Craig Has The Scout - Indiana 2017
Ghosts of the Football Game Past
I called for Illinois to run three plays in this game in order to try and "beat" the Purdue defense. I asked for RB screens, middle of the field passing, and the inside zone run. Garrick McGee delivered.
The RB screens were a mixed bag, but Foster broke a huge play using it. Special shoutout to Nick Allegretti being 40 yards downfield blocking on that play. Illinois ran crossing routes all day with Dorsey, and if the QBs eyes were not so far downfield, Illinois could have had multiples of success using the plays. It was there most of the day (and when it wasn't Thomas did a nice job of hitting the stop route on the sideline).
The final play was the zone run. Which Illinois could not consistently execute. The downside of playing freshmen OL is that they are going to make some mistakes. The non-freshman mistakes were more glaring though. Until Illinois can effectively block at the point of attack, the run game is going to struggle. Foster did a nice job, as did Thomas, but Illinois has to win at the point of attack more.
When you ask for something, and you see it on the field, you are not allowed to criticize the play calling. Here is my gripe though. Sitting on my couch watching games allows me to put together a decent idea of the playbook. McGee has all-22 film and a week to do it. Illinois HAS to get plays into the line sooner, and allow Thomas to at least try and read. If plays cannot be called sooner, George needs to be taking the snaps.
*Coming Up *
Who: Indiana Hoosiers
When: 11:00 am - November 11th, 2017
Where: Home Sweet Home
*Head Coach: Tom Allen. *Allen is one of the most surprising people to ever be a Power 5 head football coach. Allen was a high school coach at Ben Davis in Indianapolis, and then moved to D-III Wabash College as the DB coach. After a single season there, he hooked up with Hugh Freeze and his rocket ascent into coaching.
Allen has an interesting pedigree, having coached defense for some of the best offensive minds in today's football. He coached under the aforementioned Freeze, Willie Taggart and Kevin Wilson. It says something about Allen the person that he has been able to co-exist with these coaches, and it says something about Allen the coach that he has been successful at each of these locations.
Wilson being canned in the off-season was a bit of a surprise. In true Tim Beckman fashion though, more wins would have given him a longer leash. Allen stepped up Bill Cubit style (sans the 2 year dagger contract) and has performed well this year. The question moving forward is can he take Indiana to the next step, or have they hit their peak.
*Offensive Style: *Mike DeBord was hired to take over the reins of the Indiana offense by Allen in the offseason. Every Tennessee fan rejoiced (albeit briefly), and every Michigan fan laughed. DeBord was underappreciated at Tennessee, the Vols offense dropped from 28th in S&P+ to 119th (with a major departure of talent). His time at Michigan is quite a blot on his resume.
DeBord has learned though, and after the initial hot-takes one has, he was a solid choice. DeBord is a proponent of a version of a smash-mouth spread offense, which is not a far departure from the electric offenses of Kevin Wilson. This approach comes from the successes and failures he had a Michigan, and meshes well with the younger talent on Indiana's roster. The results on the field are trailing though, although 2017 was always going to be a drop off.
*Defensive Style: *Tom Allen started out as a 4-3 coach in high school, and then stayed that way as he jumped to the collegiate ranks, first at Wabash and then with Hugh Freeze at Lambuth college. The scheme switched while he was LB coach for Freeze and part of the vaunted Land Shark defense at Ole Miss. He then took over as DC for Willie Taggart at USF, which he turned into the Indiana DC job.
The defense is one very familiar to Illinois fans. One of the big architects of the Land Shark defense in Oxford was on Tim Beckman's Oklahoma State defensive staff. The defense is a tweak of the Beckman/Banks 4-2-5, utilizing a plugging NT, a disruptive DT, a standard DE and an undersized athlete at the other DE. The two LBs are standard run stoppers, with a Safety/LB hybrid on the field as well.
Allen employs more man coverage relative to the Tim Banks' years at Illinois, and will mix coverages often. In the same vein as Banks though, he turns his LBs loose on the blitz often.
*Specialists: *The battle of the left footed punters. Haydon Whitehead is the sophomore punter for the Hoosiers, and he has been one of the poorer punters in the conference, albeit the most active (Hayes is not near as active due to that turnover thing Illinois likes to employ). The Hoosier coverage team is mediocre at best, and has given up a TD to Maryland so far this year, but with solid placekicking Indiana is 13th in the S&P+ in special teams.
J-Shun Harris deserves a mention here, as he has 2 punt return TDs, but tore his ACL earlier this season and is done for the year.
Three Things to Watch
*Will Illinois run press man vs. Simmie Cobbs. *Cobbs is 220 lbs. of physicality at Wide Receiver for the Hoosiers. The Illini corners have struggled this year with bigger receivers on the edges. The Illini have rolled safeties and used zone coverage in other games this season, but it exposes Illinois in the run game.
*How many snaps will Richard Lagow take at QB. *Lagow is the senior QB for Indiana, and has had a very erratic season. He has been benched multiple times this year. Lagow is the better passer, but not as mobile as Peyton Ramsey, the backup. Illinois has an advantage against Lagow.
*The Indiana OL vs. the Illinois DL. *The Hoosier OL is quite meh this year. They had a couple of personnel losses last season, which hurt. The drop off in the unit this season is remarkable. It has stymied the ability of Indiana to run the ball, and when you are a power spread team that struggles to run you are going to have a bad time.
Scouting Review - Offense
I think I might have mentioned that Indiana is a power spread team. In a perfect Mike DeBord world, the Hoosiers will not run outside the tackles for the entire game. The Illini are more stout at DT, so the Hoosiers will need to run more plays to the edges this week.
The interior of the line has looked especially inept on tape so far this year. The center, Hunter Littlejohn has a hard time moving noses off the line of scrimmage, and Simon Stepaniak is very susceptible to a bull rush in pass protection. The Illini DT combo of Jamal Milan and Tymir Oliver should make some hay against this defense. The Hoosiers have allowed 24 sacks on the year (Illinois has allowed 28), and are the worst rushing attack in the conference. If one wants to run a power running attack, dominating the line of scrimmage is the first step.
Saturday, I expect the Hoosiers to try and establish the interior run early. The Hoosiers are 3-1 when they run for 100 yards, and 0-5 when they don't. The whole key to the Indiana run game is the inside read option.
Indiana needs to establish this play early. Once they were unable to get the run game going against Michigan, they essentially became a pass first offense.
If Indiana is a pass first offense, Simmie Cobb is the primary option. Cobb is good enough Indiana may still be able to move the ball. Cobb is a 6'2" 220lb wrecking ball at WR. I'm not sure the Illini have a corner to match up with Cobb. Indiana will run sideline fades all day with Cobb, like this.
Indiana gave a half hearted effort at play action on this play, this was a fade route to Cobb from the snap of the ball. Cobb is extremely physical, and being the leading receiver in the B1G will get some favorable calls as a WR this weekend. The best play of physicality I saw with Cobb is this.
Illinois only has Jaylen Dunlap who can match up with the physical nature, and I feel like he can match up against the fade. He will struggle against Cobb on the slant route, which Indiana likes to run out of 5 WR sets.
Wisconsin, Michigan, and Penn State all did a nice job of shutting down Cobb, but in every case Cobb drew multiple pass interference calls. I would expect the same to happen to the Illini defenders this weekend trying to remain physical with Cobb.
I said Indiana had to run the ball to win, so back to that now. While they don't have a lot of outside run plays (DeBord wants to run a power spread between the tackles), they will do some downblocking to try and spring the backs. The Hoosiers have two very good ones in Morgan Ellison and Cole Gest. Ellison is the power back, but this is a sweep they ran with the center pulling to lead around the edge with him.
The Hoosiers need to keep the Illini LBs honest, so they have the ability to run this sweep, or they can run the read option with an off tackle read versus the middle read. If they run this, they will most likely run it to the weak side of the formation to get the down-block on the nose from Illinois and allow the center, Littlejohn, to pull. Once again, Littlejohn struggles in man battles with DTs.
If Peyton Ramsey is in the game as QB, the inside read becomes more dangerous. Ramsey is a much more mobile quarterback than Lagow, and can get the edge. The inside zone though Indiana will work forever to try and break off bigger runs. The Hoosier offense is not extremely explosive, with only 5 runs over 20 yards all year, and when the big play starts to occur protect the ball. This is not how to start the game.
Indiana broke a run here and promptly turned the ball over.
The other play to put in the mix is the Power O. Indiana does not run it especially well, but it is a battle of two weaknesses between the units. Here is the Power O from Indiana against a 4 man front.
The Hoosier OL is not especially great at blocking this, but the Illini are not especially adept at stopping it.
The final thing Indiana is going to show is a play action pass off the read option. The Hoosiers run very elaborate route trees behind this, as seen in this clip with the checkdowns Lagow does in the pocket. Illinois will have to defend sideline to sideline on these plays. The play that really concerns me is the same play action type of play, with a drag route.
The Illini struggled to contain this against Purdue, although Del'Shawn Phillips did a nice job re-routing receivers running routes.
The Indiana offense has been less than stellar this year. As an Illini fan, it is easy to see the ineptitude of the Indiana offense. While I gave DeBord kudos earlier as a solid choice, the Indiana offense has really sputtered this year. DeBord is staying the course with his offense, and trying to establish an identity. Between injuries and a general lack of talent (Indiana was going to crater a bit this year regardless, much like Tennessee) this offense has been painful to watch. This is the worst offense Illinois has seen since Ball State.
Scouting Review - Defense
Tom Allen has been touted as a bit of a defensive savante by the national media. Allen deserved a lot of the reputation for his ability to craft top flight defenses. The S&P+ shows Indiana at 33.
The base defense once again is a 4-2-5, as seen here.
Indiana will employ a hybrid end/LB on one end, and a hybrid safety as the 3rd LB. They tend to use a Cover 2 shell behind it, and mix in Cover 4 against running teams (like above with Michigan). Illinois has a chance to exploit this defense with crossing routes.
Against power running teams such as Michigan and Michigan State, Indiana will walk both linebackers up to the line of scrimmage and fill gaps. Illinois did the same against Wisconsin. This could be problematic for the Illini run game since it creates single matchups across the line.
Since Indiana uses an undersized DE, and Illinois has some extra heft on the OL, one way to attack the offense is getting Foster and Thomas on the edge of the Hoosier defense.
The Hoosier MLB, Tegray Scales, is a great LB. He is a between the tackles run plugger though, and not superb sideline to sideline.
The Hoosier defense has been solid, and did a nice job of shutting down multiple top backs in the conference. It has been less than adept at creating turnovers. It completely failed to slow down Maryland though, which shredded Indiana with the read option. Maryland utilized a QB making good decisions in the offense, then a speed RB who could make a cut and get upfield. Illinois possesses both of these in their offense.
The Indiana defense will sell out with its LBs to fill gaps on the interior. The read option killed this plan against Maryland, as the Terrapins were able to spring Ty Johnson multiple times. Illinois will have to execute the read option to win the game, but the offense will look boom and bust against the Hoosiers.
What does it mean?
The Indiana offense is 12th in the conference in yards per play. They struggle to move the ball, much like the Illini. Sustained drives have been a real plague for the Hoosiers, and they don't have a single thing that is a go to play. The Hoosier offense will move as the Illini defense falters.
Indiana is awful at forcing turnovers. They have only 3 interceptions and 4 fumbles recovered all year (although their recovery rate is below average). The Illinois offense is notorious for turnovers, last in the B1G with 19 so far this year. If the Illini can prevent turning the ball over, they will have opportunities to break plays against the Hoosier defense. It will be a similar scene as the game against Wisconsin though, with multiple 3 and outs along and mistakes killing drives.
For Illinois to Win:
Illinois will have to be +3 in the turnover battle and win the special teams facet of the game. Illinois will probably be held under 300 yards, but working against short fields gives Illinois the opportunity to put points on the board.
For Indiana to Win:
Indiana needs to find a QB that works against Illinois and exploit it. The Indiana offense is almost as inept as Illinois, but playing a weaker defense. The Hoosiers will have opportunities against Illinois. They must prevent turnovers that flip the field.
Illinois is staring at their last chance for a win. They are nine point dogs, at home, to a team that has not won a conference game all year. Indiana is struggling to move the ball, and the defense is struggling to force turnovers. Yet, I'm inclined to bet against the worst unit on the field, which is Illinois' offense. I'll take the Hoosiers to cover.
YTD Against the Spread: