Long Haul

Sep 18, 2017

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You're probably sick of me writing about long rebuilds. Many of you, when seeing what Jeff Brohm is doing at Purdue, dismiss the idea altogether. So perhaps my "here's some more thoughts on the South Florida loss" post should center around that topic.

As I mentioned in the postgame post, I only partially watch the "game" parts of a game like that. I'm anticipating a huge loss (we started TEN true freshmen), and those aren't very fun, so I watch for other things. Can the young receivers block? Are our safeties biting on that? Who are the guys I should be watching on the coverage teams? I'm watching the game within the game, not the game.

Why do this? Well, for starters, I declared after the Purdue game last year that it was probably going to be 25 games before we could get a read on things (we had signaled that the full-on gut rehab had begun, and with such a young team in 2017 I was already looking to mid-2018 as the time we'd start seeing results). I think that's how nearly every coach in America would approach this football program - overhaul the roster immediately, take your lumps, build something in 2-3 years time.

Which leads us to the question of the week: what about Purdue? Purdue just went on the road and destroyed Missouri. Purdue was worse than us under Hazell, so doesn't this prove once and for all that it's nothing more than a good coach coming in and installing a good system and winning immediately? Has our problem been as simple as "stop trying these long rebuilds - just hire the right coach and win immediately"?

Well, I don't see things like that. If you read the Deuce you'd know that I was fairly high on Purdue coming into the year. To me, this season for Purdue would look like the 5th season for Kevin Wilson at Indiana. Wilson went 4-8 (1-7) his fourth year at Indiana (and still hadn't made a bowl) but he kept his job and had the chance to present the team he had been building towards in 2015 (he went 6-6 and got to a bowl). Hazell was even worse at Purdue, got fired after that fourth year, and never really had a chance to present this team he had been building towards.

Now Brohm takes over and has a roster he can work with. Experienced lines, great QB (perfect for that system), senior receivers, lots of returning snaps on defense - on the Deuce I compared it to someone taking over at Illinois in 2000 with an experienced Kittner ready to produce. There's not much "talent" on that Purdue roster, but there's a ton of experience and the systems they're installing are very similar to what they ran last year. I thought they'd go 4-8/5-7 if they had kept Hazell. Perhaps Brohm will do better than that.

But if Lovie had taken an NFL defensive coordinator job this past offseason and Brohm had been hired at Illinois, would we be doing things like beating Missouri 35-3 in Brohm's third game? Good Lord no. We have 76 scholarship players, 30-some freshmen, and wouldn't have a QB that could run that system. Purdue is starting one redshirt freshman and four sophomores; we're starting ten true freshmen and five sophomores. It's a completely different thing.

Could Brohm have taken over last year's Illini team and done better than 3-9? Perhaps? I get this question a lot on Twitter after Purdue has started the season strong, and I always think about the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2011 when Jeff Brohm WAS our offensive coordinator. The offense wasn't all that impressive (13 points that day), and Brohm had been the passing coordinator that season (when we struggled to pass in the second half of the year), so I struggle to see (the truth) that he's an offensive guru.

(In fact, that whole 2011 offensive staff stuns me: Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino just won 8 games last year as Idaho's head coach. QB coach Jeff Brohm is the Purdue head coach. TE coach Chip Long is now the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. And THAT was the offensive staff that came up with the game plan that got us 160 total yards against 2-9 Minnesota?)

ANYWAY, I usually just look at situations. Brohm walked into a sneaky decent situation at Purdue. Lovie walked into an experienced situation in year one and then the rebuild to end all rebuilds the second year. Now, perhaps in three years we'll be doing some postmortem on Lovie and saying things like "we should have known this wouldn't work out after we went 3-9 with all that experience in 2016". We should probably compare Brohm's year one with Lovie's year one, and when we do that, right now, advantage Brohm.

But we're still talking about building a program here. Todd Graham looked like a genius hire by Arizona State after the first season, but that was just him making something out of Dennis Erickson's teams. As of today, Graham might be on the hottest coaching hot seat. He did well with the pieces he inherited, but it doesn't look like he was able to build a program.

Which is really all I've ever written about. I want to build a program. I want long-haul investment. It's why I watch the games the way I do. I want us to build something that will last at least a decade.

So take the Garrick McGee complaints that some of you have sent me. You have issues with some of the play-calls (I do too). You want to know if he's the answer.

My answer: I'm not really paying attention to that? Play calling is going to look poor when you're not getting good quarterback play and you're starting five true freshmen. I'm not really even looking at McGee for much right now. Just keep building the offense he envisions. bring the quarterbacks along, and we'll start to see what he's got next season and especially in 2019.

I certainly don't want to even think about changing schemes/coordinators. I've been begging for five full years in one offense for what seems like 15 years now, so I don't in any way want to change courses. Please, just once, let us try to keep the same schemes in place. I promise I'll shut up about it and never write it again if we just do it once and see what happens.


Bear8287 on September 18, 2017 @ 02:20 AM

Todd Graham looked like a genius hire by Arizona State after the first season, but that was just him making something out of Dennis Erickson's teams.

Yeah, and John Groce looked pretty good at the end of his first season at Illinois too. Because of the roster sizes it's also easier to turn a basketball program than a football program.

Robert, would you also be willing to update the numbers you gave to Crouch and George here? Thanks.

Jacob on September 18, 2017 @ 12:20 PM

I would like to 2nd that query from Bear

illiniranger on September 18, 2017 @ 01:44 PM

McGee can't "elevate" his roster through scheme. Oustside of his years with Bobby Petrino there's not much there. McGee's success will depend on getting players that are good enough it won't really matter what he calls.

If you have to rely on talent at a Illinois you're going to have uneven performance, and uneven performance means no quality rebuild.

I don't care that the plays don't work. I care that the run-pass splits are off and that after 2 years as the QB coach Crouch has shown little improvement.

Chief9 on September 21, 2017 @ 01:51 PM

Blockquoteafter 2 years as the QB coach Crouch has shown little improvement. Blockquote

This statement right here negates your entire argument. You also fail to release the glaring amount of OL talent and depth when 2 true freshman are starting... Can't run full playbook if there aren't 5 guys out there able to block

Shampoobanana on September 18, 2017 @ 01:54 PM

Let's confuse the ability to scramble with "legs". We think Crouch can run only because we had a statue the last three years. It's nice that Crouch can scramble and make something off a broken play but to design an offense that uses his legs as in the read option is misguided. We have too much talent at RB and receivers and it all goes to waste when we use Chase's legs and arm.

OrchestratedPerfection on September 18, 2017 @ 03:28 PM

Long time lurker, first time poster. Robert, thanks for all you do. I think very highly of both your passion and analysis.

Your statement about Lovie going 3-9 in 2016 with an experienced team is astute. Mitigating factors: (1) Lovie only arrived in March, (2) Illinois only played four teams with losing records and went 3-1 in those games, (3) Illinois was down to their third string QB for half the season, and (4) only Smoot was drafted (Nickerson is on an active roster with Hardee, Phillips, and President on Practice Squads).

I am no Lovie apologist, and I'm not thrilled generally with the idea of an NFL coach going back to college, but I am hopeful he will help with player development that will in turn generate interest by elite players. Looking forward to your analysis on player progression through the season.

uilaw71 on September 18, 2017 @ 04:17 PM

How many Tom Cruises for DiNovo, Robert? Surely the stealth factor alone warrants half a Cruise.

ATOillini on September 18, 2017 @ 05:28 PM

The guy certainly has the (almost) perfect last name for our program:

de no·vo d? ?n?v?,di/Submit adverb & adjective starting from the beginning; anew. "in a pure meritocracy, everyone must begin de novo"

Schlepper on September 19, 2017 @ 09:48 AM

We've had too many regimes rely on QB's that just weren't very good and were unwilling to make a change. Weaver, Hoekstra, Beutjer, Lunt come to mind. I understand if the talent isn't there as seems to be the case this season. Glad to see we're recruiting QB's and hope one turns out to be a real QB.

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