Ok, so we’re starting a new tradition on Still Got Hope. And by tradition, of course, I mean likely to fail after exactly one go ‘round. We’re at something like four straight weeks of content here and still going strong. I think we’re in good shape until we lose. Once that happens, we’ll either open our veins and spew articles about the shame, despair and hopelessness of Gopherdom or withdraw into spider holes until we win again or we announce our Caring Bridge site to raise funds for liver transplants. We’ll hope for the former while knowing full well we’re destined for the latter.
At any rate, it occurs to me that I spend most Friday nights before games watching college football, have a few cocktails and whiling away the hours watching TweetDeck scroll by. Filled with anxiety and dread. Lots and lots of that. So I figured as long as I’m here, chewing the tattered remnants of my fingernails and self-medicating with benzos (not really) and bourbon (really) to find the sweet, cold embrace of sleep, I may as well do something marginally productive. And thus begins the Friday Night Descent to the Fiery Depths of Despair.
Basically, the shtick here is to type whatever comes into my head between 9.00 and 11.00 PM on Friday nights. Like I said, it’s probably doomed to fail.
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Fear Level: 4
I feel pretty good going into the MTSU game and I’m not sure why. We were hardly world beaters last week but we still pretty soundly defeated what I believe to be a pretty decent team. As I said in the Saturday's Talkers piece, it’s the sort of game you expect to see in the first week. We were sloppy, but the depth from 22 extra scholarships in FBS (notwithstanding all of the partial scholarship rules in FCS which I’m going to totally ignore for the sake of expediency) became evident fairly early in the second half. But there were enough issues where I feel like I should be more concerned than I am: flaccid passing game, missed blocking assignments by the line and TEs/FBs and a swath of defensive linemen scythed down. Coupled with MTSU’s high-octane, 61-point performance last week (yes, it was against something called Savannah State, but 61 points is 61 points), I feel like there should be some dyspepsia in play.
Nevertheless, here we are, smokin’ butts and flexin’ nuts. I mean, a Fear Level of four is about as low as it gets for me. By way of comparison, I was a six prior to last week’s game. Against an FCS opponent. I don’t know. If I made sense, I wouldn't be so damaged. I think what it comes down to is this is the sort of game that Jerry Kill has no history of losing. Sure, there was New Mexico State and North Dakota State (/shakes fist while yell crying), but that was in his first year. Throughout his career, he’s been pretty consistent in winning the games he’s supposed to win once he’s established his system. And we’re pretty close to having a concrete foundation – no sand! – for the program now. Aggressive defense? Check. Commitment to running the ball? Check. Solid fundamentals and few mistakes? Check. We’re still missing the dynamic offense he built at NIU and, despite our performance against Wisconsin and Michigan State last year, there are still some questions about our ability to defend power running teams.
Still, it would seem we have the pieces to match up pretty well against MTSU. They’re a spread offense and our strength is the secondary. Our ball control offense against their relatively undersized defense should work in our favor. Yes, we are young and undersized along the defensive line, but the speed provided by the lack of size may work in our favor as long as gap discipline is maintained. While that’s a concern with a bunch of dudes who were at prom three months ago, we have no choice but to trust the coaches. I’ll quietly repeat that to myself while fighting off the room spins later tonight.
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I probably shouldn't take as much joy in Wisconsin losing as I do but, again, I’m damaged. Outside of family and all of the really important stuff, I care the most about the Gopher football team. It’s important to me that they do well and, right or wrong, between September and January, my personal satisfaction depends quite a bit on the performance of the team. A not-too-distant third or fourth in the rankings of my rooting interests, though, is whichever team is playing Wisconsin.
I’m not a big UNIT, CORPS, GOD, FOOTBALL CONFERENCE guy, but generally speaking, I’ll root for the B1G over most teams from other conferences. Never, ever Wisconsin, though. I grudgingly, and halfheartedly, supported Iowa against LSU last New Year’s Day (and mocked them when they lost – it’s a win/win in that sense). I was an LSU fan in full throat this past Saturday, though. It’s remarkably shallow to derive satisfaction from the failure of something you don’t like. On a rational level, I understand that completely. But with Wisconsin, it just doesn’t matter.
The Decade of Despair certainly has something to do with it. You don’t lose ten consecutive games to your most hated rival without some psychological wreckage. And beyond that, they’ve repeatedly achieved things in the last 20 years that I’d be happy doing once: Big Ten Championship Game, Rose Bowl and, during that God-forsaken Russell Wilson season, a legitimate (and aborted, thank Jo’bu) run at a national championship. So, yeah, there’s probably some insecurity and bitterness there. But fuck Wisconsin.
Anyway, I bring this whole thing up because it’s been fascinating watching the chaos following their loss to LSU. Melvin Gordon allegedly had a hamstring injury, then he allegedly had a confrontation with Gary Anderson, then he allegedly had a hip flexor problem. Joel Stave was allegedly injured, then he was allegedly fine, then he, apparently really, had the yips. It’s the sort of madness that happens occasionally in the sports world, but the Badgers have avoided since the 2001 Shoe Box Affair. Some, even Badger fans, have speculated that this is evidence Anderson is in over his head. It certainly was a series of pretty egregious PR snafus, but it’s hard for me to believe it’s going to come off the rails like this. Wisconsin has certainly had a remarkable run of success and I’m hoping as much as anyone that it ends with the thud of a planetoid strike on earth. Let’s just enjoy the current chaos and optimistic it will eventually turn the tide in our favor.
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Well, we’re rapidly approaching posting time so, by rule, I’m required to wrap this up. I think we’ll get off to a slow start tomorrow, but I’m not going to panic. For whatever reason, we just aren’t very good getting the offense going at the start of the game. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we go down early and, potentially, be losing at halftime. We’ve been a very solid second half team so try to mitigate the compulsion to shotgun beers at the sweet, sweet beer vendors throughout our stadium.
I love you all. Stop by our tailgate tomorrow and we can hug it out.
(Frothy's starting word count: 15,182; Finishing word count: 16,411)