Interceptions 2018

Jul 18, 2018

This is year seven for this article. And, uh, nothing has changed. I wrote in 2012 that we were dead last in interceptions nationally over the previous 10 seasons, and this year I'm writing that we're... tied for second-to-last. Seven years of writing this and we're not an ounce closer to fixing the issue.

Because the first article looked at the years 2003-2012, and because I just kept adding another year to the total each year (starting with 2003), someone suggested a few years ago that I make it a running total. Over the previous ten years, where do we stand? So last year I wrote about the years 2007-2016. And this year I'm writing about 2008-2017. And that made us fall from 4th-to-last all the way to tied for 2nd-to-last.

Why did we fall? Because 2007 came off the books. And 2007 was the one year of the last 17 where we actually forced interceptions on a regular basis. 17, to be exact. The closest we've gotten since - 11 interceptions in 2010. And I need to describe to you just how bad that is. Just how impossible it is to go 10 full seasons without ever averaging more than 1.0 interceptions per game. SIXTY TWO TEAMS accomplished this last season alone, and we haven't done it since 2007. As I say every time I write this post, you have to try to be this bad.

Let's get to the numbers and then talk about them. For all FBS teams (you have to have been an FBS team in 2008 to make this list, so teams like Old Dominion are not going to show up on this list), here are the interception totals the last ten seasons:

175 Boise State
172 Ohio State
168 Alabama
166 Florida
165 Oklahoma State
164 Houston
162 Clemson
160 Oregon
158 Iowa
158 Louisiana Tech
153 Virginia Tech
149 Arizona State
149 Northwestern
149 Oklahoma
148 USC
145 Boston College
145 TCU
144 San Diego State
144 Utah
142 Arkansas State
142 Northern Illinois
142 West Virginia
141 Michigan State
139 Mississippi State
139 Ohio
138 North Carolina
138 UCF
137 Florida State
137 Kansas State
137 North Carolina State
136 Nebraska
135 BYU
135 Louisville
134 South Carolina
134 Wisconsin
132 Georgia
132 Washington
131 Baylor
131 Kent State
130 Texas
129 Arizona
128 LSU
128 Missouri
127 California
127 UCLA
126 Connecticut
126 Georgia Tech
126 Mississippi
125 Cincinnati
124 Notre Dame
124 Tennessee
124 Toledo
123 Penn State
122 Tulsa
121 South Florida
121 Troy
121 Utah State
120 Stanford
120 Tulane
119 Auburn
119 East Carolina
119 SMU
119 Western Kentucky
118 Middle Tennessee
118 Rutgers
116 Bowling Green
116 Hawai'i
116 Memphis
115 Purdue
114 Miami (Florida)
114 Oregon State
114 Southern Mississippi
114 Western Michigan
113 Duke
113 Pittsburgh
113 Vanderbilt
113 Washington State
112 Florida Atlantic
112 Marshall
112 Wake Forest
111 Central Michigan
111 Louisiana-Lafayette
111 Miami (Ohio)
110 Kentucky
110 Texas A&M
109 Air Force
108 Iowa State
107 Florida International
107 Minnesota
107 Temple
107 Texas Tech
106 Navy
106 Nevada
105 Louisiana-Monroe
104 Akron
103 Ball State
103 Michigan
103 San Jose State
103 Virginia
102 Arkansas
101 North Texas
101 Wyoming
98 Maryland
96 Army
96 New Mexico State
95 Idaho
94 Fresno State
94 Kansas
93 Syracuse
92 Buffalo
92 Indiana
91 Colorado State
88 Colorado
85 Rice
80 New Mexico
78 Illinois
70 Eastern Michigan

Just think about 158 (Iowa) vs. 78 (Illinois). That's eight more interceptions every single year. Go back through the last decade of Illini football and add in those interceptions wherever you want. That close loss to Iowa in 2015 where Ke'Shawn Vaughn fumbled as we were driving for the winning TD? Add in two Illini interceptions anywhere in that game and we win (and you'd still have six more to hand out that entire season!).

Or go to the 2011 season and add those eight interceptions all in the final six games. We're easily something like 9-3 or 10-2, right? Just stop two Purdue drives with field-flipping interceptions and a 21-14 loss becomes a 24-10 win. I've gone over and over our field position failures the last decade in this space... want to know the best way to improve that? Interceptions and forced fumbles. Even if it's a drive where your opponent eventually punted, it still saves 40+ yards of field position. (And many times, you're stopping an opponent's scoring drive AND giving yourself excellent field position. Turnovers are football.)

And Iowa has EIGHTY more interceptions than us the last ten seasons. There's probably some NERDstat somewhere that quantifies how each interception is worth, like, 3.84 points. As in, each time you get an interception, subtract 1.92 from your opponent's final score and add 1.92 to yours (or whatever). Think about how many points that is for Iowa in comparison to us.

And Iowa's not even in the top-8. Think about all those interceptions pulled down by Ohio State. Think about the fact that Boise State has NINETY SEVEN more interceptions than we do over the last 10 years. It's insane how bad we are at this part of football.

Now, to be fair, forced turnovers have significantly increased under Lovie. We finished 27th nationally in recovered fumbles last year. And interceptions have slowly increased. We picked off 7 passes in 2016 and 9 last season, so it's not like the issues we had under Zook (6 interceptions in 2008 and 5 interceptions in 2009) or Beckman (3 interceptions in 2013). It appears to be trending up.

But we're still in the single digits when 75+ college teams intercept 10 or more passes every season. All I can really say after seven years of writing this post is "we were dead last the first year I wrote this and now we've at least passed Eastern Michigan". We continue to be one of the worst in the nation. And that fact continues to make football so much harder on ourselves.

In the next two seasons, this had better take a leap forward. Those two Zook years I mentioned above (2008 and 2009) will come off the books and Lovie's third and fourth defenses will be added. Those defenses should have enough experience in the secondary (and enough pressure from the defensive line) to jump routes and force bad throws. My minimum expectation: double digit interceptions each of the next two seasons.

Actually, three seasons. This is a sophomore-heavy defense, so the numbers here need to be something like 11 INT's in 2018, 14 in 2019, and 19 in 2020. This needs to be the strength of our team and the reason we start winning a lot of games. Lovie has preached "turnovers", and he's recruiting players for that very purpose, so it's time to start seeing it.

I mean, I've only been waiting 17 years.


Illinimac68 on July 18 @ 07:31 AM CDT

Unacceptable for Al Brosky's alma mater.

Sweetchuck13 on July 18 @ 09:13 AM CDT

This is such a mind-blowing stat every year. A couple of questions though - is there any way to measure pass attempts during this time frame to see where we stack up? This stat is certainly bad, but I'm wondering if all the times the opposing teams could just run over our sorry defense without having to try to throw makes a difference here.

Also, on a more optimistic note, maybe you should start tracking forced fumbles during the Lovie era? Hopefully we'd start moving up the charts on that one at least.

Schlepper on July 18 @ 12:02 PM CDT

Good point. I'd expect teams haven't had to pass against us as much and that makes a difference.

jcampbe17 on July 20 @ 04:39 AM CDT

I was curious of this myself. We have the fifth fewest pass attempts against over the same 10 year span. I decided to look at our "interception rate", or the percentage of passes attempted against us that were intercepted, and we rank...6th from last (113 out of 118 total teams). So yeah...still not great.

(spreadsheet with my results here)

thumpasaurus on July 18 @ 01:05 PM CDT

One of the endearing things about Illinois in its terrible state over the years has been our ability to put up mind-blowing stats in certain categories. Interceptions have been hilarious and I'm always stunned when we get one. The other big one is punt return yards, which are a little better now but not quite enough to shake the feeling that we shouldn't bother putting anyone back.

Last year's hilarious statistic: Mike Epstein was our leading rusher even though he left game 5 after nine carries and we ran the ball a lot last year.

Bear8287 on July 18 @ 02:53 PM CDT

So you're saying that our leading rusher from last season is returning and he has 3 more years of eligibility? That's great!

(Gotta find the silver linings in there somewhere...)

Illinimac68 on July 18 @ 03:49 PM CDT

I swear E.B. Halsey was ordered to go back and watch punts drop and roll.

Sweetchuck13 on July 18 @ 10:20 PM CDT

Back in the midst of the Zook era, most of us in my section just kept hoping at some point we'd just send all 11 guys and not even put a returner back there. I think we would've been better off just letting it bounce!

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