Negative Plays November 12, 2012
It’s all I thought about (and tweeted about) yesterday. Negative plays are killing us. #TFLU? More like #getTFLU.
I’m a big believer in the Tackles For Loss statistic. Want to find the BCS-conference programs that are flailing? Look at the bottom of the Tackles For Loss Against statistic.
117: Auburn (7.8 tackles for loss given up per game)
118: Colorado (8.0)
119: Illinois (8.4)
120: Maryland (9.1)
Worst team in the SEC, worst team in the Pac12, worst team in the Big Ten, second-worst team in the ACC. All with the same characteristic: giving up negative plays.
Football is about sustaining drives. Which is why turnover margin is such a huge statistic. When you directly hand the ball to your opponent without a punt, you severely limit your chance to win because you’re giving them a short field in which to sustain their drive instead of a long field. And you’re not getting many short fields yourself.
To sustain drives, you have to avoid three things: turnovers, penalties, and negative plays. Most every team – even a team that struggles to move the ball like we do – can put together scoring drives by avoiding these three things. As a general rule, if you can avoid putting yourself in 2nd and 14 or 3rd and 9 situations, you can keep moving the chains.
For an offense like ours, when we’re in those long yardage situations, we’re in trouble. I wrote last week how half of the passing playbook is likely not available because there’s no pocket time to wait for the routes to develop. So when it’s 3rd and 16, we really don’t have many plays we can call. Every passing route beyond the sticks is unavailable because they require 3.5 seconds of pocket time for the receivers to get down the field, and we just don’t ever have that.
So for this offense to move the ball, we have to stay out of long yardage situations. But we can’t. To the tune of 84 times we were tackled in our own backfield. Why does this keep happening? Partly Nate’s decision making, and partly the play calling, and partly (mostly?) the offensive line. Let’s look at the line issues. Starting with recruiting:
+ Chris Watt was at Glenbard West and Christian Lombard at Palatine Fremd, but they both picked Notre Dame. And now they anchor one of the best lines in football. There are countless other examples. Dan Voltz left the state for Wisconsin. Patrick Ward stayed in state… at Northwestern.
And these struggles continue – there are five blue chip offensive linemen in Illinois in the 2013 class – not one of them is coming to Illinois. This state consistently produces blue chip linemen. And we consistently are unable to keep them home.
+ Andy Gallik starts for Boston College, and Dan Foose is a backup offensive tackle at Florida State, and both of them had verballed to play for Illinois in 2010 before backing out and selecting other schools. This happened last year, too, as Joey Warburg backed out on his Illinois verbal and picked Purdue.
+ Corey Lewis should have been our starting right tackle this year. But he’s just now returning from 5 knee surgeries.
+ Andrew Carter might have been our other starting tackle this year. But he had a tumor removed from the base of his skull, ending his football career.
+ Leon Hill was a 4-star offensive lineman in the 2009 class, but he didn’t even last a year. He tried transferring to NIU, but couldn’t make it into school. Last I saw he was at Joliet Junior College, but I can’t find where he went from there.
Which leaves us with the current roster. A roster that just hasn’t gelled. When I think of one of our lines gellin’ like a felon, I always think of the 2006-2007 line. We moved Akim Millington from the left side to the right side, and we move Xavier Fulton from the defensive side of the ball to left tackle, and we tried a young kid named Jon Asamoah at right guard, and we caught lightning in a bottle. Once that line gelled together, we went from huge offensive line issues to a top tier line almost overnight.
This year, we keep trying different combinations, but we just can’t find the right one. And with two seniors on the line with two games left, next year will be more of the same – trying to find the right combination of the right players at the right position. And then getting them multiple games playing next to each other so they can begin to work as a unit.
Which means these issues aren’t going away. Which means our Big Ten losing streak probably isn’t going away. Which means I’m depressed.
Want to pick me up, Illini football? Stop giving up tackles for loss. Make it the #1 practice priority. Negative plays are poison.