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Check The Tape – Arizona State September 10, 2012

Blech.  Just know that I did this for you.

Last week we focused on the offense.  This week it’s defense.  So, like, just how did we have our worst defensive performance since Michigan 2010?  What happened?

Brilliant offensive playcalling happened.  And a defense that fell for everything.  I mean everything.  You could have found a quarter behind our D’s ear and our defense would scream “HOW DID YOU DO THAT??”

Oh, and also, and editor’s note:  Wait, editor’s notes are supposed to be in italics with an abbreviated title.

Ed. note: I’ve added yet another improvement to Check The Tape in year three of this series.  The first year was almost always my recorded thoughts after watching the tape (read: lazy).  Last year was text, followed by a few with pictures, followed by not doing it for the last 4 weeks because the tape was so disgusting to watch.  This year, pictures PLUS little orange boxes to point to which player I’m describing.  Next week, maybe ARROWS.

To the tape…

Remember how when Tim Banks was hired he said he wants to have an extremely aggressive defense?  Made most fans happy.  Ask any Illini fan about our 2009 “play all receivers 8 yards off the line of scrimmage” defense and their eye will twitch.

But aggressive defenses can be picked apart as well.  Like, say, Saturday night in Arizona. Arizona State kept it simple.  To beat an aggressive defense, just leak a guy into the vacated space.

Here’s a screencap from the first series.  We had forced a third down, and Tim Banks decided to get aggressive and send Star LB Ashante Williams on a blitz.  That’s him blitzing on the hash marks.

Hey, guess who Ashante Williams would have covered had he not blitzed?  Yep, Cameron Marshall, who will not only get the first down here but cross the 50 before he’s tackled.  An easy read for any QB.  OLB blitzes, corner stays with the drag route, dump to the tailback leaking out.

But it gets so much worse from there.

How does a tight end with eight career catches get 10 catches for 131 yards against us? Easy. No, seriously, it was really easy. On this play, Arizona State uses the play-fake our fans have been asking for. It’s not technically “play action” like a pro-set offense, but it accomplishes the same thing: defenders biting. Here, ASU QB Taylor Kelly is pulling the ball back from Cameron Marshall, but most of our defenders are reading run play. Pay particular attention to the guy who Justin Staples (#54) is blocking.

Hey look, #87 was just blocking Staples and then leaking into the flat. Houston Bates and Staples are now in full pursuit of Kelly. Meaning safety Earnest Thomas is our only safety valve to pick up the tight end. Except Thomas (in the orange box) is still coming down hill thinking it’s a running play.

Chris Coyle (#87) wasn’t tackled until he picked up 20 yards down to the Illinois 40. Mostly because our defense aggressively pursued a running play.

But we weren’t done. And neither was Coyle.  On this next play, I was in the midst of typing a “Darrius Caldwell with two great plays in the last few minutes” tweet after Caldwell got his TFL by aggressively getting outside and stopping a run for a three yard loss.  But as I was typing that (I never sent it), ASU’s offensive coordinator was reacting to it.  Here, TE Coyle drifts over to the weakside in motion.  Notice our D getting aggressive on the snap once again (Ashante Williams on the blitz).

Which, if this defense is the same as Vic Koenning’s hybrid D,  means Caldwell is responsible for the tight end.  But the time he realizes this…

…Coyle is sneaking out again for another 19 yard pass play.  By the time he’s a senior, Caldwell will have this read down and will tackle the tight end for a short gain.  But one half-second of hesitation on a play where we’re blitzing will almost always result in a 20 yard gain for the tight end.

But then we cut the lead to 14-7 and there’s hope, right?  Especially since we pinned them at the 16 with a great special teams tackle by Mason Monheim.  First play of that series, guess what they do?

OHAI I’m Chris Coyle and I’m just here on the offensive line to block you large dudes who want to get to my quarterback


Yes, there were four or five more of these that I could have screencapped.  But you get the picture, right?  We were aggressive, and they took advantage of it all night.

This last series of screencaps I’ll call “how Robert used to succeed in playground football”.  I did not have a very good arm, nor was I fast, nor was I athletic.  But at recess in 5th grade, I was always picked to be quarterback.  Why?  Because I called plays.  The other team ran the “get open” offense, but everyone always wanted to be on my team because I’d West Coast ‘em to death.

My favorite move was the “run this play, and then run the exact same play with a wrinkle” play call (seriously, I really did this – 94% of my 5th grade popularity was due to my ability to design plays in a recess huddle).  It was always simple stuff.  “Everybody go deep, and then on the next play, everybody act like they’re going deep but Andy stays back to catch a pass”.  You know, like Arizona State did on Saturday night.

Remember this incomplete pass?  First play after the Osei interception where Darius Millines hurt his ankle.

There’s Earnest Thomas closing on the receiver with Justin Green in pursuit as well.

Remember the next play?  The one where the guy was this wide open:

What happened?  Well, “run this play, and then run the exact same play with a wrinkle” happened.

Jamal Miles lined up in the slot for ASU, and Ashante Williams picked him up.  But they sent Cameron Marshall on a wheel route out of the backfield, so Ashante had to release Miles to the safety and go pick up Marshall.  Here’s Ashante leaving Miles for Marshall.

But where was the safety help?  I mean, when Miles caught the ball there wasn’t anyone within 10 yards of him.  Remember the whole “exact same play with a wrinkle” thing?  Here’s Earnest Thomas, streaking down the field chasing a receiver with Justin Green, just like the play before…

…giving Miles all the room he needs.  He wasn’t tackled until the three yard line when Justin Green doubled back to make the tackle.

I should also note that this play might not have been Thomas’ fault.  I’m not sure of the assignments in that defense, but there’s a chance Justin Green should have released the streaking wide receiver to Thomas and then picked up the guy on the outside.  I couldn’t tell from the angles they showed where we set up at the snap.  Thinking about it, with a receiver getting to the sideline like that, it’s probably more likely Green’s responsibility than Thomas’.

Regardless, it was yet another depantsing play from Arizona State.  That last picture above is stunning.  A receiver leaking out and nobody anywhere close to him.  Mikel-at-Michigan wide open.

The second half was more of the same (as you know).  And I just can’t bring myself to wade through it.  Because we have some serious issues on defense that might sink the season.  As you know.

bkenny September 10th, 2012

I basically peed myself after reading this. Well done.

Chitownillini September 10th, 2012


Would like your thoughts on the revelation today that there was confusion amongst the defense as to what defense was being called.


P.S. We all know you are the ultimate Illini fan but it is a post like this that shows just what a fan you are. I can’t imagine watching that game again let alone pausing and replaying.

Duce20 September 10th, 2012

Houston Bates got burned repeatedly on that TE play and saw very little action in the second half.

I said it would happen but we really missed Tavon, Ian and Travon last night.

GrogsBBQPepperoni September 10th, 2012

Clearly we need to ditch the blue facemasks ASAP…
Strangely, I feel better after looking at Robert’s analysis. As if I feel the problems are fixable. Problem is, some were fixable DURING the game.

BexleyIllini September 10th, 2012

Before the game, there were several articles about former Illini coaches (West and Long) are now on the ASU staff. I just wonder if these 2 knew just exactly how to expose our soft underbelly. More importantly, I just hope this film doesn’t become a blueprint for opposing teams the rest of the season. Beck needs to fix this fast……

Boneyard Surfer September 10th, 2012

Ugh. Years and years of the Zooker saying, “We’ll get this fixed.” And what happened? Unfixed.

Please stop using “fixable” and “we’ll get this fixed” etc… It gives me nightmares.

chief23 September 10th, 2012

When is the last time we utilized a tight end like ASU did last week? Ken Dilger days? Feels like that long ago. Zook rarely if ever made an adjustment during a game, I was hoping to see some adjustments under Beckman but it looked like more of the same on Saturday. I find it hard to believe that the talent on these teams is THAT far apart, so to get completely out coached and embarrassed on national television is unacceptable. La Tech and Penn State games are really must wins now to get any momentum going for the year.

Joe John September 10th, 2012

Is this how Beckman’s Toledo defense got gashed last year?

bkenny September 11th, 2012

Just read where Tupper said the defense was confused because some of the guys were looking at the “live” signal caller on the sideline and some were looking at the “dummy” signal caller.
This is pretty ridiculous. We can’t communicate which guy to look at on the sideline? We haven’t practiced with two signal callers, or picking up signals when a team is playing at a quicker pace? What the hell did they do during camp?

Illinigrad September 11th, 2012

Nice tape Robert. I really cannot stand hearing the word “fix” from an IL football coach. We have been in the “fix” mode for years, so much so that it feels like decades. Even so, does anyone believe that a Zook/Vic team would have been beaten this bad Sat. p.m.? I don’t think so. We maybe have signs that Beckman and company are really not ready to coach at the BCS level.

Illinigrad September 11th, 2012

Robert, how could you watch the replay? Your courage is admirable. I heard the radio broadcast driving home but just can’t bare to watch the replay, and will not.

GrogsBBQPepperoni September 11th, 2012

bkenny, I pray what you are saying is not true. That would be beyond embarrassing at this level of football. But would also explain a whole heck of a lot of what was going on which, to this point, is almost inexplicable (Robert’s impressive analysis notwithstanding).

Lou-a-villini September 11th, 2012

Robert: I would not blame you at all if you charged us a modest fee to restock your Pepto Bismol after this post.

Lou-a-villini September 11th, 2012

Two more things: 1.) How weird was it to see our former Head-Coach-In-Waiting peeing on his leg from the Arkansas sideline during the UL-Monroe loss? 2.) How come J. Davis didn’t have any touches against ASU? Did he make the trip? Was it past his bedtime??

illiniranger September 11th, 2012

it wouldn’t surprise me if kids were looking at the wrong coach. s**t happens you know? it would actually encourage me if they were. kids looking at the wrong signal caller is EXTREMELY easy to fix. that’s a lot more encouraging then, “we absolutely called the wrong play every time.” it’s the difference between a mistake and a systemic mistake. one is much more easy to fix than the other.
whether or not we will fix it? TBD.

rochillini September 11th, 2012

Chances the coaching staff will analyze the situation in a similar way and modify their approach?

illiniftball77 September 11th, 2012

First road game with a new staff in the desert. Extremely aggressive against a new QB who unpredictably was mature beyond his years. Possibly confusion with the play calling on multiple plays.

Horrible performance and not a good start for Banks or the Illini, but hey, its one game – and one we were expected to lose. Let’s see how they respond the next few games.

Groundhogday September 11th, 2012

No matter how you slice it, our defense was not well coached. Maybe they weren’t taught how to read the sideline signals. Maybe they misunderstood coverages and reads. But at the end of the day, it is the coaches’ job to make sure the players know their assignments. So I don’t take much comfort in the idea that “our players aren’t really that bad, they were just horribly out of position.”

With Millines out or hampered for most of the year (again), and little depth at WR, our offense is not going to score a lot of points. We had the No. 99 offense last year (F/+ ranking) and in a best case scenario, perhaps we can get that ranking into the 60′s. So if the defense doesn’t play at a high level (top 20), good luck in the B1G.