A few more mailbag questions. Sorry if I didn’t get to yours. Readers whose questions were not used will receive a lovely bag of parting gifts including a VHS copy of Jerry Hester’s overtime explosion against Missouri in 1995 and a small chard of glass from the Jack Daniels bottle that the Black Crowes guitarist threw into the Assembly Hall crowd in 1993 (caught by yours truly). But the pencil that Kiwane Garris borrowed in class (and chewed on) stays with me.
Why do we suck on kickoff defense and kickoff returns?
I don’t really have an answer other than “we’re poorly coached”. Watching South Dakota State own us on special teams was the final straw for me. If a bunch of walk-ons from the Plains can crush us on kickoffs, there’s not much more that can be said.
The only theory I’ve come up with lately is that we typically try to ease people onto the field through Special Teams. After the Zach Becker injury, we pulled the redshirt off of Matt LaCosse. And we’ve eased him onto the field by using him on kickoffs. Maybe there’s just so much inexperience out there that we struggle to run the schemes?
Or maybe we just have bad schemes.
What does winning a Big Ten game strictly on the arm of Nathan Scheelhaase mean for the O’Toole experiment? In theory we’ve been subbing in O’Toole as our “passing QB.” Now that Nathan has proved that he can throw the ball plenty good, is there really any reason to ever put in O’Toole the rest of the season, outside of injury or mop-up duty?
I never saw any of the O’Toole packages as “passing QB” packages. I just think it’s a Feed-The-Studs thing.
Paul Petrino has explained Feed The Studs as finding certain players that do certain things well and then giving them the ball in those situations in the game. If Josh Ferguson runs one play out of the pistol pretty well, then when we send him out there, many times it’s to run that particular play.
I think we’ve just developed an O’Toole package (similar to the DC Package we had for Eddie last year). Certain plays that he runs well are practiced over and over during the week and then tried during games. I don’t think it’s a situation where Paul Petrino is putting O’Toole in and then calling plays. I think he waits for specific situations to use those specific plays and then calls an O’Toole play.
But as to the first part of your question, I think 391 passing yards sent a cold shiver throughout Big Ten defensive coordinators. Before that game, it was “make Scheelhaase beat you with his arm, not his feet”. Now? They have to think about it.
How concerned are you that we only beat Northwestern 38-35? I don’t think they’re very good. What happens when we play a good team?
Funny thing about football. Turnovers can change an entire game. Here’s an example:
Last year against Indiana, IU outgained us 388-289. They had 21 first downs to our 14 and controlled the ball for 35 minutes. They converted nine first downs to our three and only had four penalties to our seven. Yet we won the game 43-13. Why? They turned the ball over 5 times, including two pick-sixes.
This year against Northwestern we were just the opposite. We outgained them 473-329. We had more first downs, a better third down conversion percentage, and Nathan passed for 258 more yards than Dan Persa. Yet we only won 38-35. Why? 3 very costly turnovers (including an interception in the endzone).
To me, that leaves me more encouraged than anything. Nearly everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, including the interception in the endzone, a questionable call taking a touchdown off the board, and a fumble at our own 35 with three minutes to go giving up the go-ahead score. Yet we WON.
What happens in 2012 when we no longer have Derek Dimke to win close games for us? To me this is almost as scary as our lack of depth on the defensive line.
Dimke is truly one of the top kickers in the country. 36 for 41 in his career is absolutely ridiculous. We’ll miss him.
But I still think we’ll be OK. Mostly because we have three, maybe four options.
The first option is probably Taylor Zalewski. He was headed to NIU with a scholarship offer last spring, but changed his mind and decided to walk-on at Illinois. Yay us. ESPN ranked him as the #15 kicking prospect in the country, and Kohl’s Kicking had him #5. Here’s what they had to say (and why Northern offered him a full ride):
ESPN: Taylor has a BCS leg on Field Goals and Kick offs. He is one of the best Kickers in the country. He can easily go 70 yards on KO’s which have over four seconds of hang-time. He has shown tremendous improvement in his consistency off of the ground.
Kohls: Taylor has become a complete kicker. Has improved greatly off the ground, steps are repeatable, big-time leg, averaged 4 seconds on his KO hang times, truly one of the best kickers in the nation, punting is improving but not at same level as his FG and KO, BCS level kicker.
Feel better yet? But wait. There’s more.
We also have freshman Brennan Van Mieghem (who also turned down scholarship offers to walk-on at Illinois) and state-championship-team-offensive-lineman-turned-kicker Nick Immekus from Wheaton-Warrenville South who is a redshirt freshman this year. And I’m not sure if he’s punting or kicking, but Patrick Dunn is in the mix there somewhere as well.
Bottom line: no team is in “great” shape after losing one of the top kickers in the nation. But I’d be willing to bet that one of those guys will do a solid job for us next fall.
In your “Big Three didn’t leave” hypothetical, how does Bad News Brown fit, with Martez still in his spot? Move one of them to Sam? Let Martez move to Bandit sometimes?
A good question to end with.
My hypothetical was this: how good would this team be if the Big Three was still here?
My answer: I think Bad News Brown would be starting over Ian Thomas. I don’t say that to disparage Ian – I just think Brown is that good. We’d rotate three guys on the inside – Martez, Brown, and Thomas – and we’d bring Houston Bates along a bit slower. Sam Linebacker would still be Trulon and Ashante, and Bandit would still be Buchanan and Staples.
You know what? This hypothetical helped me understand something. We’re better off than I thought we’d be without the Big Three.