|All Photos from Jonathan Street|
Base Defense: Too Much
- Lunt can be really accurate when he has a clean pocket; doesn't have a great arm, but manipulates the trajectory to be able to make all the throws. Crouch may have a role, but he's still really raw mechanically.
- Like Ferguson, but he's going to have to play in space still. Not great between the tackles. Enyenihi is just a guy at this point.
- Solid WR group. Allison should standout this year but Hardee also has some potential
- OL group was a mess. Still struggle in pass protection and don't generate much push in the run game.
- They have some pieces. Fotu and McGrew both flashed a but and should be solid.
- Inconsistent group. They made some nice plays, but they also made some mistakes where they aren't getting to their spot quick enough.
- DBs look like the strength of the defense so far.
QB - Lunt looks a bit more comfortable in the offense compared to last season, but it's still obvious that he has primary WRs that he is much more comfortable with at this point. Never confused with the strongest arm, when he does have a clean pocket he shows good enough velocity to spread the ball around the field. Likewise, a quick release and a tight rotation allow him the touch to feed the ball into the seam and to underneath targets very accurately. The concern with Lunt continues to be when he pocket isn't clean and his reads aren't well defined. More complex reads than your standard 2x2 route combinations force him to check up more often than you'd like. It's in this hesitation that bad things start to happen for him, as he doesn't consistently reset his feet or get his body in a position to make an accurate throw. Now a guy without a great arm is forced to throw with mostly his arm out of a wonky position. I think Lunt can be an above average B1G QB in a vacuum, but his weaknesses coincide with a team weakness, that being pass protection, which we'll get to.
Crouch is very raw mechanically. He has a long wind-up and his mechanics from there remain inconsistent. He also doesn't have the strongest arm. But what he does have is an aspect of his game that Lunt doesn't, and that's a better runner. We saw Aaron Bailey that role last year, getting quite a few snaps against some of the better defenses Illinois faced (Wisconsin and OSU); but he's off to Northern Illinois now, and Crouch is likely the best option as a dual-threat QB. I'm not sure he provides enough value in areas that Lunt doesn't to warrant playing more than a handful of snaps a game, but that option may be there for Illinois.
RB - I'm still a fan of Ferguson, though I worry about him finding a consistent role within this offense. He isn't a great between the tackles runner, particularly in tight spaces. But he does provide one of the best space RBs in the B1G, and is a great catcher out of the backfield. He continues to go mostly unknown throughout the B1G, but that's is frankly due to a lack of OL in front of him. The guy averaged over 5 ypc last year and finished with 50 catches for over 400 yards. But he struggled on the ground against B1G teams, and honestly wasn't consistently the best option to take handoffs last year. But if you want to know how I feel about Ferguson, I think he has NFL potential as a role player; that's how high his ceiling is. But RB depends a lot on the pieces around you, and Ferguson's strengths do not mesh well with the talent around him, nor do his weaknesses.
Unfortunately for Illinois, I didn't really see enough from the remaining RB corp to warrant taking over a lot of carries. Enyenihi is just a guy at this point. I believe he missed a protection assignment (Ferguson should continue to be the third down guy) and he struggles making guys miss in space, let alone in the hole between the tackles. Again, OL doesn't help matter here, but you need something a bit more dynamic to work here more than just a backup. The rest of the RB group is completely untested.
WR - I was really excited to see Dudek in his 2nd season improve upon his first, but unfortunately, he was injured during spring ball and will have a tough time getting back healthy before fall. In his place, Allison looks liek the one to step up the most. Allison is a long, tall, possession WR who won't make a lot of guys miss in the open field, but catches the ball with his hands and runs solid routes. He should be Lunt's primary target.
Hardee looked to be the next favorite target of the group, with Taylor working mostly out of the slot. I don't think Hardee is quite as polished as Allison, but may be a slightly better athlete. He may not wow a lot of people, but he should be consistent.
The reason I put Taylor ahead of Turner is because I think Taylor has a more defined role out of the slot. Taylor isn't a great athlete, but he's probably the best short area receiver of the group. He can catch some stuff underneath and on screens, and Allison is a good enough blocker, to allow that to help improve the offense. Turner flashed a bit last year, but didn't show much early in this one.
TE/OL - To start, the TEs aren't great athletes on this roster, so don't expect a lot of throws to come their way outside of some underneath stuff later in the progression.
As blockers, the TEs and OL struggled a lot still. The Illinois DL ran TEX (Tackle under End) stunts repeatedly, probably nearly a dozen times in the first quarter alone, and it didn't feel like it was picked up once (looking through my notes, it was picked up... once). The communication was poor. They didn't get a lot of movement up front. Schmidt (LT), DiLaruo (RT), Allegretti (OG), and Spencer (C) were all guys that started last year, and all guys that made fundamental mistakes again in this game. Allegretti and Spencer gave too much ground in pass protection and didn't have a good feel for how to block the first level, let alone combo to the second level. Black O'Connor, Boles, and Heath also made mistakes or just flat out missed assignments.
And no one stood out to me. Looking back through my notes, Flavin was the only one that had a plus play when he finally latched onto a DT and drove him out of the hole. This is a group as a whole that needs to get back to basics, which is something I'll discuss in a bit.
But right now, they can't zone block effectively, they can't gap block effectively, they can't get any push at the first level. And it's not about athleticism or any of that (at least not alone), it's because fundamentally, from a technique standpoint, they are so far from where they need to be. They same is said for their pass protection: their balance is poor, they give too much ground, they catch guys, they don't leverage correctly, they don't punch at the point of attack, they don't slide well; it's a mess that needs to be cleaned up in the off season.
DL - This is a difficult position to grade. You know, usually I can see when a guy makes a play on defense or a guy blows a play on offense, but the OL... there are just serious issues there.
I do think Illinois has some decent pieces here. Fotu made a play, for instance. He got penetration and took a good angle so he could make a play on the ball. McGrew flashed a lot in this game, both positively and negatively, but at least he showed something (more at the point of attack than as a guy asked to drop in space). Ward can be a guy that's solid at the point of attack and has the length to cause some issues. It's just very difficult to parse what is happening here with the OL play as it is.
LB - Some nice plays made by the LB group. Bello had a really nice play tracking Ferguson out of the backfield and getting through the wash cleanly. I liked what I saw from Neal between the tackles, stepping up into a hole and making a play. Walls made a nice play in space. But overall, it's still an inconsistent group. They don't read their keys quickly enough, consistently enough yet. I thought they looked better in this game than they probably would on a typical Saturday. They also return Monheim, who was solid last year.
DB - I think this is easily the strength of the defense, which makes sense, as it's going against what is probably the strength of the offense. Bentley is a good DB at this level. I think James and Dunlap still need time to develop more, but Spence is safe and Bentley is a plus.
At safety I couldn't see a whole lot due to B1G camera angles, but I also didn't see them get picked on too much.
Overview - You have the whole Cvijanovic thing which I don't really care to get into. You have key injuries to some of Illinois best players (Lunt has always battled injuries, Dudek and Brown are also out as playmakers). You have huge weaknesses likely on both sides of the LOS (Illinois was bad at stopping the run last year, and I know their OL isn't very good right now), yet they continue to rep a million and a half things.
Ask any Michigan fan what the downfall of the 2013 offense was, and they'll tell you that it was not having a base to rely on. But in the spring of 2013, Michigan was repping that base a million times a day to try to establish something, they didn't abandon it until the they deemed it too late. Illinois isn't even trying. They are currently insufficient at every scheme they run on offense, yet continue to try to do them all. This seems like piling on the coaching staff, but I really don't understand the direction they are trying to take this team. There are fundamental issues with how they block inside zone, where they can't come off combo blocks correctly. They can't block power because their technique is all wrong at the point of attack. They aren't athletic enough to block the stretch play. You can't run any kind of pass protection sufficiently without simple stunts from the DL beating you, on both pass plays, and run plays where you should be taking advantage of the line stunts. And so no run game gets developed, and the pass game can only go as far as the 3-step and 5-step drop and first progression allows, because there isn't time to do more and Lunt struggles a bit when pressured (understandably, he's been hit a lot).
On defense, they ran a ton of sets. 4-3 Over with an Apex. 4-3 Under. One gap 3-4. This is a defense that struggled at the point of attack last year, yet instead of better defining their reads and assignments, you continue to try to expand it in order to confuse the opponent. The only team getting confused is your own offense. Get better at something, define a base! Tell your LBs this is your key, read him, and get better running this. Then move onto the next thing if you can. But run something, at least one thing, well. You have 15 practices in spring and you sucked stopping the run last year, you need to improve drastically; let me tell you, you won't improve drastically when you try to do everything. Use the spring to actually help nail down the fundamentals so that the guys can continue working over the summer. That clearly isn't happening.
I had my reservations about this staff before, they are up against the wall now and my feelings are not improving. Trust me when I say I can rationalize a lot of decisions that coaching staffs make, because I've made a lot of those same decisions and seen why they make sense. This staff is running out of sense. This is a fairly young team, but it's not improving like it should. Typically, I've kept most of these spring "Coaching Points" relatively positive. This game was frustrating to watch.
Raw Notes - 1st Q+
Starting in I twins. Defense in 4-3 Over with apex to twins. Zone stretch pin and pull. Miscommunication between center and BSG, as center gets out on pull immediately and BSG can't scoop the nose slanting playside. Really nice job by Fotu (DT) here getting penetration and then taking an angle to the ball carrier; getting flatter down the LOS. Also important was McGrew (LEO) holding the edge and not getting pinned inside. Didn't allow Ferguson (RB) to sprint out before the backside pursuit could get home. DiLauro got off balance and pushed around. Allegriti
Motion to a trey with far gun back. D in a 3-4 with ROLB in apex. Looks like Cover 2. Squatting CB in flat has no one block him on the designed swing pass. He has cloud support so he breaks down immediately. Nice read by Bello (MIKE) to follow Ferguson out of the backfield and track the play. Johnson (TE) didn't block this play right with the LT. Someone needs to zone out to MIKE from that position and seal him inside, but there was no seal block to prevent inside-out pursuit.
Illinois goes Cover 3 robber. 3 man rush collapses pocket way too easy. Ward (DE) bull rushes RT (DiLauro), and as soon as RT is off balance, shoves him down and wins back inside. Lunt forced to step up and through and dump off to Fergoson underneath. Allegreti (RG) and Spencer (C) also gave up too much ground to the NT; who leveraged both players and fought to split them. Allegreti reached and whiffed with his punch; while Spencer just caught the rush while still back peddling deeper into pocket.
Trips left, split right. Back to trips. Illinois in 4-3 Over with ROLB (Star) outside leverage on #2. Delayed draw. Trips intended to pull MIKE, but doesn't because of Cover 1. Double works to backside ILB but no one picks up MIKE. What really hurts is O'Connor (RG) losing inside leverage on his DT. This doesn't allow the RB to cut playside and forces him into the hole with the MIKE. Really nice job stepping in and filling by Neal (MIKE) and preventing the RB from winning in space.
Double twins, IZ read that Illinois gets lucky on. Illinois runs a double TEX stunt with tackle under DE and both go unblocked on backside of play (Boles LT). However, playside handles it and actually uses it to advantage. DE gets washed inside, DT kicked out. LBs here are doing a poor job with their keys, both ILB are flaring outside. This forces Fejedelem (S) to step up and tackle in space. Tackles high, and RB needs to get more with this. The SS was coming down hot, but Foster's feet didn't really take him anywhere (wasted movement) and Fejedelem hit him square.
Cover 4 by the defense, Crouch dumps it to the swing (Foster) and defense gets off field.
Illinois goes all hitch, and looks like ouside WR has an option to go outside. Lunt pumps once, not comfortable, then throw behinds receiver coming inside. Never reset his feet after pump and threw with just his arm and his body closed.
Quick pole concept. Lunt pumps the quick out and tries to hit the streak down the sideline. Over thrown. Looks like Trap coverage on the outside. Again, Lunt doesn't reset his feet after pump. His feet are still pointed to the sideline as if throwing the out. He's forced to throw with an open body this time and just kind of slings it, and it isn't accurate. Not helped by protection as no one picks up the LB off the edge. Not sure if that's LT or RB, but looked like it was supposed to be slide protection, so probably RB (Enyenili).
Illinois in MOD. Finds Hardee (WR) (thrown a lot to) on the come back route. A little late on this throw, it needs to come out on the break, not after the break is completed. Allows defense to converge so there is no YAC. Still, perfectly accurate throw, throwing away from MIKE coverage so WR isn't thrown into coverage.
Check down incomplete.
IZ Read. Combo between RG (Allegreti) and C (Spencer) comes off too early, as no one actually is able to move the DT (Odenigbo). LG (Flavin) on the other hand crushes the DT with a single block on his side. This is wasted, because LT (Schmidt) doesn't maintain inside leverage, gets square on DE (McGrew) and shoved back, allowing full separation, and LEO can come back to play. Really nice job by Odenigbo to get low off the snap and not allow the C to leverage him at all.
Deep out and perfect timing on the throw to the boundary. Out is rounded a little by Hardee (WR) but it's smooth and catches the ball right on sideline. Perfect timing between him and Lunt.
Lunt starting to find a rhythm. Illinois goes Cover 3. Poor job rerouting the slot by McGrew, who has looked good rushing the passer and in the run game, and stiff in space. Never even touches the slot, just turns and runs to his spot and then turns around. This allows Lunt to throw that seam with rhymthm to Taylor (WR).
Nice job by Watson (LB) with his eyes, working into the flat zone, finds the WR and works to wall him off. Forces Lunt to scramble and throw away.
Bubble screen. Little (S) does a nice job tracking on Taylor's (WR) backside shoulder but breaks down way too early and then is forced to change his angle straight laterally and can't make tackle inside-out. Allison (WR) had a key cut block on the CB, and ultimately this play is on the CB. Doesn't use his hands well and allows WR to cut right into knee without laying a finger on him. Also allows WR to get outside the outside knee of CB, who can't recover and maintain outside leverage. This opens alley to outside for TD. Believe CB is Dunlap.
Quick slant to Murdock (WR). Spence (CB) playing really far off, bailing into deep 1/3 at snap. This is a package play it looks like. Safety bails on sky and follows stretch away from pass. Safety should be crashing this slant. Nice read by Crouch (QB).
IZ goes poorly. Right side of OL gets no movement. #72 looking like he's waiting for someone to block.
IZ Read with a split block. Illinois scrape exchanges this. Crouch doesn't read exchange and give, but keeps, but he sets up split block by working laterally and then cutting up right behind it and the H-back kicks the defender. Sventina (LB) needs to be more disciplined here. It is his gap that is attacked as he chases the play from behind. Crouch shows a bit more athleticism than I thought he had.
Under front from the D. Crouch has a long, awkward wind up here, but the ball gets to the TE on the stop route.
OL gets oddly whooped by the double TEX stunt, but the LG gets beat cleanly by the first DT through (delayed stunt here). Forces Crouch to throw the bench route, little behind Kanteman (TE) who has to turn and catch, but does cleanly. Not athletic enough in space to make a play after that though.
Dot formation on offense, Under front from D. IZ. TE (Johnson) lunges at ROLB, and whiffs. Allows him inside clean and forces the bounce. Cazley does a nice job filling from his safety position.
Nice tackle by Walls (LB) in space on the RB (Enyenihi), as he gets low and drives back.
IZ run. LG and C (Black) double onto NT. Center never takes over block though, stays on backside. When LG goes to release, NT has a free shot right at the RB.
Starting OL: RT - DiLauro; RG - Karras; C - Spencer; LG - Alligreti*; LT - Schmidt
*Young, may get rotated out.
Lead IZ. OL hasn't picked up a TEX stunt yet. Ward (DL) gets in clean.
Lunt on a 5 step drop from under center. Allison (WR) going against C4 with a safety coming over the top. But perfect throw. In stride, Allison goes up and snags it with his hands; perfect timing before Safety can get over the top. Lunt with feet set is good; not great arm strength but really good accuracy.
Package play, IZ with backside slant. Lunt does a nice job reading off CB and throws slant to Allison. James (CB) takes a poor angle and gets too high and over the top, and Allison can stop and let him run by, allowing for big YAC.
Counter F, no one looks comfortable blocking this. Pulling OG doesn't kick EMOL. FB passive going into hole. Down blocks get no movement.
Back shoulder throw. James (CB) gets turned around and doens't get body contact to control WR. Allison (WR) stops on a dime and makes the catch by working back to the ball.
Supposed to be a power play with a TE base block. O pulling around and FB leading. Illinois OL looks very uncomfortable with man/gap blocking schemes. Heath (RG) whiffs on his down block completely, allowing DT in free. No other OL gets any movement on their down blocks.
IZ to weak. Illinois finally (barely) handles the TEX stunt. Seals the DT inside so he can't get to outside gap.
Crouch with an out to the far side line. Lots of air on it, a little late and a little wobbly, can't get it to the WR quick enough, though accuracy is alright. Catch OOB.
Back shoulder to Taylor from Lunt. Over the top coverage in Cover 3, just adjust route to comeback. Nice timing.
Schmidt (LT) takes his first step outside immediately at the snap despite LEO (McGrew) immediately going inside gap on the snap. Can't get a hand on him until he's already in the backfield. It was inside zone away from him, the one thing he can't allow is an inside move.