I’m Robert, and I’m living with CTTA – Check The Tape Anxiety.
CTT has become the IlliniBoard feature that people most look forward to, I think. It gets the most “where is Check The Tape?” tweets and emails, at least. So this fall, I made sure that it was posted by Wednesday morning each week. Some people pay money to support this site now, so I feel this overwhelming obligation to deliver.
Which always causes CTTA because life sometimes gets in the way between Saturday night and Wednesday morning. The posts take between 5-8 hours to produce (or in the case of the Indiana CTT, 13 hours), so I look at the beginning of my week and try to carve out those hours. Not that I’m complaining – I love doing it – but I also have a job and a family and responsibilities that come first. Which means sometimes, the only time to Check The Tape is at 2:30 in the morning.
This past week I couldn’t even find that. And as each day went by without posting the Northwestern CTT, I got more and more anxious. You should know this about me by now – I meant what I said and I said what I meant; an elephant’s faithful 100% – so when I don’t deliver on the things I’ve promised my inner drill sergeant gets in my face. Which always leads to CTTA.
Why am I sharing this? To reiterate the reason we’ve gone with the subscriptions, of course. There is so. much. more. I could provide in the way of content for this website, but I just can’t find the time. So we’ve asked you to help. And you have. And it allows me to do things like travel to Portland this weekend to cover the Illini game (since we’re not going to a bowl, I’m using the bowl vacation days I’d saved and spending them on Portland – I’m excited to cover the team in that setting).
The next step is to reduce real job time and increase IlliniBoard time. Maybe Mondays off next fall so I can CTT (among other things) and increase the content here. Which is why we’ve said we’ll set a permanent subscription cost (and number of free reads) next August. At that point, as people renew, we’ll have an idea as to just how much we can expand our coverage. And I can reduce my CTTA.
So if you’re interested in subscribing, you can do so by going here. Right now it’s $24 for a full year, so you’d be locked in until next December. Hey, THAT’S A GREAT GIFT IDEA (it really isn’t). GIVE THE GIFT OF ILLINIBOARD THIS CHRISTMAS (such a lame gift). Stand up and fight CTTA with us!! (Now I just need to shut up and start CTTing.)
How To Gain Punt Return Yards With A Fair Catch
The punt return yards this year are staggering. As many yards this year as the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons combined. But it’s not just the returns that are giving us field position. It’s also things like this.
You know how we usually have two returners back – one to block a gunner? On this play, V’Angelo Bentley comes all the way forward to the line of scrimmage and lines up for the block.
And on the snap, we send everyone.
Matt LaCosse has the best chance at the block here, as the lineman moves over to block Bentley.
And LaCosse just misses getting the block. But he’s already mostly accomplished our goal in this formation, which is to force a rushed punt. Note the line of scrimmage. Northwestern is kicking from the 44.
And Ryan Lankford, er, Miles Osei, fair-catches the ball at the 25.
There’s two ways to get the ball at the 25 there. Set up for a return, catch the ball at the 10, and hope for a 15 yard return… or surprise Northwestern, set up for the block, force a rushed kick, and have it only travel 31 yards before you fair catch.
I love every part of our improved punt return game. Even the fair catches.
131 Times Next Year, Please
I’ve decided to focus this CTT on mostly good things. Because bad things against Northwestern are so very hard to watch a second time.
Here’s a play I’d like to see 131 times next year. We’ll return four of the five offensive linemen and Josh Ferguson will still only be a junior, so this is what I want to see over and over.
Watch left guard Michael Heitz on this play.
Ferguson gets the handoff with a large hole to the right side. Northwestern linebacker Damien Proby reads this and heads for that gap.
Ferguson reverses field, and check on this blocking. Left tackle Simon Cvijanovic has Dean Lowry spun to the outside, and Michael Heitz comes off his double team to get a hand on Proby. A very important hand, because it allows Ferguson to run through unscathed.
Again, blocking doesn’t take much. Get one punch on a linebacker’s shoulder to spin him a little bit and your guy is through.
But Ferguson isn’t done. One of the top safeties in the Big Ten, Ibraheim Campbell, has Ferguson lined up.
No he doesn’t.
Campbell would have had him at the 38 above. Now he’s at the 33.
And isn’t brought down until the 28.
Let’s look at this from the endzone view. Ferguson gets the handoff with a huge hole to the right, but he can see the blocks that Cvijanovic and Heitz are providing.
So he cuts left.
Into wiiiide open space.
Here comes the All Big Ten safety.
Bye, All Big Ten safety.
Thanks for playing.
131 times next year. Experienced linemen + tailback that could have a breakout season + second season in the same offense (which has only happened once in the last seven years).
That reminds me. I made that crazy prediction in 2012 that Josh Ferguson would leave school as our all-time All Purpose Yards leader (All Purpose Yards are rushing + receiving + returns). The current leader is Robert Holcombe with 4,737 yards. So halfway through his career, where does Josh Ferguson stack up?
His current total: 2,324 yards. His return numbers have dropped off (344 kick return yards in 2012, only 37 in 2013), and I don’t expect the staff to use him as a returner much at all the next two seasons (they’ll need him for rushing + receiving), so he’ll have to get the rest just from those two statistics. He’s 2,413 yards short of Holcombe’s mark, which means he needs 1,206 All Purpose Yards each of the next two seasons. And he just put up 1,351 as a sophomore.
Yes, he’ll get the record. Shatter it, most likely.
Ghost Of Linebacker Future
This is why I’m so excited about TJ Neal taking over for Jonathan Brown next year. Watch Neal on this blitz in the first quarter.
Tim Kynard crashes inside, which is going to open up a lane for Neal.
My arrow here is a very poor attempt to show a great blitz route by the freshman linebacker. Some linebackers run to the center of the gap and then make the turn for the QB. Neal “scrapes” it, maintaining his speed and scraping just inside the Northwestern line.
And his speed gets him to the quarterback just as the receiver is digging into his cut.
Which means he hits the quarterback as he throws.
And the ball bounces harmlessly at the 38.
TJ Neal is always my response when people point to Beckman’s early recruiting as having “no talent”. Neal had offers from Auburn, Florida, Nebraska, Tennessee, and a dozen other schools. But he picked Illinois, redshirted, played a little as a redshirt freshman, and is now ready to contribute as a redshirt sophomore. Yes, we need a dozen other guys just like him, but that 2012 class that Beckman brought in late (Neal, Bentley, Powell, Monheim, etc.) was not without talent.
I already hate myself for that. But hey, check on Dawuane (pronounced Doo-JUAN) Smoot’s first career sack!
On the snap he makes a step to the outside and the left tackle opens up.
And then he crosses over his right arm and gets to the inside (it almost seems like the LT thought he’d have help here).
Smoot is through free and clear.
And gets the sack and the seven yard loss.
Check it out from the endzone. Step to the right to get the tackle moving left.
The classic “they teach it freshman year of high school” right-arm-over-right-arm so he can’t reach and push.
And then all the tackle can do is reach.
As Smoot is free and clear to the QB.
I’m a broken record, but yes, there’s some promise on D. It’s just so young. And it needs to be supplemented with fresh speed.
Teko de Guy-o
OK, now I hate myself more.
Here’s some good stuff from sophomore defensive tackle Teko Powell.
On the snap, he’s double-teamed.
But as the center leaves him to go chip a linebacker, he beats the right guard.
And is ready to stand up the tailback right at the line of scrimmage.
This is the play where the tailback broke out of the tackle, tried to get to the outside, and actually lost three yards, so Teko will have to work on wrapping him up until help arrives, but still, we went young mid-season and inserted Powell into the starting lineup to get him this kind of experience with the hope that it pays off the next few years.
I’ll Let You Judge Mathis
I know most of you were sick of hearing about it over the last 2.5 years. Here I am, promoting some walkon safety, saying “he never misses a tackle – PLAY HIM” and things like that. And after awhile I’m sure it was kind of sad. We obviously weren’t ever going to play him, so it would just be my opinion floating in the wind forever.
But in his final game, Ben Mathis got to play. Not only that, he did this:
Here’s Mathis lined up as the nickel. Kind of the third safety on the play.
Houston Bates nearly has the sack here.
But Trevor Siemian escapes the pocket and is looking to scramble for the first down. And he got past Mason Monheim who was blitzing, so now there’s one player between him and the first down. Some guy named Ben Mathis.
Guess who wins that battle by wrapping up?
OHAI Ben Mathis. 4th down, Northwestern has to kick the field goal.
Let’s look at it from the endzone. Siemian clears the pocket and it’s a one-on-one.
Mathis does what I’ve seen him do 90 times. Keep his base, stay low, be ready to go left or right. Siemian chooses to cut to his right…
And Mathis grabs his ankles and wraps him up.
I hate to pick on other players, but let’s compare that to what Earnest Thomas did in the Indiana game on that long touchdown run that sealed the game:
THAT is why I have been screaming PLAY MATHIS. Earnest Thomas is a better athlete and will be a better college safety. But Mathis doesn’t make mistakes like that. At least I’ve never seen him make them/
Here’s another Mathis play that doesn’t show up in the box score. He’s lined up at safety and Northwestern has three receivers bunched left.
Mathis’ assignment is Dan Vitale, Northwestern’s “superback”. He can hit him in the first five yards, so…
Here (you can barely see it) Mathis punches the inside shoulder to achieve the re-route.
And it worked, because as Siemian releases the ball, Earnest Thomas is in the spot where Vitale is supposed to be. Wonder why that was?
And Thomas ALMOST comes up with the interception.
This play was so close to my favorite play in Illini history. Thomas deflects it towards the ground…
And it glances off Darius Mosely’s foot (still a live ball).
And it falls just short of, guess who, Ben Mathis picking it off.
If Mathis had intercepted that ball and returned it for a touchdown, locking up a win over Northwestern, I might have retired as an Illini fan.
Regardless, I’m so glad I finally had some film to show you what I’ve been screaming about for the last 2.5 years. #PlayMathis
How did STEVEHULL put up those numbers over the last 6 games? I mean, Nathan makes a bad decision like this, throwing off his back foot…
And Hull falls down.
But he catches the TD pass anyway.
How did that happen? The sideline camera let me know. He was touched by the hand of Manberg:
Maybe I’ll expand the hashtag. #HandOfManberg #HOMB