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Slapdash January 24, 2013

When you don’t know what to write about, just start writing.

2-3 then 4-3

That’s where I’ve settled on our tourney path.  Yes, that means 8-10, but if it’s 2-3 then 4-3, that means we beat two of Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Minnesota.  Which would give us two more solid wins to add to Gonzaga, Butler, and Ohio State.  Which would be enough to get us in the tournament even if we lost our first round Big Ten Tournament game.

We’d be 22-12 at that point with 5 solid wins.  Unless 2009/10 happens again (Minnesota makes a run to the BTT final and steals our tourney spot, five or six already-in teams lose in their conference tournaments and our bubble spot is stolen, etc.), then we’re in at 22-12 (8-10).  And we’re even more in at 23-12 (8-10).  And probably a lock at 24-12 (8-10).

But we’ll deal with the BTT implications when we get there.  For now, give me 2-3 and then 4-3.

Which means win two of these five:

at Michigan State
at Minnesota

And then four of these seven:

at Northwestern
Penn State
at Michigan
at Iowa
at Ohio State

Oh man, it just fully hit me. This whole season is going to come down to the game at Iowa, isn’t it?  If you’re like me – someone who arrived at Illinois just after the Flyin’ Illini and then saw your college years get Bruce Pearl’d – you abhor the idea of the entire season coming down to the game at Iowa.

DJ, please go into a slump again.  And then bust out of it with 31 points at Iowa.

Bridge Oughta Deliver Try

As I’m sure you’ve heard, the new offensive line coach was announced yesterday: Jim Bridge from North Carolina State.  He was Tom O’Brien’s OL/TE coach at Boston College and then at NC State.  With O’Brien getting fired, Bridge was let go, and now he’s our guy.  And, yes, there’s a connection.  Bridge was tight ends coach at Bowling Green when Tim Beckman was defensive coordinator.  There’s always a connection.

What kind of situation does Bridge walk into?  Oh, only the worst pass-pro and running numbers in the Big Ten with the top two linemen having graduated.  No big deal.  How much will having an experienced coach like Bridge running the show improve our line play?  In my opinion, less than you think.  It’s all about the roster.

Some background first. Straight from my brain, Four Steps To Building A Great College Offensive Line:

  1. Recruit body types.  Tackles generally need long arms and quick feet.  Guards need powerful drive (and, in a pulling scheme, need to be able to run like a fullback).  Centers need to be your smartest, understand-what-the-defense-is-doing-est interior lineman.
  2. Redshirt everyone.  Offensive linemen are best in their third, fourth, and especially fifth years.  So make sure every lineman gets a redshirt and at least another year of lifting and learning the scheme.
  3. Don’t change the scheme.  When they’re scrawny true freshmen to when their fifth year seniors, have them running the same blocking assignments over and over and over and over and over and over.
  4. Never have more than 3 seniors starting, and never less than two.  Redshirt a junior if you have to, I don’t care.  Just set it up so that each line has experienced fifth-year seniors as well as younger guys learning the ropes and getting ready to take over.  Seniors lead and build the next senior leaders.

How did Ron Zook do with this list?

Well, an F on the first part.  Quick, name the last true offensive tackle we recruited.  Jeff Allen?  Nope – a guard playing tackle. No, really, he started at left guard for the Kansas City Chiefs this year.  Ryan Palmer?  Maybe.  Didn’t really blossom until his fifth year.  Michael Heitz?  Better at guard.  Hugh Thornton?  Currently being tried at guard at the Senior Bowl.

My point: Zook didn’t really recruit any true tackles.  To the point where #2 comes into play.  Linemen are better in their third, fourth, and especially fifth years?  Well then why did we force Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic into action as redshirt freshman in 2011?  You’re correct – it’s because Zook got an F on #1.

The third point?  We’ve changed the blocking scheme four of the last five years.  F minus minus.

The fourth point?  Well, it’s true – we never had a bunch of seniors all starting the same year.  But that’s mostly because we were forcing younger guys into early action.

So yeah, when Luke Butkus took over his very first college offensive line, he was left with two seniors he had to play out of position and young guys who just weren’t there yet.  Hard to blame any coach who inherits something like that.

But I will.  I’m really hoping Jim Bridge instills more fire into this line.  Last year we’d come out of the gate fairly solid – our opening drive was typically our best drive of the game.  But then the fire faded.  And things would go wrong.  And it would look like we were barely trying by the third quarter.

That’s what I want from Bridge.  Try.  I want to see more effort.  Ooh, and I also want to see a completely different line on the first day of spring practice.  New offensive coordinator with a new offensive scheme and a new offensive line coach?  Plus two seniors who played nearly all five positions last year both gone?  This is as unknown as any Illini offensive line in a long time.


I honestly have no idea. Best guess, if Corey Lewis is healthy, is Cvijanovic-Heitz-Feldmeyer-Karras-Lewis. That’s the most experienced offensive line. But honestly, Bridge might want Karras at tackle and Hill at Center. Everything is wide open at this point.

Madness. Madness.

GrogsBBQPepperoni January 24th, 2013

This team beat Gonzaga at their house, Butler on a neutral floor, almost was able to beat Mizzou on neutral ground – they’ll win some (more) games against some heavy duty foes. We’re not as bad as we just looked – on average. 8 for 58 from 3? C’mon, that’s like once a decade kind of stuff.
Go Illini. At Minnesota. I see that as a possible win. Wisconsin at home. That too. Maybe some others. Jekyll and Hyde with these guys. I just hate the sugar crash after the buzz wears off from the wins.

Lou-a-villini January 25th, 2013

You KNOW it’s going to play out like this…. #12 seed illinois vs. #5 seed Kansas State. The committee can’t let this one slip through their fingers.

HHSILLINI January 25th, 2013

Robert~What do you think about the quality and quantity of juniors on campus this weekend for Junior Day? Easily the best group I have seen assembled in at least 5 years! I predicting at least one to pop into a commit as well!

illiniranger January 25th, 2013

maybe more likely we go 1-4 then 5-2? i think 8 B1G wins gets us in having won Maui and 3 big wins in conference.
i like our Oline coach being experienced. all your points are spot on Robert. I think we have better coaching but still end up 2-10 this year, and then we start over again. probably have to settle for another up and coming MAC guy. i wonder if MT would rethink his hiring process and look at OCs/DCs and NFL guys since there won’t be many experienced HCs that want to come here.

wdallen January 25th, 2013

I definitely see a more likely scenario to 8 as 1-4 and then 5-2. Just tough to see us beat more than Wisc. Maybe Minn, but seems a stretch. Iowa is probably as inconsistent as we are, so that’s probably one of our best chances at a road win.

Am I the only one who’s not mourning the loss of Pocic? I mean, it’s not like we have much behind him, but I thought he has been awful the last 2 years. How can someone as big as he is just continually get pushed back by d-linemen? Hugh Thornton is a big loss though…

Hoppy January 26th, 2013

You gotta stop trying to predict what will happen with this team. They may drop off the face of the college bball world or they may go on a run and get to 9-9 or 10-8. These guys are just way to inconsistent to figure out what they could do.
I sure do hope Groce gets these guys ready to play each night!

Joe John January 26th, 2013

Is it strange that North Carolina has taken former Illinois defensive coaches? Vic Koennig, Dan Disch, Keith Gilmore now all on staff there.

Joe John January 26th, 2013

Also, where is Nowicki in all of your offensive line combinations? Are you trying to tell me that this guy cant even make the 3 deep here…and Beckman embarrassed the U of I in even getting him? Not good.

Illinifan4eva January 26th, 2013

Brilliant analysis there Joe John. The knowledge on this site would be lacking without you.