In my former life - Career I, with this being Career II - I used to deal with scale all the time. I'd create a drawing, and the drawing had to be to scale. 1 inch on the drawing = 30 feet, that kind of thing. You can't just zoom in or zoom out to make the drawing fit on the 30x42 sheet - it had to be to scale. Someone is going to build something using this set of drawings, and if I'm going to show the overall site plan on this page but then zoom in on a different part of the site on this other page, that person needs to know how much I zoomed in.
So a lot of my life was spent doing just that. These details on this sheet are at this certain scale, but it's not really appropriate to draw this other detail at the same scale. Really need to increase the scale for that one. Everything has to be relative.
As a result, my brain just works like that. I'm constantly adjusting things so that they're relative. Alfonso Plummer shot the ball like this against Arkansas State, but that was just Arkansas State. Once the degree of defensive difficulty cranked up and he still shot the ball well against Iowa's defense - OK, maybe a bad example (burn!) - then that's much more impressive. He did this against this defense and that was one thing but then the degree of difficulty doubled and he still produced similar results so that's a whole new thing to think about. Everything has to be relative.
I'm struggling to do the same tonight after this game. I can't scale it. Maybe a better way to say that: this performance was so solid that I'm not sure scaling it matters all that much? Let me see if I can explain this.
After the Arizona State blowout loss in 2012, we returned home to play Charleston Southern (an FCS opponent just like Chattanooga was an FCS opponent). That game played out almost exactly like this one. Illinois had 479 yards, Charleston Southern had 125 yards, Illinois won 44-0. And it meant absolutely nothing. We would go on to lose to Louisiana Tech the next week (and then we'd lose every single Big Ten game).
We talked about it at the time - 2012 Charleston Southern was maybe the worst team to play in Memorial Stadium in decades. They had lost 15 consecutive games across three seasons coming in. The previous season they scheduled Division III Wesley College for homecoming in an attempt to get a win... and they lost 32-20. To a Division III school!
So that information was useful in scaling that victory. It wasn't even an FCS-level opponent. Might not have even been a Division II-level opponent. Worst team to step out onto Zuppke Field in several generations.
Should we do the same for tonight? Should we chalk it up to "this is just an FCS opponent - you should shut out all FCS opponents"? Chattanooga is obviously better than 2012 Charleston Southern, of course. Chattanooga came in ranked 9th in FCS, three spots ahead of Weber State (who just beat Utah State 35-7) and four spots behind Missouri State (who nearly beat #10 Arkansas on Saturday). And this is a Chattanooga team that traveled to Kentucky last year - an eventual ten-win Kentucky team - and lost 28-23. 2022 Chattanooga is a top-10 FCS team and 2012 Charleston Southern was probably 125th out of 125 FCS programs, so yeah, there's some scale we can play with here.
But what how does that relate to a Big Ten opponent? Chattanooga is better than SIU-Carbondale, and the Salukis just beat Northwestern, so is Chattanooga maybe better than the bottom-of-the-barrel Big Ten teams? Maybe we should say that the 9th-best FCS school is as good as... the 100th-best FBS school? Or is that maybe exaggerating things too much?
This is my struggle with scale. It's been my struggle all season. I thought Wyoming was bad when we beat them, but now they've won three in a row including a win over a really good Air Force team. I'm pretty sure Virginia is bad, but we held them to 3 points a year after giving up 42 so that's a data point, right? Same QB throwing to the same receivers. Indiana was really bad last year, but now they've already topped their 2021 win total, so maybe they're not that bad? Of course, maybe they're just getting extremely lucky? See what I mean here? This season has been impossible to scale.
Tonight, though - tonight I started to think that maybe I don't need to scale this at all. Maybe I just need to admit that we're a pretty good football team?
I mean, let's get really, really basic. We have played 16 quarters of football this season. Here are the stats:
Illinois yards: 1,819
Opponent yards: 938
Illinois touchdowns: 14
Opponent touchdowns: 2
Illinois first downs: 94
Opponent first downs: 49
Illinois points per game: 28.25
Opponent points per game: 8
With stats like that, maybe I stop trying to scale. Maybe I don't need to play "yeah, but if this was against Iowa..." because all that means is "instead of outgaining our opponent 502 to 142, we'll only outgain them 397 to 235". Maybe when we scale this, it comes back to "well, we'll still win, but it will only by by 13".
Look, I'm not sitting here telling you we're about to go 9-3 or something. There are tough games ahead. We'll have to go on the road again (four more times), and the last time we went on the road, things fell apart quickly. The names of the next seven opponents are still Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan State, Purdue, and Michigan. There's not an "OK, well that game doesn't really scare me" opponent until Northwestern (burn!). It's about to get a lot tougher.
But still, we haven't come out of the non-conference looking like this in more than a decade. We've played a lot of easy opponents in the last ten years - I mean, we play an FCS opponent every other year - and we haven't seen "28.25 ppg vs. 8 ppg allowed" any of those seasons. "Three home games so far, three field goals allowed" is not something we say around here very often, and we regularly play teams like Akron and Murray State in the non-conference.
So for now, I'm tossing scale out the window. When I close my eyes and drift off to sleep (it will take less than two minutes because this was a lonnnng day), I'm not going to waste those two minutes wondering if Virginia and Wyoming and Indiana and Chattanooga were just "four exceptionally bad opponents leading to our misleading statistics." We've moved 1,819 yards across football fields this last month and our opponents have only moved 938 yards. That's incredibly dominating football no matter how you look at it.
4-8, Robert? Really? You predicted 4-8?
Might need to flip it.