Wait a minute. Why was Shawn Eichorst so scared of Fridays again?
We kid, we kid.
A toast, then. To short weeks.
To Nebraska 28, Illinois 6.
To Dave Rimington, just for showing up.
To calmer waters.
To everybody pulling on the same red rope.
To 4-minute offenses, and running out the clock.
To Stanley Morgan Jr.’s 8 grabs doing enough to make us forget the 4 drops.
But most of all, to Bobby Diaco’s D. And to a bunch of Blackshirts who seem to be closer to putting the jigsaw puzzle together with each passing week.
Consider: At Oregon during Week 2, Lamar Jackson, Dicaprio Bootle and Chris Weber surrendered 11 catches on 15 targets for 231 yards, according to Pro Football Focus film breakdown. Each gave up a catch of 30 yards or more.
Against Rutgers last weekend? Just 6 catches on 8 targets for 48 yards, combined — and just 1 reception, among them, that went for 10 yards or more.
“Very simply,” Pro Football Focus analyst Josh Liskiewitz told Land of 10 earlier this week, “the secondary as a whole [has] played significantly better.”
And it’s shown, even if we do have to make qualifiers for the competition over the last two weeks. Illinois (2-2) is painfully young and, in an otherwise interesting Big Ten West, still painfully immaterial. Particularly on offense, given that Team Lovie came in to the weekend ranked No. 106 out of 130 FBS programs in points per drive (1.63), according to CFBAnalytics.com. (Northern Illinois, if you’re curious, was ranked No. 103; Rutgers, No. 87; Oregon, No. 13.)
The Big Red, conversely, were efficient, powerful, explosive and all-business. These were the Oregon-in-the-third-quarter Huskers, right from the outset.
Even embattled quarterback Tanner Lee was in the flow, completing 11 of 13 throws in the first half for 167 yards and 2 scores and was 9 for 9 in the second half. Two steps, three steps, get it out.
The Big Red came into Champaign, Ill., with seven scoring drives of 74 yards or longer over their first four contests. With 90 seconds left in the first half, they’d already racked up three against the Illini — and on just three tries.
Time of possession at the break: Nebraska, 17:31; Illinois, 12:29.
Just like old times.
When Mikale Wilbon reportedly told his teammates that the Illini couldn’t tackle him, he wasn’t kidding. Illinois’ record under Lovie Smith before Friday: 3-10 when the other guy rushed at least 35 times in a game. And 2-0 when it’s 34 carries or fewer.
LovieBall heading into the weekend: When the opponent went for 180 or more on the ground, the Illini were 1-9. 179 yards or fewer: 4-1.
Don’t complicate what you don’t have to.
“I think it’s important, being able to manage the game, control the clock,” Lee had noted earlier in the week. “Just kind of get behind the offensive line, let them take over the game. That was huge.”
It was huge Friday when Lee succumbed to pressure, and especially when some passes were thrown behind their intended targets. One late third-quarter toss up the left boundary — throwing while blitzed and off the back foot, a terrible combo for No. 13 — would’ve been pick No. 10, if not for the heads-up move by tight end Tyler Hoppes to swat the ball out of the defender’s mitts.
— RUN THE DAMN BALL (@Fullbacks_or_L) September 30, 2017
You tailor the steps to the dance partner, and questions remain about what happens when a young Big Red secondary sees a reasonably accurate signal caller — as in, one who isn’t Chayce Crouch — again.
Devine Ozigbo (18 carries, 106 rushing yards) runs, north and south, as angry as they come. But a security blanket also needs to make sure the stinking ball is secure.
Although given a choice between winning with nits to pick and losing with style, the former takes it any dang night of the week. Even Fridays.