Some Of The Things We Know September 3, 2012
Two things feel weird right now: not writing a The 90 Illini post, and kind of somewhat knowing what our schemes look like. The first is really odd – no matter what, for 90 straight days, I had to have a 90 Illini post prepared. When I went on vacation, I had seven written in advance. When I didn’t have anything written in advance, I had to write some at 11:46 pm when I arrived home on a Saturday night. Basically, I had this constant feeling of “did I write the 90 Illini post yet?” before closing my eyes every night. So last night was weird.
The second thing is what’s been on my mind all day: after nine months of speculation, we finally have somewhat of an idea what our schemes will look like under Tim Beckman. This is like waiting months for an election and then pouring over the first exit poll for me. There’s film out there now (which the Arizona State coaches are viewing at this very moment), so I’m no longer hesitant to talk about what I’ve seen in Rantoul or in the Spring. Here’s my thoughts on the O and the D.
On both sides of the ball, player rotations were the biggest surprise. Defense because of all the young players used in key spots (more on that in a moment); offense because of the limited rotations. The participation chart says that true freshman receiver Justin Hardee played, but I can’t recall that being on offense (special teams only, maybe?). The way I remember it, we played the same five offensive linemen the entire game. We played two tailbacks (no Ayoola), three wide receivers (Millines, Harris, Lankford, maybe Hardee), and three tight ends (Davis, Wilson, Viliunas).
(Just had a HEY DUMMY moment – I don’t know, maybe check the participation chart? One moment.)
Yep, while we did play three quarterbacks, other than that we pretty much played the starters + Lankford and two tight ends. Pat Flavin is listed on the participation chart, but I can’t remember him in the game (maybe something like field goal protection unit?). And Hardee is listed too, but I can’t remember seeing him out there (maybe special teams only?).
There were times under Locksley or even Petrino where we rotated 7 or 8 receivers into the game; Saturday we played 3. At offensive line we always have had one tackle and sometimes one or two guards/centers who rotate in to spell the starters; Saturday we played the starters the entire game (or, possibly, Flavin for a few series’). I’m not sure which is more surprising: the deep defensive rotation or the shallow offense. Three receivers? Crazy.
As for the scheme, well, I’m certain we only saw 20% of the playbook (partly because it’s new, partly because we took a 17-0 lead and didn’t have to open anything up). And for the most part, it was right in line with what most expected. A heavy-shotgun spread that rotated athletes around (Jon Davis to the backfield, Josh Ferguson to the slot). Some of the empty backfield stuff surprised me a bit, and it was interesting that there weren’t more designed runs for Nate (only 7 carries), but for the most part, this was a spread’s spread. With a few trick plays we might want to kill with fire.
As to the execution of this scheme, well, that’s for another post. Another long post. Possibly a very long post after the Arizona State game when we only gain 181 yards. If Nate’s out, I’m scared to death.
Again, player rotation was the surprise. I’ll lead this time by going from the participation chart:
Buchanan at Leo, lots of minutes for Caldwell
Foster at DT, lots of minutes for Teitsma
Spence at NG, with minutes for Howe
Kynard at DE, with minutes for Nelson
Brown and Bates at linebacker, with lots of minutes for Monheim and Svetina. And I mean lots.
Ashante Williams, IIRC, played every snap at star. Which means TaJarvis Fuller’s hand is still healing.
Hawthorne and Green at corner, with lots of minutes for Eaton Spence, Jack Ramsey, and V’Angelo Bentley.
Thomas and PNY at safety, with lots of minutes (at both spots) for Tommy Davis.
So if you’re keeping score at home, that’s an offense that used three wide receivers and a defense that used five cornerbacks. Craziness. An offense for conservatives; a defense for liberals. Vote Beckman.
This already has me evaluating next year’s defense. If we’re planning to go 22 players deep every game and rotate players every series, then the pitch that Tim Beckman is giving to high school seniors right now is very true: come to Illinois, and you might play right away. We’ll graduate seven starters, lose an eighth when Akeem Spence turns pro, and possibly a ninth if Jonathan Brown goes. So all of those backups listed above get to start, and lots of freshmen and sophomores get to play as a backup immediately.
One more thing before I move on to scheme: did everyone else feel really good about Earnest Thomas on Saturday? And I’m not just talking about the interception and the forced fumble. He tackled well, seemed to understand his reads, and generally made me feel really good about safety moving forward. He looked lost (to me) last year at Sam Linebacker – I think he might flourish at safety. And he’s only a sophomore.
OK, the scheme. Really not much to talk about. It was very similar to the Koenning defense, with a few wrinkles here and there, including “Michael Buchanan, drop behind the play, don’t rush, spy Carder’s eyes, and then bat the pass down after he releases it”. Loved that.
Probably the most interesting thing (to me) was the nickel package. Three linemen (Leo, NG, DE), three linebackers (WLB, MLB, Star), a slot corner (sometimes Jack Ramsey, sometimes Eaton Spence), two corners and two safeties. I’m gonna call it our 3-2-6. It’s very similar to things we did last year (Tavon Wilson would slide in and play the slot), and we seemed to defend well from it (several of those “Carder drops, looks, sees nothing, and scrambles a bit” plays were against that defense).
As to the execution of this scheme, well, nearly flawless. Three (almost five) interceptions and six WMU fumbles (they only lost one). And 239 mostly meaningless passing yards for a QB who threw for 548 against Tim Beckman last year. I’ll take it.
^^^ that right there was me picking a beard hair off the keyboard (between the u and i keys). Not even kidding. Because it says “ui”, I’m gonna leave it. And just end the post right here. My beard is subconsciously an Illini fan. Awesome.