Back & Forth – Michigan

It’s odd to think of Michigan as this unstoppable force again. From 2008 to 2014, they were 46-42 overall and 24-32 in the Big Ten (!!). And now, they’re pretty much 100% Michigan again. And, unfortunately, so far, we’re 100% Illinois right now. Let’s not be that anymore. [Read more…]

Craig Has The Scout – Michigan 2016

Ghosts of the Football Game Past

The Rutgers game was exactly what you would expect going forward when it comes to Lovie Smith, Illinois Football Coach.  The defense was the primary area of concern against a struggling team, and they forced 5 turnovers and played well with their backs against the wall.

The defense finally played pretty well.  Some of the overpursuit and gaping hole issues were cleaned up.  It was Rutgers though, so some of that was to be expected.  The turnovers forced and the overall play of the defense was a good surprise though.

The forced turnovers from Lovie was a nice change.  The only difference between Illinois vs. Purdue and Illinois at Rutgers was the turnovers.  With Lovie as the head coach, this is what we will continue to see though.  The Illini will play conservative with leads, and defensive adjustments will be an afterthought.  The trade off for close game against good teams (Nebraska) will be nail biting wins against the dregs (Rutgers) and terrible blowouts (Western Michigan).  Beckman kind of built up a tolerance to it (see the Western Kentucky game a few years ago for example), and the Illini fanbase will take a long time to trust this team.


Coming Up Next


Who: Michigan Wolverines

When: 2:30 pm – October 22, 2016

Where: Michigan Stadium

How: BTN


The Cast:

“Linebacker”:  Jabril Peppers (#5).  Essentially a track athlete on the field.  He has been moved from a defensive back position to a linebacker position this year.  Peppers will be the best athlete on the field, and is the primary kick returner for the Wolverines.  And he leads the team in TFLs.  He will score a touchdown on Saturday.

Defensive End: Taco Charlton (#33).  The senior is the team leader in sacks for Michigan.  I could have picked Maurice Hurst as the top guy to choose for the defensive line, but if you are named Taco, I am all in on featuring that guy.  He will challenge the Illini tackles, and probably force 60 and 70 protection when Illinois passes.  He is also a monster on closing outside run lanes, so that should be a watchout for Kendrick Foster.

Defensive Back: Channing Stribling (#8).  Stribling leads the Wolverines in interceptions, and is a pretty lock down CB.  Since I believe Jeff George is going to be getting his first college snaps this weekend at the Big House, Stribling should be on high alert.

Defensive Coordinator: Don Brown.  This guy is a gem.  He took Boston College’s defense last year to unheard of heights.  He moved to Michigan this offseason, and the results are the same in Ann Arbor.  Brown does not run a very complicated scheme, but his squads execute the hell out of it.  Additionally, he seems to always have the right defense called, I haven’t seen the Wolverines out of place on film.  With a week to prepare for a very mediocre offense (potentially sans 2 QBs), I think he is installing stuff for Ohio St.  Expect the Vanilla Package this week.


A Quick Primer

There are three primary ingredients needed to make a football program successful.  The first is a decent coach.  With the right organization, you don’t even need a good one, just decent.  Which leads to the second, the overall institution.  Some places (due to history or recruiting, etc.) are set up to win more than others.  The final ingredient is an AD who is committed to winning.

Michigan is back, and it comes when they threw out Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke.  I question just how much of the struggle before Harbaugh was Hoke vs. Brandon, but either way the new combination is working well.  Michigan has all three items pointed in the right direction, and if the numbers hold should be en route to a 12-0 season (right now they would be favored against Ohio St.)

All this is instructional to Illinois, who also just turned over the head coach and the AD.  Whitman seems committed to winning (#WeWillWin and everything).  The institution may not be at Michigan’s level, but they are in a better place than many other schools.  The final ingredient is Lovie and staff.  The results to date look poor, and are quite frankly below expectations.  The long term commitment though is seen as the year progresses and the offseason.  I fully expect some staff turnover, and also a team that has a few more Nebraska surprises in them.  

Michigan is a hard team to predict in this vein though.  The Wolverines are not particularly explosive on offense, but are adept at preventing mistakes and finishing drives (kind of the anti-Rutgers in that regard).  Harbaugh is a field position nut, he will punt on 4th and 1 like a good NFL coach.  The real nugget Harbaugh has going for him is the defense.  Don Brown is the team MVP right now.  As such, make sure to celebrate the 1st downs on Saturday, it might be ugly.


What Are They DOING – Offense Edition?

Alright.  Grab the graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars.  We are going to sit around the campfire, make some S’Mores and have real talk, ok.  Illinois is about to get the daylights kicked out of them on defense. The Michigan offense is a slow grind running offense.  The Solid Verbal has a saying about Alabama slow cooking teams.  At first, it looks like nothing is happening, and as time progresses you finally realize the opponent has been completely broken down.  That is what is going to happen to Illinois this weekend.  Rutgers forced two 3 and outs to start their game against Michigan.  Then they gave up 78 points. Illinois is heading that direction this weekend.  

If Michigan has any respect for itself, it will basically punch the ball down the Illini’s throat.  The primary play I expect Michigan to run is a play to the interior of the Illini defense.  Based on how poorly the Illini have defended runs to the interior, this will be a staple of the Michigan offense.slide3So, Chunky, Rob Bain and Kenyon Jackson will need to be on their A game to make sure they slow this down.  Jackson has taken a lot of snaps in the last two games, and he alternates behind great and a freshman.  Milan has been the most consistent of the Illini DTs, and I suspect Michigan will run away from him if possible.

If MIchigan gets tired of running inside, they will run outside instead.  Here is a toss sweep Michigan likes to run.slide4When Smoot and Phillips are on the field together, Smoot normally plays the strong side.  He moves over to the weak side when President jumps on the field.  My guess is MIchigan will run this opposite Smoot when they get a chance, and right at Phillips and McGrew anytime they are in the game.  The Illini defense will need to a great job of perimeter defense during the game, Harbaugh and company will try to grind and break the Illini defense with the run.

Should the Wolverines get a little bored with two tight ends, they can throw a full back in the game and run ISO.  They killed Penn St. with this play.slide5The Wolverines have a nice compliment of backs to throw at the Illini, and it is going to be rough.  The Illini might actually allow Ty Isaac to rush for 100 yards for the second time in his career.  The back the Illini should be most afraid of based on the defense is freshman Chris Evans.  I expect him to take a long run to the house against Illinois.

The thing about the MIchigan offense is that it is very methodical.  Illinois is very disruptive at creating TFLs and negative yardage plays.  The Illini DL is very good at generating pressure on the edges and against the pass.  When Illinois has the big win on regular downs, Michigan will resort to the pass as a last resort.  Will Speight, the Michigan QB is adequate at best.  One of the favorite set of routes on medium distance is a series of outs.slide6

Michigan converted multiple 3rd downs against Penn St. with this play.  At the end of they day, the Illini has struggled in Cover 3 on underneath routes, and this will expose the edges of the Illini zones.

Another set of plays I expect the Wolverines to run is a set of screens. slide7This is a single example, but they run a version of this to the Tight End as well.  Quite frankly, the Wolverines are the best screen team the Illini will have seen, and all year they have been burned by screens.

Michigan should score 60 against Illinois.  The Illini have not been as outmatched this badly since Penn St. in Zook’s first year.  Harbaugh is no Paterno, he will not hold back.  You can thank the College Football Playoff for that.  


What Are They DOING – Defense Edition?

I might have a Man Crush on Don Brown.  Brown is a relative unknown in the high profile world of college football, but the 60 year old Brown has a pedigree of delivering great defenses.  Brown was the architect of the stellar Boston College defense last year, and he has not lost a beat this year with a talented Michigan squad.  Brown has the aggressiveness of Dick LeBeau of Steelers fame, he has not seen a blitz he didn’t like.  As Tim Banks will tell you, blitzing without technique is a fool’s errand.  Brown is a master of teaching technique though, and as a result he has devastating defenses.

Against the Illini offense, the Wolverines will be in a 4-3 base front, but quite frankly it is a version of the 4-2-5 with Peppers playing a “linebacker” spot as a glorified defensive back.  Because Peppers is such a great athlete, Michigan can get away with running the 4-3 at all times and not break their shell defense.slide10The Wolverines play a fairly sound defensive front, but are more than happy to blitz a linebacker (or 2) on passing downs.  The 6 man blitz that the Wolverines bring is a devastating combo, but vulnerable to the underneath passing routes.  For the Illini to be successful, the QB will have to be successful in short and intermediate routes.  Here is the 6 man blitz package I suspect the Wolverines will bring.slide9The edge rushing is the key to the blitz, and Peppers is a great weapon.  The soft spot of the defense is the short routes, but in order to execute, the QB has to make a long throw to the sidelines and recognize the route immediately, otherwise the Michigan defense has time to react.

Lunt against this defense is a safe check down machine, and Illinois is fighting the sticks all game.  Crouch would only be able to run against the defense.  George is a complete wildcard, and will mix some great plays along with backbreaking turnovers.  Should Trenard Davis get in, expect the Aaron Bailey wildcat offense, and Michigan will tee off against the run.  Either way, the Illini will do well to break 150 yards on Saturday.


What does it mean?

Illinois is outmanned, and injuries are going to exacerbate the issue.  As such, Illinois is going to be ground out on defense, and the offense will struggle to gain first downs.  Saturday at 2:30pm is not the best time to feel good about Illinois, the Illini are going to need the turnover fairy and all the other creatures from college football fantasy land to pull off the upset.


For Illinois to Win:

Jeff George needs to be something unbelievable as QB.  Like, a complete revelation.  Additionally, the Illini need to force about 5 turnovers like last week against Rutgers.  Stanford pulled this type of upset in 2007 against USC.  Turnover margin was 5-1 in favor of Stanford.  The Cardinal did it behind a QB in his first career start.  The Cardinal defense gave up a boatload of yards, but kept the Trojans out of the end zone.  The Cardinal coach was Jim Harbaugh.  Lovie needs to pull a Harbaugh.


For Michigan to Win:

As a 35 point favorite, mainly just show up and don’t beat yourself.  The Wolverines have to run the ball successfully, and avoid Rutgers level turnovers.  As a result, Michigan just has to execute the base schemes.


Illinois +39

Normally, I would say a 40 point spread is too much, and just take the points.  The College Football Playoff poll is coming soon, and Harbaugh needs a statement.  Therefore, I suspect Jim will keep his eye on the scoreboard and do what he needs to in order to cover.  Michigan will score 60, and I don’t think Illinois can score 20.  I think the Wolverines cover, and it kills me.


YTD Against the Spread:


Craig Has The Scout – Rutgers 2016

Ghosts of the Football Game Past

Illinois was outcoached by the worst coaching staff in the B1G.  Congrats to Hazell and crew, they deserved that win.  They had a gameplan and executed it.  While missing their best tailback.  Of course, they merely had to watch the North Carolina and Western Michigan tapes to figure it out.  Illinois did nothing to make Purdue come off that game plan.

From a camp article I wrote earlier this year:

The Illini will be looking to stop the run, and as a result are going to be running a lot of 4-3 fronts with a safety up to create an 8 man box.  They will be running man coverage primarily on the outside and a single high safety.  

Well, Illinois is running a single 4-3 front (and sometimes a 4-2 Nickel front), with a safety in the box.  And they are running man coverage and a single high safety.  Illinois is absolutely failing right now on gap control.  Period.  And Lovie is getting testy with the media about it.


Coming Up Next

Who: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

When: 11:00 am – October 15, 2016

Where: High Point Solutions Stadium

How: ESPN News


The Cast:

Running Back:  Robert Martin (#7).  The JR running back is the workhorse back for the Scarlet Knights.  Martin has had very little support from his OL to date, but when he get free he has some explosive tendencies.  He rushed for 100 yards against Iowa and New Mexico, so he might hit 200 against the Illini.

Wide Receiver: Jawuan Harris  (#3).  When Janarion Grant went down for a season ending injury, the Rutgers offense became exceedingly one dimensional.  Since that time, Harris has emerged as the favorite target of QB Chris Laviano.  Harris has a poor catch rate in the last two games, and needs to step up to relieve some pressure on the offensive line and Martin.  If the freshman Harris is unable to gain separation, the Rutgers trend of single digit first downs may continue.

Defensive Tackle: Julian Pinnix-Odrick (#53).  Pinnix-Odrick, a 5th year senior, moved back out to DE this fall and leads the Scarlet Knights in sacks and TFL.  He is the most disruptive DL for Rutgers, and lines up next to former 5 star Darius Hamilton.  The two are a formidable pair and will create havoc for the Illini OL.  The bad news for Illinois is the Rutgers DL is a top notch unit.  The good news is the LB corps is poor.  If Pinnix-Odrick can create enough penetration, it won’t matter.

Head Coach: Chris Ash.  Ash took over a major rebuild effort at Rutgers.  The back half of the Scarlet Knights’ 2015 looked like Illinois’ in 2011.  The team was competitive, and then suddenly was not even close to being competitive.  Ash took on the task, and then lost his top playmaker on offense.  Ash is trying to install the Tom Herman offense (he hired a long time assistant to Herman for the OC position), but he lacks pretty much all the pieces.  Good teams are annihilating Rutgers.  The Scarlet Knights get a reprieve this week with the worst statistical defense they will see (by a stretch) for the rest of the season.


A Quick Primer

Statistically, this should be a pretty even match.  The best win for the Scarlet Knights was against New Mexico (93rd S&P+).  They also have a win against an FCS school.  Illinois has only the win against Murray State, and a loss to Purdue on the resume (90th S&P+).  Rutgers looks horrific, but has losses to 3 top 10 teams (Washington, Ohio St., and Michigan).  Illinois looked horrific last week, and has losses to every team nearing their talent level for the season.

Rutgers walked into the season with some real talent on the defensive line, new pieces in the secondary and question marks at linebacker.  All being lead by a head coach known for his defenses.  The offense is being led by a young star who has been an assistant to head coach known for explosive offenses.  Sound familiar?  

Ash started out recruiting better than Illinois, but has been absolutely housed by the good teams on the schedule.  They played tight with Iowa (a 14-7 loss), which has the same feel to the Illini loss to Nebraska.  The question for Rutgers, and Illinois, is how much buy in these teams have in the first year coaches.  The coach who can rally the team around the vision will win this game.


What Are They DOING – Offense Edition?

The best way to define the Rutgers offense is square peg, round hole.  The offense Chris Ash wants to move towards is a power spread similar to what Tom Herman ran at Ohio St.  The offense has the ability to run tempo, but Rutgers has not done so once this season.  The current offensive talent at Rutgers was built for a more conventional offense (close to what Illinois runs) and emphasized a different style of blocking and play calling.  The results so far are lackluster.

The offense strongly utilizes the read option and quarterback runs.  Chris Laviano is the starting quarterback, and pretty close to Zach Terrell from Western Michigan for athletic ability.  His typical stat line against most teams is about 6 carries for 25 yards (this should hold true on Saturday).  Against Michigan he had only a sack to show for his efforts.  The rest of the runs will be gives to Martin.

The Rutgers OL is a bit of a mystery to me.  They do a very poor job of holding up at the point of attack, and allow a ton of pressure in the face of Laviano.  They do a decent job though of providing Laviano lanes to scramble if needed, and providing lanes for Martin.  Gap integrity for the Illini DL is going to be clutch.  The last few games it has been lacking, with Hardy and Lovie are making no adjustments.  What’s the definition of insanity again?

The Scarlet Knights use two main formations.  The first is a twins set on a side with an H back.  The most prominent play out of this formation is a simple read option on the edge with a bubble screen to the perimeter.


When Illinois is in Nickel, the read on the play is the Nickelback.  They ran this play extensively against Ohio St., and less so against Michigan.  The interesting part is that most of the blocks are angled blocks and 1:1.  Martin is pretty light on his feet and able to move around to help out the OL on any penetration.

The Rutgers offense does some pulling to get an advantage with the offensive line on angle blocks.  A play they ran against both Michigan and Ohio St. is a version of the Power O.  

slide4The H Back simply gets in the way of the end and rides him where he wants to go.  The guard will either seal or kickout based on the H Back block.  The OL has an advantage on this play since they have the angle and can force guys out of their gaps.  Purdue’s final touchdown was a version of this play against the Illini.

A staple of the power spread is this play


The H Back kicks out the end.  The Illini DEs the past few games have overpenetrated, created a running lane.  Against Purdue, Smoot and Phillips had multiple occasions where they were 4 yards deep in the backfield, and then chasing the back downfield as he scampered away.

Based on the Purdue game film, I expect the Scarlet Knights to pound the edge against the Illini again.  They pulled their center early in the game against Michigan and had a nice run lane for Martin.  The Michigan DE crashed on the block and Martin broke it inside, but with the recent performance of the Illini D, expect it to look like this.

slide6One staple route the Scarlet Knights ran against Michigan and Ohio St. was a deep in off of play action.

slide7Laviano was running for his life on this route more often than not, but when he threw it he hit the receiver about 8 yards downfield.  The Cover 2 of the Buckeyes was beat by the two deep routes leaving the middle open.  The same would happen to Illinois in Cover 1.

Rutgers is going to come out in single back shotgun pretty much every snap.  They are going to try and get Martin and the run game going early to take some pressure off Laviano as a passer.  The offense is a power run team using angle blocks to create lanes, and although they have been pretty abysmal to date, they are playing an Illinois run defense that was housed last week by Purdue missing their top rusher.


What Are They DOING – Defense Edition?

Rutgers is a base 4-3 defense.  When Chris Ash was at Ohio St. and Wisconsin, he ran the Pat Narduzzi defense, which is the 4-3 base and a heavy reliance on quarters coverage.  The defense this season is very dinged up, but they have some solid players on the DL and in the secondary.  Injuries have left the Scarlet Knights a little depleted, so the Illini offense has the chance to wear down the defense as the game progresses.  The Rutgers defense forced Michigan into 3 and outs their first two drives, then all hell broke loose.

Here is the base defense for the Scarlet Knights.


As you can see from the diagram, they will typically bounce the WILL out to the edge as opposed to running Nickel.  

The Scarlet Knights run primarily Quarters coverage as seen here.


When they break out of Quarters, they generally run Cover 3.  They did this against Ohio St. on passing downs to give Barrett a different look.


This was about as unsuccessful as any other changes they have made the last two weeks.

When teams get into passing downs, the Scarlet Knights will move into a Nickel.  The few times I saw it against Ohio St., they ran an End-Tackle Stunt with it.


Typically, Pinnix-Odrick is the end they are stunting inside with Hamilton running the out move.  Hamilton has a very good first step and did a good job of getting into the guard and moving him on the move.  Ohio St. picked it up nicely, but Megginson and Allegretti will have to keep their heads up on this.  The coverage behind this was Cover 4, so I would expect the same against Illinois.

The defense needs to stay with the starters for Rutgers, as they lack depth in the front 7.  The Rutgers D is not particularly great at stopping the run, which should help the Illini establish a rhythm.  The pass D is adequate, but there are gaps at Free Safety and Corner.  Washington routinely had Jon Ross (who is faster than any Illini receiver) open down the field.  The Illini should target the FS and CB combo of Saquan Hampton and Isaiah Wharton when they get the chance.


What does it mean?

There are 3 games that available to watch for Rutgers.  Losses to Washington, Michigan and Ohio St.  I don’t have the Iowa game taped, so I can’t say what they did well in that game, but in parts of the three I watched, Rutgers was strictly outmatched.  The good news for the Illini is that the DL has an advantage against the Rutgers OL.  The bad news, they did against Purdue too.

Illinois has to show up this week.  Rutgers lacks depth, but has experience.  If the Illini offense can mimic last week, they will wear out Rutgers.  I imagine the Scarlet Knights are going to play this game tight with Illinois, and wear out in the 2nd half.  I also expect a lot of punts.


For Illinois to Win:

The Illini need to start playing good defense with gap integrity.  Oh, and avoid all the dumb penalties.  The offensive line had a really nice game last week, Allegretti in particular.  Malik Turner may not be elite, but he is carrying the passing game right now.  To win this game, the Illini need some other receiver to stand up, be it Des Cain, Zach Grant or hopefully Justin Hardee.  They also need to be able to grind out yards, so hopefully Vaughn sees the field a bit more this week.


For Rutgers to Win:

Rutgers needs to be able to run the ball and take pressure off of Laviano.  Laviano is an ok QB, but he will not beat teams.  Martin is a strong runner, and has some explosiveness.  I am impressed with him as a runner.  If Rutgers can get the offense moving, it will spell the defense and shorten the game.  If the Scarlet Knights are close in the 4th quarter, they have a chance, so they need to avoid mistakes and keep it tight until then.


Illinois -6

Illinois should win this by three scores, but after last week I don’t think they will win by that much.  I’ll take the Illini to win by 7 and cover, but don’t feel great about it.  

As a complete non-sequitur, the Don Brown hire by Michigan to run their defense was incredible.  That unit is really gelling right now and Michigan is destroying any confidence the opponents have.  Rutgers was dead in the water last week by the 3rd drive, and the Michigan defense was a big part of it.  I am not looking forward to that game next week.


YTD Against the Spread:


SOC – Purdue

When was the last time the home game won in this series? We won at Purdue in 2015 and 2013. Purdue won in Champaign two years ago and we went winless in the Big Ten in 2012 so they won then too. So 2011, when we were 6-1 and still ranked but couldn’t move the ball at all at Purdue, was the last home victory in this series? Weird. [Read more…]

Those Were The Days – Purdue

Jim Plankenhorn! Frank Lollino! YOUR 1962 Fighting Illini! In this week’s TWTD, Detlef takes us back to 1962. The Illini are on a 15 game losing streak and are 26 point underdogs to Purdue. Here’s D to fill you in… [Read more…]

Check The Tape – That Drive

This is the drive that never ends.
It just goes on and on my friends.
Nebraska started driving and the refs said “we can help”.
And then they took the lead and all us fans could do was utter “welp”.
This is the drive that never ends.
It just goes on and on my friends… [Read more…]

SOC – Nebraska

It’s been such a long week. And I had family in town tonight so I’m just now sitting down at the computer at 12:01. Not only have I not been able to write all week, I’m now going to crank out an SOC with heavy eyes (and a nice warm feeling from that third glass of wine). This should be fun. [Read more…]

On Paper

I’m a big paper guy. I’m probably never going to change. If a team looks good on paper, they should be good on the court/field. Paper is big for college football but probably even bigger in college basketball. Land solid recruits, win games. And before this basketball season starts, I want it noted again: we have really good paper. [Read more…]

From The Stands – Western Michigan

Hard to stomach. Yet so familiar, right? It’s such a strange experience being an Illini football fan.  It’s hard – ulcer hard – on the stomach to watch something like that unfold and just accept it. Yet it’s so familiar.  Sadly, it feels normal.  There’s this sick part of me saying “yeah, I know how to behave when it feels like this”. I’m rambling. Here’s my recording from the stands. [Read more…]

SOC – Western Michigan

Just imagine if this game was still scheduled for Kalamazoo. When Ron Guenther scheduled this game, (well, associate AD Chris Hanna scheduled it because WMU is his alma mater), they scheduled it for a road game AT Western Michigan. Us playing a team that might go 12-0 on the road? Would have been a nightmare. Instead, it’s just… a really scary dream. [Read more…]