Robert is in New York, so he asked me to handle the Northwestern game. I’ll get to the game in a moment. Before I do, I want to talk about three other teams, each on a different rung of the college football ladder. [Read more…]


When the list went around for postgame player interview requests, I asked to talk to Joe Spencer. In the interview room, however, I had to wait 15 minutes as other media interviewed him.  When he came over to sit down with me, I told him I had requested him but everyone else jumped in first. “They wanted to talk to me because they thought I’d cry.” About that… [Read more…]

From The Stands – Iowa

I’m not even sure why I recorded this. And I’m going to warn you – holding the mic close to my mouth resulted in BEARD SCRATCHING IN THE AUDIO. Also, a former player’s father came up to say hi at the esd so this just… stops. But hey, now that I’ve sold it so well, here’s From The Stands! [Read more…]

Craig Has The Scout – Iowa 2016

Ghosts of the Football Game Past

Most people will say there is nothing to be learned from a game like this.  One thing most people will miss is that the Illini actually put a hurting on the traditional Badger run game.  I diagrammed a series of runs with the Badgers last week, and most of them involved a fullback.  Against MSU and Michigan, they used a fullback about ⅔ or their plays.  Against Illinois, that shifted down to 40%.  The Illini held the Badgers to 3.4 yards per play in the I formation, but had no answer when Wisconsin ran plays from the single back.  Oh, and the shotgun, but that was very boom or bust.  The upside: the Illini defense took an opponent out of its game.  The downside: they absolutely could not stop the adjustment.

The Illini defense was gashed by the Wisconsin run game.  The Badgers ran the ball for 358 yards on 63 carries (I refuse to count sacks as rushes, NCAA).  The Illini defense had no answer for the inside zone.  Listening to Allen Bestwick call this game was my own personal hell: Allen Bestwick is my favorite Indycar announcer, so for him to be the voice of Illinois’ annihilation was more painful for me than a Beth Mowins play-by-play.

Coming Up Next

Who: Iowa Hawkeyes

When: 11:00am – November 19th, 2016

Where: Home Sweet Home

How: BTN

The Cast:

Quarterback:  CJ Beathard (#16).  Beathard is a pocket QB, who can move but is not a big threat to run.  The closest comp Beathard has in the B1G is Wes Lunt.  Beathard struggles with pressure on the edges, which should play into the Illini DEs.

Linebacker: Bo Bower (#41).  Bower is the LB the Illini should pick on this weekend, which in turns means he will have a big game.  Bower rarely comes off the field as the WILL, he bounces out to the edges against 3 WR sets.  He looks a bit like Mike Svetina during his year at STAR.

Offensive Line: Sean Welsh (#79).  The junior from Ohio really stands out on tape.  He is the most mobile of the Iowa lineman, and he is a bit of a road grader.  Last week, Wisconsin really hammered Jackson and Bain inside for the Illini.  This week, they are going to be challenged by the best interior lineman they have faced this season.

Cornerback: Desmond King (#14).  As close to a shutdown corner as exists in the B1G West, King is also the primary kick returner for the Hawkeyes.  King is quick and dangerous, and with the way the Illini special teams have played, I expect him to score a TD.

A Quick Primer

The schedule makers really did Iowa no favors.  They just finished a three game stretch of Wisconsin, Penn St. and Michigan.  Now they have Illinois wedged in before the season finale against Nebraska.  This is the very definition of a trap game.

Iowa is secretly very mediocre.  The Hawkeyes are coming off the huge victory against Michigan.  Which means they mediocre, but play manball very well.  The key to beating the Hawkeyes is being able to run to the perimeter and force the Iowa DTs and LBs to move laterally.

What Are They DOING – Offense Edition?

Iowa is the most predictable offense in the B1G.  When Greg Davis really gets rolling, they come out in an I formation.  The Hawkeyes prefer the run the offense out of the I, but will get a little crazy and mix up some double tight single back formations.  When the Iowa offense gets in 3rd and long solutions, it will move over to the Shotgun formation.

The Iowa offense last week had went a little Jeckyl and Hyde.  They started the first half almost exclusively running a single back offense.  They moved in the second half to the preferred I-formation.  The Greg Davis offense is extremely predictable, borderline criminal, and so Iowa.

Illinois struggled stopping the inside zone last week, and Iowa is pretty proficient at it.  The Hawkeyes will feed the Illini a steady diet of the inside zone.  Iowa loves this play, and runs this out of double tight, motion with a back, and out of a 3 WR look.


Against an odd man front, the Hawkeyes will actually run this to the weak side.  If Illinois walks the safety into the box, the diagram will run the opposite of what I have in the drawing here.

The next play the Hawkeyes will run is the Power.  Illinois actually bottled this up ok the last two weeks, but this is a staple of the Greg Davis offense, and one of the plays they utilize for play action.slide4I’ve used this for the last 3 weeks, so not much more to say.  Except that Welsh is really good, which adds a new dimension to this play.

Iowa likes to add in the toss sweep as a change of pace element to the run game.slide5Depending on the alignment of the Illini, the Iowa OL will pull the play side OT or OG.  Against Michigan, they ran away from Charlton, and against Illinois they will run away from Smoot.  President is much better suited to take on this play, so it will be interesting to see if Phillips can play it consistently.

The primary play action I believe the Hawkeyes will use this week is off of the inside zone play. slide6The Hawkeyes will keep both TEs in on this play and give Beathard max protection.  If the RB is not needed, he will squirt out to the flat opposite the WRs.  The wheel route is the last option for Beathard.

On 3rd down, Iowa has two looks.  If they are 3 yards or less, they will come out in an I formation and run the ball between the tackles (either a zone or power play).  If they are 3 yards or longer, they will come out in the Shotgun formation.  Iowa lined up in Shotgun 18 times against Michigan, and passed it 18 times.  The “run” play out of the formation is this screen.

slide7The WR screen is a good counter against an Illini DL that gets upfield with abandon.

Iowa’s offense makes vanilla exciting.  Davis is going to grind out yards and play physical football.  As the Illini showed last year, they have the ability to disrupt this offense with penetration.  

What Are They DOING – Defense Edition?

Iowa is a base 4-3 defense, running primarily Cover 3 and mixing in a little Cover 2 behind it.

slide9In the base Cover 3, the Strong Safety sits in the middle running a robber defense on middle zones.  The Hawkeyes almost never break out of this personnel grouping. The defense utilizes its strength, primarily a good mix of DTs and MLB Josey Jewell.

Should the Illini go to 3 wide, the Hawkeyes respond by bouncing a LB out to meet.  Bower at Will is the LB they normally move out, and he plays close to a STAR LB role as mentioned above.

slide10Bower is easily exposed in open space, and Illinois should try to isolate Corbin with Bower in space.

If Illinois moves to a 2 tight end formation, the Hawkeyes will respond by walking Ben Niemann up to the line.

slide11Illinois and Foster will have an opportunity on this, as Niemann does a good job of forcing everything back in, but leaves good cutback lanes in turn.

One interesting wrinkle with the Iowa defense last week was they began slanting the DL.  The Hawkeyes normally rush four and try to contain a pocket, and did so against Penn St. and McSorley.  

slide12Last week against Michigan, Phil Parker gave the Wolverines a new look by slanting the DTs to mix up the blocking scheme.  It was pretty effective, so I imagine they will resume this week.  When slanting, the Hawkeyes still only rushed 4.

The other thing to note with the Iowa defense is that they will mix in a zone blitz using Matt Nelson as the drop end.  

slide13The idea here is to get pressure in the face of the QB, which both George and Lunt struggle with.

The Iowa defense has been boom or bust all season.  They mix the 13 point effort against Michigan with a 38 point boondoggle against Northwestern.  

What does it mean?

Iowa has a couple of pieces that the Illini lack.  The DTs for the Hawkeyes (primarily Jaleel Johnson, the one who got away) are solid.  Josey Jewell in the middle is tough against the run and covers a great deal of ground in pass coverage.  Desmond King is a difference maker in the return game.  Offensively, the OL is cohesive, but lacks experienced depth.

Illinois simply lacks a difference maker on offense to break the Iowa defense down.  The Illini have been boom or bust on offense, so it will be relying on Reggie Corbin and Kendrick Foster to break big plays to keep it close.

For Illinois to Win:

Iowa has to turn the ball over, and Illinois needs to figure out how to stop the single back zone run.  Nickerson and Phair have shown some nice adjustments the last 2 weeks, with mixed results.  To win, they need to bottle up the Iowa run game and make Beathard beat them.  Also, you cannot have the types of turnovers the Illini had last week and win.

For Iowa to Win:

The Hawkeyes need to avoid a critical turnover, and to avoid the hard headed approach of Michigan last week.  Last week, the Iowa defense bottled up the Wolverines, and Michigan tried to impose its will, even when other plays worked.  Ferentz and OC Greg Davis need to avoid the same trap.  Paul Chryst showed the flexibility to adjust his gameplan to hammer the Illini, the Hawkeyes will need to do the same.

Illinois +10

Special teams are going to let Illinois down, and the power running game means Iowa is going to slowly strangle the Illini.  Give me Iowa to cover.

YTD Against the Spread:


Back & Forth – Wisconsin

I mean, who wants to email about a game like that? Who even wants to acknowledge that it happened? Well, Steve and I have a pact to email back and forth about every game, so we pushed through. For you, the 4 people who want to read more articles about this game. [Read more…]

Not Much To Talk About

Not really sure what I’m supposed to type. I’m not really angry after a loss like that. I had high hopes going in (not of winning, but of playing well and showing we’re better in November), but around the third first-half interception, I gave that up. The rest I watched on auto-pilot.  [Read more…]

Those Were The Days – Wisconsin

Illinois travels to that school up north, Wisconsin, for another Big Ten clash.  I am going with Mrs. Detlef, a faithful Badger fan.  The one game in our marriage when Illinois beat Wisconsin was in that glorious season of 2007…and of course Mrs. Detlef wasn’t with me.  Otherwise we’ve attended together for the Illini losses in 2006, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015…I better stop.  I look forward to drinking New Glarus Spotted Cow on tap at Rocky Rococo’s pizza, founded by an Illinois alumnus!  Today’s tale recalls the strangest opening minute in Illinois football history…truly BOGGLE-worthy!! [Read more…]

Check The Tape – Michigan State

Sorry about the delay there – no posts on the site since Sunday night. Had another “up past midnight working on work” stretch the last few nights. Although, something tells me people were focused on other things the past few days. Anyway, here’s this week’s CTT. [Read more…]

Back & Forth – Michigan State

It’s so much more fun to email back and forth after a win. It was kind of a perfect day on Saturday (the weather, the game, the crowd), so let’s keep things rolling with some upbeat forths and backs. [Read more…]

And Now For Something Different

We’ve rebuilt before. Hell, in the last 20 years, it feels like we’ve only been rebuilding. After Tepper couldn’t maintain Mackvoic, we’ve attempted to rebuild with Turner, Zook, Beckman, and now Lovie. After today, it feels like one of these things is not like the other. [Read more…]