's like having that suit you wore in the mud-wrestling tournament cleaned and then realizing you didn't have any legs to begin with.
1:43 - It's raining at the stadium and the PA is playing CCR's Have You Ever Seen the Rain… It's attention to details that I appreciate.
1:43 - After all that fuss, the defense gets another stop. Great game for the unit after giving up touchdowns on each of the Nittany Lions first two drives. Nada since. I think that's six or seven stops in a row. Call me impressed.
1:46 - The Illini offensive drive starts with a Penn State personal foul for facemasking. Breaks going their way at the right time.
1:47 - Hull makes another catch and then gets hit hard again. Dude is gonna need an ice bath or three after this one.
1:49 - Nate had LaCosse in the end zone for the TD and the two couldn't hook up. On the very next play, Nate and LaCosse run what looks to be the same type of play/route and it goes begging again. I still think LaCosse is an NFL-type tight end.
1:52 - On the very next play, Illinois takes the lead with a screen pass from Scheelhaase to Ferguson. That's 17 unanswered points as both the defense and offense responded to a bad start and completed the comeback. Just need another stop from the defense.
1:54 - The camera shot of the sideline shows the Illini having fun late in the fourth quarter of a Big Ten game. Good stuff. Complete opposite of the look during the first quarter.
1:56 - And there's another sideline interference on Illinois -- second one of the season after Tim Banks got one against Southern Illinois in the opener. I guess you don't need to be reminded about Northwestern last year. Penn State now across the 50.
1:57 - Hackenberg goes deep to Robinson -- he's single covered again! WHAAAAT - and the only guy that catches passes for PSU catches another one. It's initially ruled incomplete but it's obvious he got a foot down. PSU will have the ball inside the 10 after the officials overturn this one. Robinson is the wide receiver. He wears No. 8. HE'S REALLY BLEEPING AWESOME!
2:03 - Huge play by Mason Monheim to force fumble right at the goal line. Belton tried to get in there. Don't think he would have made it, but now Penn State can't tie the game after losing the football. Is this gonna happen? Is Illinois gonna end this wretched conference losing streak?
2:05 - Backed up near the goal line. Need to get a one or two first downs and this thing is over. Throw on first down stops clock… I'm fine with being aggressive though. On the next play Ferguson gets hurt and possibly limits what Cubit can do on third down with a safe pass to let his playmaker potential make a few moves. Instead Young is stopped and PSU will get the ball back with 1:44 to play. Ferguson doesn't look good on the sideline. Once again, the defense has to keep it's streak of elite up. If it does, Illinois wins.
2:07 - Here we go… For all the marbles. I don't like marbles. I'd be more motivated by Swedish Fish. Here we go.. For all the Swedish Fish…
2:07 - Robinson now has 11 catches. PSU to the 25. How is Robinson still being single covered? He's the wide receiver. He wears… Ah, forget it.
2:08 - Big tackle by Earnest Thomas stops what could have been an even longer gain on a draw. PSU to the 19. Illinois calls timeout so we can all catch our breath. Nearing a minute to play.
2:10 - What a play call and throw by Hackenberg and the Illini catch a break when a sure TD is dropped. That's what happens Penn State when you don't throw it to Robinson.
2:10 - Similar play on third down is broken up by Mosely. He almost intercepted it. Good job by the freshman hanging in there during the most critical time of the game. Again, Penn State goes to someone other than Robinson. Maybe Illinois finally figured out where he was. Here comes the field goal unit.
12: 11 - The kick is up and it's good… The offense will have 41 seconds to make something happen or we'll get some free football. I've been condoning aggressiveness all game. Need to be careful here though. Can't throw a pick on this end of the field.
2:12 - The Penn State crowd is rocking' now. Here the chants and cheers through my speakers after what was pretty much a pretty much silent second half.
2:13 - And now we learn Ferguson is out with a hamstring injury. If this goes to overtime, could be tough to crack the end zone without him.
2:14 - Drive starts with a false start on Ted Karras. Each team now has nine penalties. I don't know about this. I don't like Illinois' chances in overtime, but this is like a scene from my life – down in Cancun on spring break. Swim up bar and one dollar shots of tequila. Somebody had the idea to hold a backflip into the pool competition. Nothing good could have come from that scenario.
2:14 - Next play sees Scheelhasse scramble but an offsides call against Penn State makes this an even sloppier game. The ref fumbles the announcement of the flag and all this is a mess and I'm confused. Everybody looks confused. They sort it out. It's been a weird stretch of plays here. Might be a good idea to go conservative and play for overtime in usual circumstances. But when you've lost 17 straight conference games, I can see the need to keep going…
2:15 - Nate is sacked and the clock is gonna run out. We're headed to overtime. This is the right call. My friend Joey split his head open doing back flips into the pool. Better him than me, but still…
2:20 - Illinois wins the toss and elects to go on defense first, you know, like you're supposed to. Penn State chooses the end of the field where the student section is, you know, like you're supposed to.
2:20 – Camera shot shows JB pumping his group up. Gotta hand it to the defense. Came to play after giving up 14 points. Penn State had two chances to win it at the end, too, and Illinois turned them back both times. They go back to work now.
2:21 - First play is a gashing run by Belton. Announcer tells us Illinois is in two-deep look, which tipped the advantage to PSU in run situations. Yeah.
2:22 - There would be a third and one inside the 10, wouldn't there?. Does the defense continue it's good run of getting a stop?
2:22 - Nope. Belton gets the first down and a touch… Wait… It's a holding call. Take those points off the board. Penn State had 19 penalties in the first seven games. 11 today. I'll refrain from making any lame it's-Halloween-weekend-play-on-trick-or-treat jokes.
2:23 - It's now 3-and-11… Say it with me -- watch for Robinson. He's like the only person who catches passes for this team. He has 11 grabs for 165 yards already. This is like a movie. Robinson is shown pre-snap spitting into his gloves like he's about to save the day. This is like a damn movie. Cut to Pacino saying, "The inches we need are everywhere around us."
2:24 - It didn't go to Robinson. Touchdown PSU. Props to the freshman quarterback for stepping up and throwing a strike to some guy named Carter in the end zone. The Illini, without Ferguson, have to score a touchdown.
2:24 - Getting ahead of myself, but if Illinois does score does Beckman have the audacity to run one of those Tim Russell two-point conversation plays?
2:26 - Nevermind. First play for Illinois ends the game. Pass intercepted. I was a student at Georgia in 2007 when Matt Stafford threw a touchdown pass on the first play of an overtime possession to beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. I'm a fan of going for it. I don't have a problem with it. The pass was tipped up into the air so it wasn't like it was necessarily a force. … What a game. This is too much.
2:27 - Whew – what a second half. Let's talk about feelings. Gotta be proud of the defense. Gotta admire the fight of the offense. Have to be sick of losing. I wondered if the team would keep the faith after being embarrassed by Michigan State. Now the task is the same after losing a game that they probably felt should have been won.
- There you have it. I didn't edit this much following the game. Left everything as is for the most part, sans a few cuss words here and there. Clearly my negativity in the first quarter was replaced with good will in the second half, especially for the defense. That was a tough game to lose but a fun one to watch. It's been a while since that could be said. See ya next week (or in five minutes on the message board).