I’m in the air on the way to Portland right now. My wife is reading my words as I type. Pardon me for a second while I have some fun with her.
Remember that time when I said I stopped “for a quick salad” on my way home from Champaign? I didn’t stop for a salad. I stopped at Meatheads and got lost in a double cheeseburger. And fries. And a grape Mello Yellow because they have one of those cool machines where you can make a Diet peach Lime-aid Dr. Pepper cherry. Feels good to get that out. I’ve lost some weight on this diet, and rewarding myself with that cheeseburger was totally worth it.
OK, she’s not reading my words anymore. I figured this flight was a good time for a Slapdash. My current Illini thoughts from 33,000 feet.
(Why is it that any time someone types something on an airplane – an email, a blog post – they have to tell you they’re typing it in the sky? I’m probably going to mention the airplane three more times. And the fact that I’m traveling to Oregon to cover the Illini game on Saturday. This would be a nice one to win. OK start Slapdashing.)
I watched the Dartmouth game last night. As I said on Twitter, it felt like a 72-53 game that finished 72-65 because Dartmouth made four crazy threes in the last four minutes including banking one in at the buzzer.
Ok, a few of the threes weren’t crazy – just deep. But for four minutes there, it felt like everything they threw up went in. Even from 27 feet. With two defenders in their face.
Another thing that was crazy in this game – it felt like we had three or four and-one opportunities flirt with going in and then fall off. I know Abrams had two that almost went down, and I think both Bertrand and Tate had some “backboard-rim-rim-rim-rim-out” attempts.
My point: this was very close to a 20 point win, but a few things didn’t fall our way. And I like it that way. I like that it’s a bit embarrassing that we only beat Dartmouth by seven. I like that the team will fly to Oregon in a few days (just like me!) wondering why they’ve struggled to put away opponents.
Yes, there are warning signs. I haven’t really changed from this being a seven-Big-Ten-wins team. Too much youth, too much turnover, solid conference, one year away. So what we saw in the Georgia Tech game is going to happen again. I still chalk up this entire season to a learning experience.
But when you have a team like that, I’m a big fan of healthy scares. The game last night was never really in doubt. I think they cut it to 7 at one point but we pushed it back out to 12. So I like that we had to go to the locker room wondering why we couldn’t put them away. Even if it was as simple as a few crazy threes falling.
Run On Banks
I saw a few things on Twitter this morning that Tim Banks will be returning as defensive coordinator. I didn’t have much time to read about it – did I mention I’m ON A PLANE? (did I also mention I’m too cheap to pay $14 for 60 minutes of wifi?) – but from what I did see it was basically A) Banks will return, and B) everyone is angry.
I get that. The defense this year was hard to watch. The woman three rows behind my old season tickets was certainly in top TACKLE SOMEBODY form this season. Switching coordinators certainly worked last year, so why not try the same for the defense?
After 2009, I wanted Disch and Mallory out. I got my wish, we added Vic Koenning, and everything turned around overnight. So 50% of me was squarely in the FIRE BANKS camp.
But the other 50% of me was screaming about continuity. Here’s what I said last week:
To be honest? I’m 50/50 on that. I saw some great improvement as the season progressed (Austin Teitsma and Darius Mosely, to be specific), and I saw some teens who will be pretty good when they’re in their 20′s (Teko Powell, Jaylen Dunlap, and Chunky Clements, to be specific), but some of the play-calling was head-scratching (specifically blitzes, and not just all-out blitzes but crashing a linebacker at all the wrong times). So I’m straight down the middle on Banks. I’m a continuity guy, so I’d love to see what these players can do in the same system since 24 of the 26 guys we played return. But I also have my doubts on Banks, especially after watching Vic Koenning call a game. I could go either way.
And I always point to the Iowa example. Kirk Ferentz was hired by Iowa and he hired Norm Parker to run his defense and Ken O’Keefe to run his offense. And then he… didn’t change a thing for 13 years. Just keep doing the same thing over and over and over, recruit players to fit those schemes, and by year 3-4-5 everything should be rolling. It’s what Pinkel did at Missouri and what Kill is doing at Minnesota.
So because of that, I’m OK with Banks returning. Because everyone else returns as well. Here are the players we played on defense this year. Players in bold will graduate:
DE: Tim Kynard, Kenny Nelson
DT: Teko Powell, Robbie Bain, Abe Cajuste
DT: Austin Teitsma, Jake Howe
Leo: Houston Bates, DeJazz Woods, Dawaune Smoot
WLB: Jonathan Brown, Ralph Cooper, Zeph Grimes
MLB: Mason Monheim, TJ Neal,
Star: Mike Svetina, Eric Finney
CB: V’Angelo Bentley, Darius Mosely, Caleb Day
SS: Earnest Thomas, Jevaris Little
FS: Zane Petty, Taylor Barton
CB: Eaton Spence, Jaylen Dunlap, Dillan Cazley
We rotated 27 players, and 25 return (I’m not sure we’ve ever had that many lettermen return on defense). So when you have something like that, why not keep the exact same scheme? Even the out-for-the-season injured players (Henry Dickinson, Vontrell Williams, Bryce Douglas) and the promising freshman redshirts (Darwyn Kelly, James Crawford) were sitting in the meetings learning the play calls and reads. And I haven’t even gotten to the walkons (if you think I talked about Ben Mathis a lot, just wait until I start telling you about Clayton Fejedelem). If everyone returns, maybe the exact same scheme is the best thing for this D.
Or maybe it’s not. Maybe Tim Banks wasn’t the reason Cincy’s D was solid under Brian Kelly, and maybe we won’t see much improvement at all. Maybe we’ve seen enough of his scheming and play-calling and we just made the program worse by asking him to return. I talked to a friend who played college football and he hates Banks’ scheme. Hates it hates it hates it. I trust his opinion a lot – he can see things I can’t – so that has me worried. I’m really 50/50 on this one.
OK, I’m probably 51/49. Leaning towards continuity (as I have on here for five years). Because after Kish-Cassity-Mallory I-Okruch-Disch-Mallory II-Koenning-Banks (all in the time that Iowa just had Norm Parker), I’m open to doing what they’ve done and just keep the same scheme for years and years. We’ve been recruiting Leo’s and Stars for 2+ years now – might as well see what those players can do when we work them into the rotation.
Got to thinking on the flight earlier about the basketball season. It’s only December 11th and we’re a third of the way through the season. 20 years ago our first game was December 1st (a win over LaSalle as I recall – Jerry Hester scored 20 in his first college game). Now we’ll play game 11 of 31 on Saturday night.
So given that we’re one-third of the way through, some quick thoughts on the ten scholarship players.
Rayvonte Rice: Most pleasant surprise so far. Even more than Jaylon Tate. It’s ten games into his Illini career and he’s without question our go-to player.
Tracy Abrams: I’ll probably say the same thing for Abrams and Egwu. I was hoping for a big jump from sophomore year to junior year, and it’s just not there (yet)
Joe Bertrand: Feels like we know what we’ll get from Joe at this point. Scoring streaks, disappearing streaks, solid rebounding for his position, and one “how did he jump that high?” per game.
Nnanna Egwu: I was hoping for a big jump from sophomore year to junior year, and it’s just not there (yet). Defense is very solid; wish he had a go-to low post move
Jon Ekey: You can see why John Groce raved about him all fall. He’s not going to be a star or anything, but plus athleticism + staying in his role and not trying to do too much + knocking down big threes is more than anyone expected.
Jaylon Tate: Biggest surprise? Wait, I already gave that to Rice. Second biggest surprise, I’d say. Here I was giving him 4 minutes per game in my preseason breakdown and he’s clearly our sixth man.
Malcolm Hill: If you missed the Dartmouth game last night, you missed a bit of a breakout performance from Hill. Jon Ekey had some foul trouble and Malcolm Hill played great filling in for him. Bertrand has the jump-stop; Hill has the two-long-strides-after-picking-up-his-dribble that will be quite effective in the coming years.
Kendrick Nunn: He was the highest ranked freshman, so obviously that puts him on the “we want more from him” pedestal. He needs a breakout game like Hill had last night.
Maverick Morgan: Pleasant surprise, yes? I didn’t expect him to be this far along. I usually look at centers like I look at offensive linemen – two full seasons before they have any idea what they’re doing – and he looks like he somewhat knows what he’s doing. D needs work, though (which you could say for every freshman in the country).
Austin Colbert: Also a pleasant surprise. Maybe further along on offense than Morgan (and more athletic) but also further behind on defense. He’ll have to play, especially when we have foul trouble, so it will be interesting to see how he holds up in the Big Ten.
Actually, it will be interesting to see how the freshmen hold up in these next two big games. Show they can handle it against Oregon or Missouri and that might mean they’re ready for the Big Ten. Show that they’re overwhelmed against Oregon and Missouri and we might see all of the starters getting 34 minutes during the Big Ten season.
OK, getting ready to land now. Did I mention I typed this post IN THE SKY??