5-0 Mailbag (Part I) October 5, 2011
5-0. 5 wins. Five. I want to keep saying it over and over. The only seasons in the last 20 years that exceed our current win total: 2010, 2007, 2001, 1999, 1994, and 1992.
Whoa. I hadn’t thought of it like that. From September 2003 to December 2006, we won 8 games. In the last 31 days, we’ve won 5. I could probably keep doing this for 4 consecutive hours. It could be an entire post: “different ways to look at our 5-0 record”.
But this is a mailbag post, so let’s get to the mailbag questions:
So we’re five games into the season. looking ahead at the next five games, which offense do you think will give us the most trouble? which defense?
“Next 5 games” eliminates Wisconsin, right? Because they would be a candidate for both.
To me, the defense that gives us the most trouble is easy: Ohio State. For all of their offensive struggles, I still think that’s one of the top-5 defenses in the country. They’ll shut down our run game, which means our passing game will have to carry us, and Ohio State’s defensive coaches are really good at scheming for turnovers. They’ll know which zones to sit in and which direction to blitz from before we even step on the field. I could see that game being a 13-10 result that comes down to field position and special teams. (*winces*)
Offense, I think it has to be Michigan. After what Denard Robinson did to us last year (and, *gulp*, Tate Forcier), you have to know that Michigan will come to Champaign supremely confident that they can move the ball at will against Koenning’s defense. And with an improved running game and a better Robinson, they might be right.
Imagine that – an Illini fan frightened for when Ohio State and Michigan come to town.
Northwestern is trying to market themselves as “Chicago’s Big Ten Team”. How much emphasis does the Illini coaching staff place on recruiting in the Chicago area? How important is the Chicago area to our long term success?
I go back and forth on this subject. Yes, recruiting Chicagoland is important – every school should lock down their home state. But the 2010 recruiting class changed me a little bit. I see the second-hand guys we picked up from the south (Jay Prosch, Evan Wilson, Darius Millines, Spencer Harris, Jonathan Brown) out-performing the in-state kids we “whiffed” on, and it gives me pause. Darius Millines and Spencer Harris look like the real deal, while Kyle Prater has zero catches (currently listed as a 3rd string WR) and Matt Milton has one. Halfway through his sophomore year, CJ Fiedorowicz has 2 catches in his career. Evan Wilson has 15 catches (and 4 touchdowns). Jonathan Brown might be better than any defensive player that’s come out of Chicago in the last few years.
So should we just give up on in-state players and concentrate on the south? No. First off, players like Fiedorowicz might take off as upperclassmen and show why they were so highly regarded – we can’t really make that determination until their careers are over. And second, there will be plenty of top-end players in future classes that we will need to keep home. This state might not have the best track record of late, but there are plenty of Martez Wilsons and Darius Flemings and Terry Hawthornes and Zach Fultons – locking down the in-state guys will need to be a priority.
As for Chicago’s (fourth favorite) Big Ten Team and their desire to own Chicago, the importance there, in my view, is money. We need a presence in Chicago because we need the fan support, both in donations and ticket sales. Engage the thousands of alumni and casual fans in the same way that Michigan captures Detroit and Ohio State looks to Cleveland and Cincy, and you can use that money to continue to, say it with me, build a program.
On the rivals forum, a former player posted something along the line of that the O-Line technique is horrendous and it’s due to the technique being taught by Gilbert and that other former players agree with the assessment. And that is one of the major reasons why the O-Line has been bad this year. Do you have any comment on that? It was rather disturbing watching Nate getting sacked over and over again in the first half of the NW game and our run game being non-existent.
I haven’t read the criticisms you mention, and I was never an offensive lineman, so please take everything I say with a grain of couch potato salt, but there are three fan evaluations of college football that drive me nuts.
1) “He doesn’t play with good knee bend.”
2) “That safety took a bad angle.”
3) “He tried to arm-tackle.”
I’m not saying that offensive linemen don’t need knee-bend or that safeties don’t ever take bad angles or that defenders try to bring players down with their arms instead of their shoulder pads. These things happen all the time. But there are also times that offensive linemen get beat because they stayed too low and safeties are playing their assignment and linebackers are diving for a foot. Calling out a player’s technique (or a technique taught by coaches) is difficult because you have to fully know the scheme before you know what the mistakes are. Look no further than safety. Many times, when you hear “that safety got beat and made the tackle 28 yards down field”, it was the cornerback’s mistake that led to that 28 yard gain.
All of that to say this: I don’t know if the specific criticisms you mention discuss knee bend or not, but questioning Gilbert’s teaching technique is a very difficult endeavour. You have to understand the specific schemes (is this a “catch and turn” set of running plays or a “chip and go”). With an offense as multiple as ours, with multiple blocking schemes to go with each different set (sometimes we’re zone blocking like we’re in a spread – other times it appears that we’re in a full NFL pro-set scheme), it’s really, really hard to evaluate.
If former players see something with the technique that’s consistent across all schemes, well, more power to them. I’m sure they understand it better than I do. But given the results of our run game since Gilbert has been here, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that it’s an execution problem, not a technique problem.
Are you concerned about the future of the program because we aren’t pulling in anymore 4/5 star players? Will we see a Ron Turner-esque situation in the near future?
I somewhat mentioned this yesterday, but I see it this way. 2008 class – good enough to build the program, but attrition hit it hard. 2009 class – good enough to build the program. 2010 class – not good enough on paper, but has outperformed its ranking by a factor of 10. Thus, we got lucky, and the class is good enough to build the program. 2011 class – after the player losses, jury is out, but it doesn’t look good. I think it will leave a bit of a talent gap. 2012 class – as of now, the lowest ranked class in the Big Ten. Will need lots of help before signing day, but we’re now ranked #16, so that opens some doors.
To look at it another way, the defense after 2012 will lose a ton of starters. Mercilus, Buchanan, Hawthorne, Green, Sanni, etc. Who replaces them? You’re replacing Terry Hawthorne and Justin Green (both top-100, high 4-star recruits) with who? Valdon Cooper and maybe someone from this 2012 class? You lose your top 3 pass rushers in Mercilus, Buchanan, and Staples – who is next? I guess there’s Darius Caldwell, and Tim Kynard will have one year, but what blue chip kids like Mercilus, Buchanan, and Staples replace them?
There’s definitely a talent gap on the horizon, especially on defense, mostly from the lack of blue chip defenders in the 2010 and 2011 classes. Which means these last 7-10 scholarships in the 2012 class are very, very important.
2012 depth chart. You know you have one worked up already.
I do! But it’s in my head. Let’s put it to paper. Returning starters next year in bold.
QB: Nathan Scheelhaase (JR) / Reilly O’Toole (SO)
RB: Donovonn Young (SO) / Josh Ferguson (SO)
FB: Jay Prosch (JR) / Chris Willett (SR)
TE: Evan Wilson (JR) / Jon Davis (SO)
Weak OT: Simon Cvijanovic (SO) / Patrick Flavin (rs-FR)
Weak OG: Hugh Thornton (SR) / Shawn Afryl (rs-SO)
Center: Graham Pocic (SR) / Jake Feldmeyer (JR)
Strong OG: Tyler Sands (SR) / Alex Hill (rs-SO)
Strong OT: Michael Heitz (SO) / Corey Lewis (SR)
WR1: Darius Millines (JR) / Jake Kumerow (rs-SO)
WR2: Spencer Harris (JR) / Jordan Frysinger (rs-FR)
WR3: Ryan Lankford (JR) / Anthony Williams (rs-SO)
Bandit: Michael Buchanan (SR) / Justin Staples (SR)
DT: Glenn Foster (SR) / Austin Teitsma (rs-SO)
DT: Akeem Spence (JR) / Jake Howe (rs-SO)
DE: Whitney the Mercilus (SR) / Tim Kynard (JR)
WLB: Houston Bates (SO) / Henry Dickinson (FR)
MLB: Jonathan Brown (JR) / Ralph Cooper (SO)
SLB: Ashante Williams (SR) / Earnest Thomas (rs-SO)
CB: Terry Hawthorne (SR) / Valdon Cooper (SO)
FS: STEVEHULL (JR) / Ben Mathis (JR-walkon)
SS: Supo Sanni (SR) / Patrick Nixon-Youman (SR)
CB: Justin Green (SR) / Jack Ramsey (SR)
K: Taylor Zalewski (rs-FR) / Nick Immekus (rs-SO) / Brennen Van Mieghem (rs- FR)
P: Justin DuVernois (SO) / Brad Janitz (rs-SO)
Yeah, I see a lot of bold, too.