Illinois’ Bielema, Notre Dame’s Freeman high on list of struggling coaches after Week 6

The Illini have gone so far in the wrong direction, it’s fair to ask if the program is in any better condition midway through Bret Bielema’s third season than it was on Lovie Smith’s last day.

SHARE Illinois’ Bielema, Notre Dame’s Freeman high on list of struggling coaches after Week 6
Illinois football coach Bret Bielema.

Illinois’ Bret Bielema seems to have no answers to help his helpless offense.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

They all stink when they lose.

College football coaches, that is.

They’re propped up like gods when they win and regarded as buffoons when they don’t, and Week 6 of the season was just another example of all that.

We’ll get to Notre Dame’s Marcus Freeman and Illinois’ Bret Bielema in a minute.

First, Texas and Miami fell from the ranks of the unbeaten and their coaches, Steve Sarkisian and Mario Cristobal, are being shredded for it. Sarkisian lost a rivalry game to Oklahoma — a year after blanking the Sooners 49-0 — and, for some unimaginable reason, didn’t use his timeouts to stop the clock as the Sooners burned most of the last two minutes with a game-winning drive. Cristobal gave away a win by running the ball instead of taking a knee with the lead in the final minute, Georgia Tech out of timeouts; a Hurricanes fumble led to the unthinkable.

Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher enraged fans with his overly conservative coaching in a 26-20 loss to Alabama. First, Fisher sat on the ball in the last minute of the first half with a 17-10 lead and two timeouts. Later, he punted on fourth-and-1 from the Alabama 45 in a 17-17 game. Trailing 24-17 in the fourth quarter, he again punted on fourth-and-makeable in Alabama territory. What is that nonsense?

But back to Freeman, who officially is having a very shaky second season. In the Irish’s first loss, to Ohio State, they had only 10 men on the field on their last two defensive plays as the Buckeyes went in for the winning score. Saturday at Louisville, the Irish just plain weren’t ready to play and got embarrassed 33-20. They looked rattled and drained.

“Our guys weren’t prepared,” Freeman admitted, “for whatever reason.”

We can think of one, and it rhymes with “poaching.”

And back to Bielema, whose Illini — 2-4 and lucky to not be 1-5 — have gone so far in the wrong direction, it’s fair to ask if the program is in any better condition midway through Bielema’s third season than it was on Lovie Smith’s last day. Heading into a 20-7 loss to Nebraska, Bielema complained the Illini didn’t have an identity on offense. Then they went out and proved it by failing on their opening possession to score from inside the 1-yard line. Should they go under center or in the shotgun? Sneak it or hand it off? They clearly had no idea, so they tried and failed at both.

“Extremely infuriating,” said Bielema, who called it “absolutely insane” for good measure.

Absolutely insane is a Bielema-coached team ranking 110th in the country — and last in the Big Ten, behind even Northwestern — at running the football. Is that why he’s in Champaign, to make the Illini even more of a finesse team than they were before he got there?

An even better question: When does basketball start?


There are better college offenses statistically, but Georgia’s is still money in the bank whenever the Bulldogs need a momentum-turning drive. And Nick Saban has made up his mind that Alabama — speaking of teams that can’t run the ball — has no choice but to win with an aggressive defense that’s completely unleashed, which is terrifying.

But enough of that same-old SEC noise, because the best team in the country this season is Michigan. Halfway through, I’m convinced. What, you’re not? …

All right, fine, I’ll give you my Big Ten team rankings since you want them so badly: 1. Michigan, 2. Ohio State, 3. Penn State, 4. Maryland, 5. Don’t worry about it, there’s nobody else worth talking about. …

No Dick Butkus epitaph could touch what the late, great linebacker said himself the October 2019 day of the unveiling of his statue at his alma mater, Illinois: “[Expletive], I had fun knocking the [expletive] out of people.”

Amen. …

For all his struggles getting his first post-White Sox home run to fly over the fence, Jose Abreu ended up with 18 dingers and 90 RBI and is in fine position to make his mark on the postseason. Something to root for. Wait, is that allowed if he plays for the Astros? …

Congrats to Kenya’s Kelvin Kiptum on his world-record time in Sunday’s Chicago Marathon and his outstanding tactical decision not to stop in Greektown for a gyros plate and an ice-cold bottle of Mythos during Mile 18. …

Can you believe it was only the third marathon of Kiptum’s career? Just spitballing here, but maybe he wants to stick around and see how quickly he can get the hang of playing running back for the Bears?


Phillies at Braves, Game 2 (5:07 p.m. Monday, TBS, TruTV): For the second straight year, the Phils are on their way to demonstrating that a 14-game division deficit doesn’t mean jack squat in October.

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, Game 2 (8:07 p.m. Monday, TBS, TruTV): And then there are 16-game division deficits, right?

Connor Bedard time has arrived.

Connor Bedard time has arrived.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Blackhawks at Penguins (7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN): It’s the season opener and Game 1 of Connor Bedard’s NHL career. Other than that, really not a big deal.

Liberty at Aces, Game 2 (8 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN): Down 0-1 in the WNBA Finals, the Liberty will try to come out fast and put the Aces in the hole. Oh, you stop.


Clayton Kershaw: He couldn’t even make it through one inning? What was he doing out there, trying to watch a White Sox game?

The Orioles: It took two days for baseball’s feel-good story of the year to turn into “Apocalypse Now.”

Cowboys-49ers hype: Anyone who painted their Sunday-night game as being as big a deal as these franchises’ clashes were a few decades ago was either (1) lying or (2) 12 years old.

Football weather: It’s here, kind of like the Bears — “weather” you like it or not.

NBA preseason games: Who’s playing? Who’s in street clothes? Come to think of it, that’s just like the regular season.

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