Ethos 2.0

When we were 6-0 in 2011 and ranked 15th in the nation, we played Ohio State at home and lost. My post after the game focused on one thing: the fans booing the third play of the game. 6-0, Ohio State at home, first thing that goes wrong 45 seconds in, BOOOO.

Over time, I came to regret that post.

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9 That’s Really 7 and 4 That’s Really 6

I should do this more often. The spring game ended about 20 hours ago, but I haven’t written a postgame post yet. And I’ve found that in the last 20 hours, my thoughts have changed a bit. Maybe I should do this every week during the season. Here’s my thoughts on the game… and here’s where my thoughts settled 24 hours later.

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Spring Game Slideshow

Haven’t tried one of these posts before.  But Jonathan was here at the Spring Game today, so I figured I’d take some of his photos and upload them as a slideshow.  If this works, great – we’ll use it again on Wednesday night when Jonathan shoots photos of the new uniforms.  If it doesn’t work… then you’ll probably never read this because I will have deleted this post and it will have never existed.

Photos by Jonathan Street, Illiniboard.com

Thursday Practice Breakdown

Because I’m one of The Seventeen, how ’bout I put together the breakdown from the practice last night as a list of seventeen things I observed?  Or, more accurately, sixteen things I observed and then an interview I did with Chunky Clements.  Did you know that Chunky is exactly like Juice?  Named that as a baby and it carried forward throughout his childhood and into college?  You already knew that?  OK cool. [Read more...]

Spring Game Head Coach Smack Talk

The rosters are picked. The coaching staff is divided. The alumni coaches all have a sideline to stand on. So the only thing left to do before the Spring Game on Saturday was this: talk to both head coaches – Mike Ward for the Orange Squad and Alex Golesh for the Blue – and see how they feel about facing each other.

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Spring Game Roster Breakdown

This is one of my favorite articles of the year: breaking down the spring game rosters.  I pride myself on knowing more about this roster than any human on the planet, so when a situation arises like this, I’m the doctor on the airplane when someone passes out.  I’m Costanza walking the beach when they need a marine biologist. I’m Illini Football Roster Guy who can leap two rosters in a single bound, make guesses as to who will start, and then tell you what to watch for.  And 17 of you need me right now.

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More Stuff From Friday’s Practice, Including BEARDTALK

Now that I’m down from the high of a fantastic practice, here are a few more takeaways from the scrimmage at SHG on Friday Night. And at the end of this post, BeardTalk 7.  Jack Cornell attended the scrimmage, so we just had to talk beards again for the first time since the last BeardTalk on the field at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. [Read more...]

Pacing

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Don’t get all freaked out. That’s not a shot of the crowd tonight. That’s a shot of the visitors stands on the other side of the field. There was actually a really decent crowd at SHG tonight for the scrimmage. It dwindled once it got colder and colder (isn’t April supposed to be warm?), but a strong showing from Springpatch overall.

I use that photo not to show the crowd, but to show absolute perfection for me. You know how some golfer might tweet a pic of him standing on the 18th tee at Pinehurst? Or some wine connoisseur might send you a pic of the world’s greatest wine cellar and label it “absolute perfection”. For me, it’s a completely open top row in a football stadium. Just give me the opportunity to walk back and forth, following the line of scrimmage.

At a stadium like SHG in Springfield, the visitor side viewing angle was just about perfect. Just about the right height to watch football. And with all of the crowd in the main stands, I could walk back and forth all night and follow the action. Absolute perfection.

Ok, to the scrimmage. My football practice posts are starting to sound like a baseball broadcast because I always include the same disclaimer. It’s not “without the express written consent of Major League Baseball”, but here’s my disclaimer:

I’m me. I get excited. As the self-appointed leader of The Seventeen, I spend my life looking for positive things to talk about when it comes to Illini football. I’m constantly searching for it, and when I see it, I tend to get overly excited. It’s just who I am. So please keep that in mind when reading the following words:

What an incredible performance.

As I said in the interview post, this scrimmage is going to tell us more than the Spring Game next Saturday. The Spring game will still be fun (because it’s ILLINI FOOTBALL) but there was more to learn tonight. This was the ones against the twos. So while the spring game will have first stringers lined up with third stringers, this was the starters all playing together. Ones against twos each way.

And the ones completely dominated. They did a “halftime” where they huddled up and then changed how they scrimmaged (mostly situational drills after that), and at that halftime I’d say the first string offense had put up 300+ yards on the second string defense and the first string defense had held the second string offense to 44 yards. I’m probably forgetting a few plays, but it was touchdown drive then touchdown drive (they’d run two drives before switching), and then they’d switch to the twos vs. the ones and it was three and out, three and out.

That’s nearly exactly what you want to see in a scrimmage. As an excitable Illini fool, I don’t think I could have scripted it any better. The very first drive was a beautiful 45 yard touchdown pass from Wes Lunt to Geronimo Allison. And before I could finish tweeting about it, they switched to go the other way and Wes Lunt hit Mikey Dudek with a 55 yard bomb.

They switch to the second string offense and first string defense and it’s three and out (loss of a few yards) followed by maybe one first down and then a punt. Kenny Nelson making a fool of any second string tackle they sent his way. Mason Monheim shooting a gap and making a tackle. V’Angelo Bentley breaking up a pass on third down.

I’m watching this and wondering how it could go any better. It was nearly exactly what I wanted to see. It’s seriously hard to imagine scripting it any different. There was one drive I chronicled on Twitter. Starting at the 20:

Lunt to Dionte Taylor for a first down
Lunt to Dude K for a first down
Lunt to Dude K for a first down
Lunt to Dionte Taylor for a first down
Josh Ferguson 7 yard run
Josh Ferguson 8 yard touchdown

I mean, I guess we could be depressed that the second string defense wasn’t any better, and maybe I’m overselling this whole thing based on the fact that our backups are poor, but seriously, the first string was dominant. I’ve watched a lot of ones vs. twos scrimmages before, and this was as good as we’ve looked in a while. Maybe have to go back to Camp Rantoul 2010 when both units started to click for a performance this good.

But seriously – ask anyone you know who was there tonight. That was about as good as it gets.

What does that all mean?

+ It means it’s probably already time to put my “Bailey over Lunt by a 51/49 margin” to bed. I figured I could hold on until Rantoul at least, but tonight’s performance was just too good.

If you listened to the interviews in the other post, you heard me ask Coach Bellamy if Wes Lunt reminded him of a certain other transfer quarterback in the late 80′s who took us to the Top 5 in the country. And he said he looks at it like that all the time. We seriously might have another Jeff George on our hands.

That’s not to say Wes Lunt will be the #1 pick in the NFL draft. I’m just saying “transfer QB who comes in and elevates the entire program”. There was a solid crowd there tonight (solid for an Illini scrimmage, at least), and many of those people were there to see Wes Lunt. He did not disappoint.

Did Aaron Bailey disappoint? Not… really? He had two huge handicaps: 1) His game is all about his feet, and in a scenario where one defensive lineman can reach out and get a finger on your shoulder and you’re “sacked”, you’re not going to be able to do much, and 2) he was mostly running with the second string (and facing the first string defense).

He had some nice runs… but he was running for his life. He had some nice throws… but he also had some clunkers.

Overall, I’m putting Bailey 51, Lunt 49 to bed, but I’m hanging on to The 140 Offense. Use them like Northwestern used Siemian and Colter or like Indiana uses Sudfeld and Roberson. Bailey is still incredible with the ball in his hands, so let’s make use of that.

But man. Wes Lunt is the man.

+ It’s still Spring Ball, and it’s still against our #2 defense missing several injured players, but I think we might have already found two targets for Lunt.

Mikey Dudek and Geronimo Allison both easily eclipsed 100 yards receiving tonight (well, one long bomb was called back for a penalty, but BOOO ref). It’s still early, but it kind of feels like we already know who the main outside receiver (G-Mo) and the main slot receiver (Dude K). Which is really weird given that this was their 12th ever Illini football practice.

Both really look the part. G-Mo is that tall, lanky Michigan State receiver we haven’t had in a long time, and Dude K is shockingly light on his feet – the kid can turn on a dime. I’d say that Lunt’s targets tonight were, in order, Dudek, Allison, Barr, Taylor, Hardee, and then Bonahoom. Really surprising that the two new guys are leading that. REALLY surprising that an early-enrollee true freshman headed to prom in three weeks is by far Lunt’s #1 target.

+ The offensive line had a solid night. First string dominated the second string DL and gave Lunt plenty of time to throw.

I tweeted this at the beginning of practice, but the biggest surprise of the night was that the first string line was Heitz at right tackle, Karras at right guard, Joe Spencer at center, Alex Hill at left guard, and Simon Cvijanovic at right tackle.

They would switch it out from time to time and go back to the line that we were all seeing at the beginning of the spring: Austin Schmidt at right tackle, with Hill at center and Heitz at left guard. But for the most part, it was redshirt-sophomore Joe Spencer running with the starters.

What does that mean? I think it means that they’re evaluating whether redshirt sophomore Spencer is ahead of true sophomore Schmidt. Spencer is an interior guy and Schmidt is a tackle, so it might be as simple as this: if Schmidt is ahead, Heitz is the left guard. If Spencer is ahead, Heitz is the right tackle.

+ Kenny Nelson had another strong scrimmage. There were two consecutive plays during Aaron Bailey’s first series where he made a fool of Scott McDowell and sacked Bailey back to back. The second time he was almost apologetic, like “sorry I have to do this, but *tap* you’re sacked.”

He still has a lot to learn about run defense (doesn’t every Illini defensive lineman?), but we had so little pass rush last year that any time someone gets in the quarterback’s face I’m excited. We could really use a breakout year from Nelson in his fourth (redshirt junior) season.

+ Negatives. There are always negatives.

Well, our depth, for starters. If the dropoff from the first string to the second string is that severe, you have depth issues. Especially on defense. Some help does arrive in August (Jihad Ward and Carroll Phillips, namely), but for now, depth is still a big concern.

I feel good about a defensive tackle rotation of Teitsma, Teko, and Chunky, but who are the fourth and fifth guys? Jake Howe and???

I feel OK about the linebackers – Earnest Thomas looks like a really good fit at Star – but can they chase down Melvin Gordon?

I feel pretty good about the cornerbacks, but name me four safeties. It’s really hard to do. So depth is a concern.

So are penalties. Maybe the crew working the scrimmage was flag happy, but there was yellow everywhere tonight. At least five holding calls. Two big pass interference calls. That’s always the thing that comes up and bites us. We can look great at practice, but then penalties and turnovers enter the equation and all of that “great” is thrown out the window.

And even though the first string defense shut down the second string offense, I think this team is still offense >>>> defense. We need to remove two of those “>” symbols before the season.

+ I’ll pause here for a quick note of thanks.

To all the people who came up and said hi tonight – thanks. Seriously, your words of encouragement mean a lot. I love Illini football, and I love that you love that I love Illini football.

To all of the people who have subscribed to the site – thanks. I’m typing this from a hotel room in Springfield, paid by you. Brumby and I still haven’t taken a single dime of the subscription money for ourselves. We pay our expenses (like the gas to get here and this hotel room, plus server costs and such), and the rest we’ve been rolling back into the site. We have some things we want to invest in this summer, and he has some site changes planned, and we wouldn’t be able to do it (or afford it) without our subscribers.

I don’t say thank you enough for that, so… thanks. I love doing this, and you make it possible.

+ Overall, tonight left me pacing. The mind tends to wander when the team looks this good. Yes, it’s just our ones dominating our twos, but still, even with that caveat, this was about as impressive as we’ve ever looked doing that. Maybe that means we just don’t have a single ounce of depth… or maybe this means this team is poised to have a little breakout season with a possible superstar at quarterback.

The thing I keep coming back to – and the thing I kept thinking about as I was pacing back and forth on that top row – is that Wes Lunt is a redshirt sophomore. Many people focus on the fact that he’s already played BCS conference football, and that’s great, but I keep thinking about how this is his third season, and we get him for three seasons. “Third year for skill players, fourth year for linemen” has always been my thing, and now Lunt is entering his third year, and because of the transfer he redshirted and we get him for 2014, 2015, AND 2016. With an offensive coordinator who knows what he’s doing.

If Lunt really is the real deal – and I challenge you to find one person walking out of that scrimmage tonight that doesn’t think he is – then I don’t even know where to go with my thoughts. Genuine superstar with NFL potential? Wearing orange and blue? BRAND NEW orange and blue which will be unveiled in 12 days?

*paces around hotel room*

Post-Practice Interviews

So much to go through from tonight. Not to talk bad about the Spring Game or anything, but this was the scrimmage where we’d learn the most. In the Spring Game, they have a draft and they pick two teams. In this scrimmage, it was the one offense against the two defense and then the two offense against the one defense. In the Spring Game you’ll see the first string left tackle lined up next to the third string left guard – in this scrimmage all of the staters played together.

I’m already writing the other post and this is the interview post. So here they are: Austin Teitsma, Josh Ferguson, and Coach Bellamy:

Austin Teitsma:

Josh Ferguson:

Coach Bellamy:

Check The Tape – QB Video

No, really. I’m seriously doing this. I’m so starved for Illini football film (or is it attention?) that I’m CTT-ing the highlights they showed in the latest “Illini QB” video. Yes, I am. Really.

Is there much to learn? Of course not. Is this a fairly pointless exercise? Of course it is. Am I doing it anyway? Yes. Because this is my team, and I can’t not pour over every available video.

To the “tape”:

Shedding Blocks

When you’re watching film of your team playing your team, you see both the good and the bad on one play. “Yay, the defense did that well! Wait, that means the offense did that poorly.”

So when going through this first clip, keep that in mind. This is either Simon Cvijanovic holding his block really well… or BJ Bello really struggling to shed a block to get to the ballcarrier.

Goal line play, Josh Ferguson is getting the handoff, and Simon takes on BJ Bello (#10):

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To keep him from scoring, Bello needs to get off this block right here. But he doesn’t.

Bello2

Which means Josh Ferguson has a one on one at the goal line with a safety. With that much of a gap, and a one on one situation, and only one yard needed, there’s really nothing a single safety can do if Bello can’t get off that block.

Bello3

Did Simon hook under his shoulder and give him a tug that was fairly close to holding? Yes. Do I want Simon to do that on every play because there’s holding on every play but you just have to disguise it? Yes.

Run The Receiver’s Route For Him

Want to learn how to get a few interceptions? Just read the route after the snap and then beat the receiver to the spot where the ball will be thrown.

In the video, Aaron Bailey had just made a nice throw to Kenny Knight for a 30+ yard gain. On the next play, he launches one for the corner of the endzone:

Bentley1

This next pic makes it look like a great throw. Receiver one step in front of the corner, ball placed where only the receiver can grab it.

Bentley2

Wait, no. The guy in orange is the cornerback (Bentley). The guy in blue is the receiver (Whitlow). So that’s not a touchdown – that’s an interception.

Bentley3

We only had one angle at it, but I don’t blame Bailey for that INT one bit. He threw it to the spot. It’s just that V’Angelo read the receiver, likely jumped in front when the receiver curled for the corner, and then outraced him to the spot where the ball would land.

Do this 12 times this season, V’Angelo.

Little Things

I’d like to pause here to point out the ridiculousness of doing a Check The Tape post based on three minutes of highlights shown at the end of a video about the QB battle.

THAT SAID, here are some little things I noticed:

Devin Church (#23) lined up in the Josh Ferguson spot. I’ve been hoping he’s more tailback than slot receiver, so I like seeing this.

Church

Want to see the difference between a senior offensive tackle and a sophomore? In this screencap, on the snap of the ball, senior Simon Cvijanovic is firing into his shuffle step immediately to get leverage on the defensive end. On the other side, sophomore Austin Schmidt is still in his stance. That half second, right there, is sometimes the difference between positive and negative yards:

Simon step

Oh, and I also figured out why our QB’s are having a solid spring. At the end of each practice they touch the Hand of Manberg. #handofmanberg

HandOfManberg

You Tell Me

A new feature on Check The Tape! I did a screenshot of all three quarterbacks throwing the ball. I have my thoughts, and I have reasons I froze the tape at each spot, but I’m curious if you see the same things.

Here’s all three. Let me know what you think.

Lunt:

LuntRelease

O’Toole:

ROTRelease

Bailey:

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Play Of The Day

The scrimmage was closed to the media, but according to the announcer guy, this was the top play: a long touchdown pass from Wes Lunt to Dionte Taylor. Let’s break it down.

The arrow here is pointing to safety Zane Petty. The fact that he’s running parallel to the yard lines tells me that Dionte Taylor has done his job. He’s sold the inside route.

TaylorTD1

So when Taylor makes his turn – a sharp turn there is the key to this entire route – Petty will have to reverse field.

TaylorTD2

And if Lunt makes a perfect throw, this play is over. Saftey chased it inside, receiver made a sharp cut, quarterback put the ball to the outside where only the receiver could catch it… touchdown.

TaylorTD3

After the TD signal, Wes Lunt and offensive guard Joe Spencer celebrated. The celebration was… interesting.

Wes Joe