Eleven Adjustments #6: Do What We Do October 21, 2012
I swear I didn’t set out to make this series “things Vic Koenning would do if he was here”. But there’s no better way to make this point than to bring up Vic again. Sorry – I’ll get over the loss of THE BEST ILLINI DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR OF MY LIFETIME sometime in 2016. When he’s named head coach. Not really. Wait, could that happen?
Focus. Point #6: Do What We Do. I don’t know if that’s the exact quote, but that was the first thing Vic Koenning looked to do when he took over as interim coach. When asked what he thought he could do to stop the six game losing streak, he said that we needed to do the things that we do well.
(I just spent 20 minutes looking for the clip where he said it. And I stumbled on a video that I’d never seen before. It’s all of the reporters asking him if he’s going to stay or leave – this is the day before he decided to turn down Beckman’s offer – and he says that the main reason he was considering staying was the support from the Illini football community. He mentioned how he’d broken every record for Clemson’s defenses, but nobody cared. And he took Kansas State from 117th in Total Defense to 38th, but nobody cared. And then he came to Illinois and people seemed to really respect him for what he was able to do. He referenced a Tate column, and then talked about “something his wife showed him on the internet”, and how the fact that he was admired in Champaign was the main reason he was considering staying. As I’d come to find out in San Francisco, the thing his wife showed him on the internet was this blog. Which means we were almost able to convince Vic to stay. But he didn’t. Which means I’m a failure. This parenthetical thought didn’t turn out nearly as happy as I thought it would.)
All those words, and I’m finally arriving at my first point. Vic, when he took over, said the first thing he was going to do was focus on what we do well. He thought it ridiculous that we had a running quarterback but didn’t give him a chance to run. And he said that he didn’t want to give too much away to UCLA, but that we would see Nathan run the football. He’d had 8 carries against Wisconsin and then 8 carries against Minnesota – Vic was going to change that. And that’s what we got. 22 carries for 110 yards (and an Illini win).
When Brady Hoke and Al Borges took over the Michigan offense, they made it a point to say that they weren’t going to implement their preferred system just yet. They had Denard Robinson, and while they had Denard Robinson, they were going to cater the offense to his skills. If that meant running several offensive sets they weren’t exactly comfortable with, so be it. They were going to put their team in the best position to win.
John Groce has mentioned several times that he probably doesn’t have the ball handlers necessary to run his offense the way he eventually wants to see it run. And he’s said that he’ll adjust his offense accordingly. He wants to put these players, especially the seniors, in the best position to win.
Mick McCall moved Kain Colter and Venric Mark to different positions to make his Northwestern offense click. Bret Bielema fired his new offensive line coach after three games because it wasn’t working out. So many coaches are obsessed with the same thing Vic was: do whatever you can to put your players in the best position to win.
So far this season? I don’t feel like we’ve done that at all. Jonathan Brown looks lost at his new position. Reilly O’Toole comes into the game and we’re still full-on read option. Our best play the last few years, the drag route (it wasn’t just Jenkins – we ran it to Millines and Lankford, too), is gone. Michael Buchanan was great in different zone blitz looks last year, but this year he just looks like a standard defensive end. The new defensive scheme doesn’t seem to touch on any of the things last years’ defense did well.
So when you have a new offensive scheme that’s not working at all, and a tweaked defensive scheme that has made a good defense bad, don’t you pretty much have to sit down and have a “what are the things these players do well” meeting? I just don’t think we’ve had that meeting.
In the KFHB, you could tell we spent those bowl practices working on read-option plays to get Nate running the ball. And punt return. And blitz packages for our quick corners. We looked at our personnel and came up with gameplans to best take advantage of their skills.
Can we do that again? Can we take these two weeks to evalute exactly what it is that we do well, and then spend the next five games doing them? If that means we need to pull some of the offensive plays from last year and take longer to implement the shotgun spread, so be it. If that means we go back and watch film of last years’ defense and attempt some of those 3-2-6 formations that were successful, I’m all for it.
I just want our players in the best position to win. And so far, we haven’t been anywhere close to that.