I am neither the vessel nor the conduit of any higher power. But nor do I question my grasp on reality. And the simple fact is that forces beyond our control have been working overtime lately. These forces are not fully comprehensible, but, if you open your mind just a bit, I think I can convince you that what transpired in State College last Saturday was inevitable.
I don’t (yet) fully understand the scope of what we’re dealing with, so I cannot say with certainty if Illinois 20, Penn State 18 (9 OT) is the final chapter, or only the most recent one. We are mere playthings in the hands of destiny and it works on a very long time horizon.
What I do know is that the broad contours had been revealed in certain details of the two worst overall offensive performances in the past 40 years of B1G football.
I. The last tie in NCAA history
See here for a decent overview of 1995’s 3-3 tie between Illinois and Wisconsin. Note that Chris McIntosh, now in his first year as UW AD, is quoted. Note also that Darrell Bevell, currently the OC for the hapless Jaguars, played his final CFB game that day. He was hit hard all day and ultimately hospitalized with a lacerated kidney.
Illinois...on the road...playing a game that set college football back decades. But what loosed these spirits 26 years later? Why now? What occurrences are responsible for this dark summoning?
I don’t fully know.
It HAS to mean something that Illinois is currently coached by somebody who previously coached Wisconsin. But Bielema had no involvement in that 1995 tie. That year he was a GA with Iowa.
And it is interesting that Art Sitkowski ended up sharing Darrell Bevell’s unfortunate fate of having serious injury added to the insult of being a starting QB in a putrid day of offensive football. Sitkowski transferred in from Rutgers, where he was recruited by...frequent Bielema assistant Chris Ash! Bevell was also a transfer, starting off at Northern Arizona before going on an LDS mission. In transferring to Wisconsin, he followed his NAU OC...Brad Childress!!! How much shitty offensive football can I fit into one paragraph?
Still, mostly, I think it’s just the score. 3-3. 3-3...
If scoring by three, a tie it shall be.
II. That B1G high holiday
You all know what I’m talking about. And it’s already been given due attention around these parts:
You can’t talk about awful offensive performances without bringing 6-4 into the mix.
But it’s more specific than that. I just know it.
Yes, prior to Saturday, PSU’s last game was against Iowa. Yes, in that game, PSU’s QB was knocked out too. And yes, whether it’s an F-you safety or some salty comments about the faking injuries controversy, Kirk Ferentz sure loves messing with PSU. But each of these seem to be coincidences, not really essential pieces of our reigning cosmic sovereign’s nefarious plan.
Something else must be at work to explain why Saturday of all times, and Illinois and PSU of all teams, were fated to deliver unto us a nine overtime epic of futility.
Again, it’s the score—6-4—and, especially, that margin. Penn State was the team whose offense was so bad, the opposing team choose to award it to two points, and cut the lead to two points because of Iowa’s confidence in Penn State’s ineptitude.
Penn State: the mark of your offensive futility is TWO.
Iowa conceded two points, because they were certain there was no danger PSU would be able to kick a field goal.
Once field goals are off the table, it becomes a battle of two point scores!!!!
III. Add it up
Jahan Dotson had a spectacular catch and Illinois ran the ball effectively. A 10-10 regulation is just garden variety B1G shittiness and not the stuff of legend. It is the OTs where this game revealed itself as the work of darkness’s minions.
The first two OTs, the ones with drives starting at the opponents 25...what was the result of each? A field goal.
Under the old system, there was no way Illinois was getting over the hump. They were doomed to repeat 3-3 OTs as if they had been transported back to 1995 (which their offense clearly has been).
But the rules have changed.
And they were playing Penn State.
Penn State, who, famously, was held to 4 points, i.e., two increments of two. And so, with the commencement of the third OT, the Nittany Lions became the playthings of the gods, forced to win by scoring in increments of two.
Which they obviously couldn’t do.
Five consecutive iterations. OTs 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Penn State couldn’t get two points. Once they finally did, in the 8th OT, it was only after Illinois had done likewise, and the prophecy had revealed itself:
“Okay Penn State, there’s a two-point score
But as you should know, you need one more
When offenses struggle so mightily, the game is to four.”
Four points! Two two-point scores!! But PSU failed on their next possession and Illinois, who had survived their twin 3-3 OT periods, scored a second two-point conversion to win the game.
To exorcise the demons of the last tie game, Illinois was put to the longest OT test in NCAA history. In passing that test, the Illini scored ten OT points on two field goals (3-3!) and two two-point conversions (2-2). Six points on FG; four on 2-pt conversions.
Once more: I am a mere mortal trying to suss out the workings of powerful and murky forces. I don’t assume all of the foregoing fits together cleanly. I don’t pretend it is necessarily the full story. It would be hubris to believe one can ever understand clearly, much less in full.
But it feels like something meaningful happened Saturday and, maybe, just maybe, Illinois has shed whatever remnants of plague had remained from their previous eyeball-scorching dalliance with B1G infamy.
Maybe the Illini are turning a corner, and putting this curse to bed is evidence of that.
There aren’t any other curses, right?