Those Were The Days – Northwestern

Those were the days! Tomorrow, we attempt to beat Northwestern and go to a bowl. Today, Detlef takes us back to 1998 and a win over Northwestern that foretold our run to a bowl the next year. The Rocky Harvey Is Pretty Good game. Here’s Detlef: [Read more...]

Check The Tape – Penn State

What is wrong with the human mind/body that you can still get nervous when watching a field goal that you already know goes in? How is the brain able to convince itself that it might not happen? I’m watching Reisner line up and my heart is racing watching the tape. The brain is weird. Wait, I know – Illinois football has done this to me. [Read more...]

Back & Forth – Penn State

It’s so much more fun to discuss a win.  Or is it?  The LOL Bowl is now a play-in game.  Would I rather have the season over and done with than give Fitzee the chance to crush our dreams?  Yep – you’re right.  Even if it would be painful, it’s worth it for a chance at a bowl.  Steve and I discuss just that: [Read more...]

Why

You forget. You forget the why. You’re fully aware of the who and the what, you can schedule the when and the where, but every now and then, you need a game like this to remember the why. When Reisner’s field goal went through, and the seniors gathered to sing the school song with tears in their eyes, I remembered why.

[Read more...]

From The Field

When we missed the field goal and needed a three-and-out and a miracle, I headed down to the field. Then I pressed record. Then the assistant AD came up and introduced himself so I thought I couldn’t use the recording. Then Reisner hit the field goal and a screamed. Then I saw Mrs. Beckman crying. Then JDV cried. Then I choked up. [Read more...]

What You Should Know About These 2014 Seniors

I am an Illini football fan for the players. I want them to win so I can YAY TEAM second; I want them to win for them first. The field celebration after the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl win remains the highlight of my 6 years of blogging. That team, all that pressure of their coach getting fired, then one emotional release. I still hold out hope that these seniors can experience that. [Read more...]

The Three Step Pull – Part Deux

It feels so good to have captured three of The Seventeen Illini Fans Who Care More About Football Than Basketball to have them write for IlliniBoard. If you read Steve’s words on Monday, Craig’s words yesterday, and Martin O’Donnell’s words that follow this intro, I guarantee you’re 21% more knowledgeable about football. IlliniBoard. Educating the 13 fans who still care. Since 2013. [Read more...]

Those Were The Days – Penn State

Gonna be a five post day here on the IB. First, Detlef with Those Were The Days, then Martin O’Donnell’s latest Three Step Pull, then three posts from me: one about the seniors, one after the Austin Peay game, and finally, around midnight, the SOC. Starting us off, Detlef takes us back to 2007…… [Read more...]

Craig Has The Scout – Penn State

The second half of Preview Day, where Trevor previews Austin Peay and Craig previews Penn State. For this one, Craig’s a bit surly. Just like Steve was a bit surly in our Back & Forth.  Just like I was surly when I Checked The Tape. Mid-November: The Most Surliest Time Of The Year. Here’s Craig:

Ghosts of the Football Game Past

The Illinois defense allowed an Iowa offense explosion not seen since 2005. The Illini defense was horrific against the run, again. Yet, I walked out of the stadium muttering under my breath about the offense in this game. Here is the Illinois Drive Chart for the Game:

Plays

Yards

Time

1st Downs

Plays > 5 YDS

Result

5

9

3:14

1

1

Punt

3

-7

1:03

0

0

Safety

3

34

1:13

0

1

Touchdown

3

3

0:50

0

0

Punt

3

8

1:59

0

1

Punt

11

42

5:02

4

4

Punt

3

1

0:59

0

0

Punt

6

14

2:48

1

2

Punt

3

9

1:07

0

1

Punt

4

14

1:46

1

1

Punt

12

89

4:13

3

6

Touchdown

Bill Cubit called one of the most perplexing games I have seen against Iowa. [Warning: NERDstats coming] Bill Connelly’s S&P+ measures teams on the success rate of plays of all teams. Here is the definition of success:

50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

Given that Illinois had a bye to prepare for Iowa, and a really solid blueprint for beating the Hawkeyes from both Minnesota and Maryland, that level of incompetence is surprising. The Illinois offensive game plan failed to take advantage of the Hawkeyes on the perimeter, and did not attack the Hawkeye secondary. Things the Terrapins and Gophers thrived on. Additionally, the inability of Illinois to run the ball allowed Iowa to sit in 2 high safeties the entire game and nullified any passing threat from Lunt.

The staff meeting rooms in Champaign need to realize something going into the Penn State game. Just because the offense runs too many variables and formations, it does not mean the defense cannot change it up once or twice. Illinois sat in the same defense that failed to work for most of the game. The wrinkle of walking a safety up used against Minnesota was only shown once.

Coming Up Next

Who: Penn State Nittany Lions
When: 11:00 am – November 15th
Where: Home Sweet Home
How: ESPN2

The Cast:
Quarterback: Chrisitan Hackenburg. Hackenburg and Lunt are the two best pure passers in the B1G. That being said, both are prone to head scratching throws and bad decisions. Hackenburg will throw for 250 yards against Illinois, but will give the Illini two opportunities for interceptions on Saturday.

Linebacker: Mike Hull. Well, he is the best linebacker for the Nittany Lions, so he will be talked about incessantly. He is an assignment sound linebacker who Illinois could exploit on the perimeter.

Defensive Tackle: Anthony Zettel. After the performance of the Illini OL against Ott and Trinca-Pasat, Zettel should have a field day. Zettel was a DE before being moved to DT this year. More talented than any of Iowa’s DTs, Gene Honda should make sure he circles #98.

Announcer: Matt Millen. Brian Barnhart and Kurt Kittner do a really nice job on the radio call. Try to find them for the game, Millen will be in full PSU mode for this game.

A Quick Primer

The Iowa game finally broke the final stalwarts of the Illini fanbase. So, this game won’t feel as bad. The Penn State offense is a patchwork offensive line which struggles to establish a running game. The Penn State defense features a stout front 7 and a questionable secondary.

What Are They DOING – Offense Edition?

James Franklin is in his first year at Penn State. Offensively, Franklin comes out of the Ralph Friedgen offensive philosophy. When Franklin is most comfortable, he is running a power run game with safe passing routes to supplement. Just like Iowa. Unlike Iowa, he does not run the zone blocking schemes, and takes more chances deep down the field.

Penn State also uses standard personnel when possible. They have a phenomenal tight end, Jesse James, that they will move between the slot and traditional TE position that creates quite a few mismatches. The Penn State receivers are all very good blockers, and do a good job of maintaining blocks down the field. They will also mix up the splits of the receivers in the formation to assist in blocking. Here is a play they will run at least 5 times against Illinois, along with a variant used on the splits to help gain the edge. First, the base play:

PSU1
The backside guard has the Will LB on Flow, and the Free Safety is basically 1-1 with the Running back in the hole. The Nittany Lions will rely on the Safety overpursuing and getting caught in the wash. To help with that problem though, they can change up the formation a bit and run it like this instead:

PSU2
In this version, it is a footrace between the back and the safety to the sideline. Temple and Northwestern defended this very well, Maryland not as much.

Penn State has a trap in their playbook to keep the LBs honest though, but I expect the play to be used on Saturday against an overly aggressive Illini front:

PSU3
This play is basically an elaborate Trap play, and if the LBs over pursue, they will make the block for the TE (Y) and tackle much easier.

The Penn State running game will also feature the Power O, and well as the ISO runs. The offensive line for the Nittany Lions is suspect, but the entire passing philosophy of the offense is based on a controlled power running game. Expect to see the Power O multiple times, a version seen here:

PSU4
Coupled with a Fullback lead ISO run, seen here:

PSU5
Penn State loves to motion in the presnap, and will move split receivers into the tackle box quite often. They will also motion the tight end across the formation to flip the strength. Last week, Illinois was confused when Iowa did this, and in the second half actively moved the defensive tackles to the strength of the formation. It is concerning it took as much effort as seen on Saturday to get the front aligned, as it was painfully obvious the LBs were repeating the same instructions to the front 4. It was also painfully obvious what Iowa was going to run a zone blocking style play off tackle. Illinois could not stop it, and Weisman gutted the Illini front with it. Penn State does not run the same blocking scheme as Iowa from the tape I watched. I imagine, aside from the sweep above, they will attack the perimeter with a counter and a Gap O (basically the Power O to the perimeter). Here is the counter using an H back:

PSU6
Here is the Gap O, trying to spring the back to the perimeter:

PSU7

As Saturday winds down, the success of the Penn State offense will reside solely in its ability to win the point of attack against the Illini front. If the Illini recent history is an indication, Penn State should be able to control the Illini on the perimeter and grind out drives. On the other hand, Penn State played one of the most inept games in recent memory against Indiana. Here is the Penn State drive chart:

Plays

Yards

Time

1st Downs

Plays > 5 YDS

Result

3

7

0:26

0

1

Punt

6

34

3:28

1

2

Punt

4

12

1:36

1

1

Punt

3

-2

1:41

0

0

Punt

12

80

6:23

4

4

FG Blocked

1

0

0:09

0

0

Interception

1

92

0:20

0

1

Touchdown

3

0

0:22

0

0

Punt

9

39

3:49

2

3

Field Goal

8

44

3:44

3

3

Punt

3

-5

1:56

0

0

Punt

5

18

2:47

1

1

Punt

3

-4

0:53

0

0

Interception

3

9

2:00

0

0

Punt

5

13

1:31

1

1

Field Goal

As poor as that looks, it still outshines Illinois’ performance on Saturday.

The Penn State passing attack will look similar to the Iowa playbook last week, in fact the flood patterns (the Rudock run towards the end zone) were in full effect last week. The Nittany Lions will run similar patterns, and here is the one discussed last week with Iowa:

PSU8
The Hawkeyes ran this a couple of times last week, and the Illinois defense was badly out of position both times. I would expect Penn State to run this play out of a play action look, and naked boot Hackenburg in the direction of the pass routes. The Illinois defense has struggled against this over the course of the season.

The Nittany Lions are another team that runs route trees. One play that they will most likely run against the Illini is a multiple progression read that is great since it has a hot route option (W), and allows the running back to slide protect if needed, then slide into the flat if the protection up front is good. Here is my take on the play:

PSU9
The danger in this play for Illinois is the TE. He will read the safety and bend his route as necessary. As mentioned before, he is a versatile player and solid receiver. The X in this play would be DaeSean Hamilton, who is the best receiver for the Nittany Lions. If the Illini corners play as uninspired as they have recently, the Hitch will be open with a corner three yards behind the catch.

Since the Illini tend to run Cover 2 primarily, expect the Nittany Lions to challenge the Illini deep. One play I would expect to see is TE Seam route, with the Running Back running behind him down the field – seen here:

PSU10
Illinois is susceptible to this and I fear that they will struggle to control the varying levels of receivers in the center of the field.

Penn State loves to move Hackenburg around as well, especially off of play action. The boot pass seen here is a staple of the offense, so prepare to see it early and often. This is the Ron Turner special, a very simple play, but hard to defend by a team selling out against the run.

PSU11
Penn State has a terrible offensive line, and a mediocre set of receivers. The running backs are far from being Melvin Gordon. Yet, I cannot see Illinois stopping them consistently. Luckily for Illinois, the inconsistency of the Penn State offense will allow for plenty of chances to force a turnover. Unfortunately for Illinois, Iowa gave them the same chances last week and they did not capitalize on them.

What Are They DOING – Defense Edition?

Penn State will a 4 man front against the Illini, while trying to keep two LBs on the field at all times.

PSU12
The Illini interior of the line will face the strength of the Penn State defense, which bodes ill for the Illini. Expect the Nittany Lions to run stunts with the tackles alone due to the athleticism of the duo, and the Illini struggling with blocking assignments. Here is the tackle twist:

PSU13
Aside from these two nuggets, the only thing to add is that Penn State looks surprisingly like Iowa on film. The defense is gap and assignment sound, but struggles with backs getting to the perimeter. Northwestern ran roughshod on the perimeter with a sweep, and Ohio State ran read option off tackle with success until Barrett was injured.

The Penn State secondary is young and prone to bad penalties, but solid. I expect Cubit to try and confuse the secondary with multiple route trees, but am unsure how it will unfold due to the pressure the Nittany Lions will generate with the front four. The defense does not gamble often, relying on solid fundamentals to force opponents into turnovers and punts.

What does it mean?

Penn State will try to get a lead early. The gambling mentality of Franklin will be present in the first quarter. If they gain the lead, expect them to sit on Illinois. The inability of the offense to sustain drives against mediocre talent (see the drive chart above) means they will rely on the defense to make plays.

The Penn State defense will force Illinois to beat them with deeper passes and runs to the perimeter. Based on the Illini inability to run or throw deep against Iowa, it is a solid strategy.

For Illinois to Win:

Illinois will have to win the turnover battle and establish some run game. The Penn State defensive tackles are very stout, and could lead a romp similar to what Washington brought early in the year. I would expect Cubit to mix in a series of Bailey or O’Toole to show option as the Nittany Lions struggle with it relative to other schemes. Illinois will also have to get an early lead, a pressing Penn State is a vulnerable Penn State.

For Penn State to Win:

The Nittany Lions have to avoid critical turnovers. The Illini are not great at forcing turnovers, but the Penn State offense is loose with the ball. Additionally, Penn State can not get into a punting contest with Illinois. The Illini hold a significant advantage at punter. Remember to stand up for special teams.

Illinois +6.5

My head tells me that Illinois is facing a slightly worse version of Iowa. My heart says that Penn State is the most vulnerable team Illinois has faced all season, they just qualified for a bowl game last week, and it is senior day. Then, I remember Fresno State on senior day. I really want to pick Illinois straight up, but my fingers are friends with my head. Penn State to cover.

YTD Against the Spread:
5-5-0

Check The Tape – Iowa

As painful as any post I’ve written in years. This tape is so hard to watch. 3 point underdogs, at home, first crowd of 50,000+, a team that just lost to a team we beat (giving up 51 points in doing so), and then THAT. [Read more...]