Asmussen | Illini's chance to turn around season begins today

Asmussen | Illini's chance to turn around season begins today

Here’s how the Illini can recover after lopsided loss

CHAMPAIGN — In the old days, they would have said “burn the tape.” That was the guaranteed cure after a blowout loss. Like the one administered to Illinois by Penn State late Friday night.

“Burn the tape” was the way to forget and move on.

But nobody uses tape these days. Everything is digital. So, I guess, the Illini can “delete the file.” Until some smart guy puts it on YouTube under the title “How not to finish.”

After Friday’s loss, which dropped them to 2-2, the Illini seemed determined to put it behind them. Good plan. 

And really the only way to go for a program that lost 10 games last season.

Illinois wants to avoid a repeat of 2017. I’ve got some suggestions.

First, watch some good football. 

It’s going to be painful to see other teams playing the game you love. But it will serve as a reminder of why you love it.

After you woke up on Saturday, I’m going to assume you took in some of the Big Ten games. That’s what we call a good start.

Today and Monday, there is the NFL. 

That will get you back in a football frame of mind without the annoyance of it being a college game.

Watch your favorite team. Or check out one you have been curious about. The game is played at the highest level in the NFL. There might be a pointer or two from the guys who play for pay.

‘Open week’ ahead

You don’t have a game this Saturday. 

That is called an “open week,” not to be confused with the always misused “bye.” It drives me nuts, so I point it out as often as possible.

Anyway, take the opportunity to not think about football for a few days. I know I said “watch football,” but this is the next step. Like a complicated hangover remedy.

 The team has been going at it hard since early August. You need a mental break. 

Of course, you can do some classwork. And you probably should. But also, have some fun.

Take your significant other to that movie you’ve been dying to see. “Crazy Rich Asians” is my suggestion.

Try, if this is possible, to not talk about football.

Other sports will work, too. Play some basketball (no jumping please) or golf (not if there is lightning). Talk to Chase McLaughlin. He loves the game. Go with him and you serve a dual-purpose: check to see if he really shots in the 80s.

Heal up

Four straight weeks with no break longer than  a day. You are sore. You know it. We know it.

As tempting as it will be to jump right back on the horse and go play some football, you need to resist.

The coaches are going to schedule a few practices. That’s what they do. You should definitely go, but know Lovie Smith understands the wear and tear you have experienced. He is not going to make you do anything you can’t handle.

And eventually, Smith and the rest of the staff are going to leave town to recruit. While the coach is away ... the big, football mice will take naps.

The open week comes at a great time. The wheels aren’t coming completely off, but they are definitely loose.

After the season restarts at Rutgers on Oct. 6, the team will be playing eight consecutive weeks. That is double the number of games you have already played without another break.

Next year, there are two open weeks. Much better setup and a model college football needs to move to permanently.

But that isn’t the deal this season. So, eight games in a row. A golden opportunity to move toward bowl eligibility. The bigger goal is to avoid another collapse like in 2017.

Under repair

There are plenty of questions that need answers before the restart.

At the top of the list is quarterback.

M.J. Rivers II is 0-2 as the starter, but I’m going to tell you it isn’t his fault. He made enough positive plays to be at least 1-1. The Penn State blowout falls more on the other side of the ball.

Rivers was thrown in after the unfortunate hamstring injury suffered by AJ Bush Jr.

The senior will certainly be ready for Rutgers. Illinois has to decide if that is the way it wants to go.

Bush gives the team the best chance to win the final eight games. I think. But part of me wonders if it might make sense to look to the future and give Rivers the ball.

The idea that you can’t lose your job to injury is quaint. And no longer valid.

The Illinois coaches will do what they think is best for the present and the future.

The good news is there is no longer an unknown at quarterback beyond Bush. Rivers has shown his ability to move the team and his attitude has been a hit with the rest of the Illini.

If the coaches go back to Bush, the expectation is that Rivers will be a great teammate and not cause any waves.

The defense needs an overhaul, especially against the run. The Nittany Lions piled up huge numbers (591 total yards) and laid out a blueprint for future Illinois opponents.

Though there isn’t a lot of time before Rutgers, the coaches might want to take a hard look at what is being called and if the players are in the ideal positions.

The open week is also the time to experiment. If there is a player on offense who is being underused, check to see if he can help on defense. It doesn’t have to be a permanent change, just a dabble. The coaches might discover the next great linebacker or safety.

When a team struggles like Illinois has in recent years, the players will do whatever it takes to get better. Even if it means moving away from their comfort zones.

There is still a chance to turn a disappointing 2-2 start into a better-than-expected finish.

Starting today.

Time’s a wasting. 

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.

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