5-0 Mailbag (Part II) October 6, 2011
More mailbag. And good questions, people. I think about Illini football all the time, and I always forget to think about some of these things. Thanks for the reminder to remember to think about these things.
In this surprising 5-0 start, what do you think has been the biggest surprise? AJ Jenkins?
This one’s easy: pass rush.
If you had told me back in August that Whitney the Mercilus and Michael Buchanan would both be in the top 10 in the country in sacks after 5 weeks (#1 and #2 in the Big Ten), I would have probably hugged you. Because that would mean we’d probably start the season 5-0. My biggest defensive concern going into the season was a Liuget-less defensive line giving quarterbacks all day to throw the ball, negating our improved secondary.
We’ve seen nearly the exact opposite. Our secondary is playing well, which is causing opposing quarterbacks to hold the ball and scan the field. And Mr. Mercilus and Mr. Buchanan are right there when they do. Big Whit is tied for 5th nationally in sacks, and had he not whiffed on Dan Persa by flying over the top on Saturday, he’d be 2nd.
One more sack stat: In 2009, as a team, we had 19 sacks in 12 games. This year we have 17 sacks in 5 games.
What is the impact of a potential Corey Lewis return to the O Line?
I’m of the firm belief that not one human on earth knows the answer to this.
There’s a chance he’s 95% healthy and will be able to play in a few games. There’s a chance he’s 2% healthy and will never play a down of football again. We just don’t know. In the latest installment of As The Lewis Catches And Turns, we were told that he was cleared for contact and would return to practice… and then he wasn’t in uniform on the sidelines Saturday. Is he two weeks away? Nine weeks away? We have no idea.
But just because everything’s coming up Illinois this fall, let’s assume he’s healthy enough to return to action for the Ohio State game. Then the answer is yes – he could be a huge addition to our tackle rotation. He won the job in the spring of 2010 and would have started last fall at strongside tackle had he not torn his ACL in the Spring Game. And then he was slated for the starting job this year before re-injuring his knee in February and missing all of spring ball and Rantoul. He has the size and technique to make an impact on our offensive line and help Michael Heitz come along slowly.
But is he even close to healthy? And if he is, can he pick up the schemes that the other players have been running for a year and a half while he hasn’t even practiced? My guess – he does return this year, but not until after the bye week in November and only in a reserve role. But in the spring, he makes a run at starting weakside tackle with Jeff Allen graduating.
Justin DuVernois seems to be punting well for a freshman, why do we keep using that stupid rugby punt?
Wind. That’s the only reasoning I can come up with. DuVernois has struggled kicking into the wind (he tries to keep it low, but he’s hit a few flubs when he does that), so we use the rugby punt when the wind is a factor.
As you saw from Northwestern, the rugby punt can be effective. Hit it right, and your probably going to get a 45 yard punt into the wind with no return. That’s the reason so many college teams have gone to it lately – it eliminates returns (and opens up the slim chance of a bounce off a return-team leg). Get a solid roll, and you can still win the field position battle without the threat of a long return.
But we don’t seem to do it well. I’ve seen Ryan Lankford kick it well in practice, but he’s only done it once in a game. He’s not getting the expected 10-15 yard roll at the end of the kick (in fact, many have checked up and bounced backwards), so it hasn’t served us well.
If I was the coach, I would probably still used it when there’s a really stiff wind (maybe 10% of our kicks over the length of the season). But that’s the only time.
my question: where art thou trulon henry?
in the first few games it looked like henry was headed for a big season, but his productivity has been steadily decreasing.
ak st: 8 tackles, 1 int
sd st: 5 tackles, 1 int, 1 pbu
az st: 5 tackles
wmu: 1 tackle
nw: 2 tackles
is he not on the field as much or is something else at play here?
Oh, he’s on the field. Possibly more than any other player on our defense. I’ve seen us sub for all of our defensive linemen, I’ve seen 5 inside linebackers get snaps, and we rotate three cornerbacks. Only our safeties (Sanni and Hull) have probably played as many snaps as Trulon. Besides a few series for Earnest Thomas in the SDSU game and one series (that I remember) for Ashante Williams in the Western Michigan game, Trulon has played nearly every snap.
Looking back at Nate Bussey’s tackle number from last year, I’m not sure if Trulon’s drop-off of late is all that alarming. Bussey had 1 tackle in the Purdue game, followed by 8 at Michigan, then 3 at home against Minnesota, and then 5 against Northwestern. Depending on the scheme employed by the opponent, our Sam Linebacker has different duties. So if his numbers drop, I’m not too concerned.
In fact, given his low numbers the last few weeks, I’ll make him my Pick To Click for the Indiana game. Time for interception #3.
Please! I need to know how the meeting of the representatives of the top 25 football teams went this week! What was the commentary between you and the others around the conference room table? Are they still snickering at the illini? Or are they starting to think that they’ll be seeing you for the rest of the year?!
I still walked into the room with a bit of apprehension in my gut, kinda like the first day of your second year of junior high. I mean, you know everyone in the room now, but will they accept you? Especially if you’re sitting in Chair 16?
I have to say, the Virginia Tech guy was really gracious. I felt kind of sheepish – here I am in Chair 16 in front of Virginia Tech in Chair 17 – but he offered me a bottled water and congratulated me on our comeback. I tried to make some lame “I knew we had it the whole time” joke as the meeting got underway.
LSU, Oklahoma, and Alabama ran the meeting (of course), and since there was a girl from Kansas State who appeared overwhelmed (kinda like I did 2 weeks ago), they had us go around the room and say one thing everyone might not know about our team. I wanted to say “we’re Illinois, and we’re going to win every close game we play in because this team has moxie”, but I chickened out and said something totally lame: “I’m from Illinois, and the thing you might not know about our team is that Big Ten sacks leader Whitney Mercilus is missing the tip of his right index finger from a weight room accident”. I know, right? SO LAME.
The meeting was shorter this time – Bowl reps will start showing up in your press box, media requests will be on the increase, don’t be surprised if 4-star recruiting start calling you to set up visits – and after a quick presentation from Oklahoma State called “Conference Expansion And You – How To Cling To Your In State Brethren And Ride Their Coattails”, we were adjourned.
On the way out, the Michigan guy – who nobody really likes, by the way – made some crack like “hey Illinois, don’t knee me in the marbles”.
I probably deserved it.