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A Word About Our Defense November 18, 2011

Tomorrow, it probably all falls apart.  Wisconsin has the 7th best offense in the country, and we’re probably missing two starters (Trulon definitely out, Hull might be out), and we’re facing a power running game for the first time this season.  It might get ugly in Memorial Stadium tomorrow, and before that happens, I want to take a moment to talk about this defense in the first 10 games.

Are you freaking kidding me?

Ninth in total defense? 12th in scoring defense?  With all the players we lost?

Let’s recap.  First of all, 3 defenders from last year get drafted – Corey Liuget, Martez Wilson, and Nate Bussey.  We also lost other important pieces like Clay Nurse and Travon Bellamy.  So going into this season, most every one of us was worried about building a defense without Corey and Martez.

We set out in Rantoul to find 22 guys – a back-up at every position – but we were unable to do that.  Most of the back-ups were too young/inexperienced to be ready for Big Ten football.  So we decided to go into the season with a thin defense.

And we also lost a spring starter after a DUI (Ashante Williams).  Even though we really only had 3 safeties, we took one of them (Trulon Henry) and moved him to Sam Linebacker.  Why?  Because the guys behind Ashante Williams were just too young/inexperienced.

On the defensive line, we were hoping the redshirt freshmen defensive tackles (Jake Howe and Austin Teitsma) would be ready for action, but, get this, they were just too young/inexperienced.  So we decided to move Glenn Foster back inside to d-tackle (hoping that the young/inexperienced Tim Kynard would be ready to back up Mercilus at defensive end), and for DT backups decided to go with a senior walk-on (Wisdom Onyegbule) and a converted offensive tackle (Craig Wilson).

At linebacker, we found that we had 3 guys ready to play – Ian Thomas, Jonathan Brown, and Houston Bates.  We were hoping the freshmen (Cooper and Dickinson) could provide depth, but, say it with me, they were just too young and inexperienced.  Cornerback was probably the deepest position, with three guys ready to play, so we switched up our D to get the three of them on the field together as much as possible.  This put Tavon Wilson in the role of pseudo-linebacker, but we had to put our best 11 on the field.  Safety, as I mentioned, lost Trulon to Sam Linebacker, so we decided to just go with the 2 starters 98% of the time.

So we head to Rantoul hoping to find 22 players, decide we’re just too young at most positions, and start the season with 16 or 17 guys.  We’ve asked guys like Akeem Spence, Jonathan Brown, and Supo Sanni to play nearly every single snap.  We replaced Corey Liuget with a converted defensive end, replaced Martez Wilson with a true sophomore, and asked the majority of the defense to play 25% more snaps than most college defenders are required to play.

THEN, on top of all of that, our offense goes in the tank.  We’ve punted thirty-two times in the last 4 games (32 times!).  We’ve basically told our defense “look, we know you’re tired and all, and we get that whole ‘we only have 16 or 17 guys ready to play’ thing, but do you think you could go back out there for the 13th time this game and maybe get us the ball back?”

And we’re #9 nationally in Total Defense.   Ninth!

Say Wisconsin blows us out and puts up 500 yards tomorrow.  Know how far we’d fall in the Total Defense rankings? 13th.  And there’s a chance we would turn around and hold Minnesota’s 111th ranked offense to 190 yards and climb back up into the top 10.

Two things:

1) We are completely spoiled right now and we don’t even know it.  Well, I don’t know about “we”, but I’m spoiled.  I sat there in the first quarter of the Michigan game murmuring things like “and now our defense can’t even stop the run” to myself.  In a game where we hold Michigan 80 yards under their average.  And we do that in a game where we punt nine times.  I had to remind myself at halftime that every defense gives up yards.  The best defense in the Big Ten still gives their opponents 260 yards per game.  With what the offense has handed them, this defense really couldn’t be performing better.

And when I compare it to the defense from 2008 and 2009?  Night and day.  Yet how soon I forget what it was like to give up third down conversion after third down conversion.  To Western Michigan.

2) I know Mike Thomas has a big decision in front of him.  He only has a 5-year contract as AD, so if he wants to get the football program moving in an upward direction, he probably needs to decide what he’s going to do very soon.  And the easiest thing is to clean house, start over, and find the guy he believes can lead this program forward.

But it would kill me if we lost Vic Koenning.  He’s easily the best defensive coordinator we’ve had since the Tepper/Marcin years (and, given the number of NFL players that Tepper and Marcin had to work with, Koenning might be better).  He hasn’t had a defense outside of the top-40 in total defense since he was head coach at Wyoming.  Seriously – 2 years at Troy, 4 years at Clemson, 1 year at Kansas State, 2 years at Illinois – not one defense that wasn’t in the top third nationally, with the majority being top-20 defenses.  The year before he was at Kansas State they were 117th in defense – he moved them to 39th.  The year before he came to Illinois we were 91st in defense – he moved us to 38th last year and now 9th this year.  I have no idea why a big-time SEC program hasn’t arrived and offered him a 7 figure contract to get him to leave.

Whatever you decide, Mr. Thomas, please know this.  We have a top-10 defensive coach right here, settled in his home in Monticello, happy to stay until his kids graduate high school.  If he goes, that might not happen for another 25 years.

eric November 18th, 2011


GrogsBBQPepperoni November 18th, 2011

Hmmmm, #7 offense vs #9 defense? Could be quite a tilt (yes I know I’m ignoring the imbalance of the flipside matchup – Wisconsin’s strong D to our struggling O).
I don’t know why, I just see a close game tomorrow (maybe with an Illini victory). And at least one fake punt that works very well (why not fake on every punt?).

Hoppy November 19th, 2011

Let’s just stop punting on 4th down all together. Although I don’t think we have been been very successful on 4th down. What are our stats on 4th down?