Craig has the Scout - Western Illinois 2018
Who: Western Illinois Leathernecks
When: 6:30 pm - September 8, 2018
Where: Home Sweet Home
Head Coach: Jared Elliott takes over as the head man after spending the last two seasons on the staff of Charlie Fisher. When Fisher moved to Arizona State as Wide Receivers coach in the offseason, Elliott was tapped from the staff to keep the playoff momentum rolling for a season ago. Elliott is the second coach Illinois will be facing who was 31 when he took over. Elliott had a long history with Charlie Fisher, he both played and coached for Fisher at Miami OH. He was able to retain a bulk of the staff, and the Leathernecks are looking to make a playoff appearance again this season.
Offensive Style: What I would describe as the MAC spread, mixed in with some pro style.. The spread offense is most similar to what PJ Fleck ran at Western Michigan, just with a lower ceiling based on talent. The flip side is the QB under center running traditional pro style offense. Last year they were just about 50:50 on rushes and passes. Against Montana St. they ran 40 times and passed 31 times.
Defensive Style: Western Illinois also runs a 3-4 defense, with a standup rush linebacker. The three LBs that play at normal depth are all solid tacklers. The defensive line is meh, but does do an ok job of occupying blockers. Khalen Saunders (DE) was the preseason hype of the defense, and is a solid pass rusher. Montana State negated him by running away from him. The secondary is led by Justin Fitzpatrick. Against spread passing teams the Leathernecks move to either a 2-4 look ala Wisconsin, or a 3-3 look if the team is more prone to run. Illinois will most likely see the 3-3, and expect to see stunting and blitzing to try and break AJ Bush's rhythm.
Specialists_: _Tony Tate is the primary kickoff returner for Western Illinois. Luckily, Illinois has Chase McLaughlin so I doubt Tate will return many kicks Saturday.
Three Things to Watch
- The Leatherneck OL vs. the Illini DL. The Illini DL really struggled to assert itself until the 2nd half last week. The Leathernecks are also replacing four offensive line starters from a year ago. Illinois needs to show out this game and be disruptive.
- The Illini secondary vs. the Leathernecks passing game. The Illini secondary was pretty shaky in the first half of the Kent State game. Western Illinois likes to attack the seams in their passing attack, so the Illini safeties will need to be up to the task.
- The Illini front 6 against the read option. The Counter read option that Kent State ran was a nice twist. Syracuse tends to run a pure counter, which was on the videos last week. Western tends to run the PJ Fleck version of the read option, which this D struggled with last year as well. So, Illinois struggles against the read option. The Illini should be better prepared this week as they have some game film on Western Illinois.
Scouting Review - Offense
It pains to write this, but Western Illinois is the true definition of a multiple offense. Which makes sense since they play in the Missouri Valley. In the summer, they have multiple options and like ot mix it up. In the winter, you might be making a trip to South Dakota in the snow, and as such they need to be able to run the ball. Western will mix in double tight single back to go with 3 WR shotgun read option. While it is hard to get a true read on what Western Illinois is going to do, whatever they do will revolve around running the tailback. The best of the duo is Steve McShane. He is tiny, but has great speed. A bulk of the carries will be done by Max Norris though. Norris is more of a protypical back at about 210 lbs. McShane is a 185 lb. speed back, which will require Illinois LBs and safeties to take good pursuit angles. Luckily for the Illini, they don't have to account much for the quarterback Sean McGuire, he is always willing to give and will keep once or twice to keep the Illini D honest.
While I never found on tape a good example of the read option, I believe we all know what that looks like. My apologies.
What I do have is the double tight set up Western Illinois is going to run on Saturday. McShane is a great cutback runner, and by creating more gaps for the Illini to defend, they give McShane the best chance of success. Illinois can disrupt McShane by getting penetration up front. Once again, the Leathernecks will be rolling out a fairly inexperienced offensive line. If Illinois can generate a push between the two tackles, the LBs will have clear lanes to shut down the run.
One thing to note on this, the Leathernecks like to run this to the weak side. The motion they used froze the defensive end. Running to the weak side takes advantage of the gap between the Illini 1-technique tackle (inside of guard), and the DE the Illini normally kick out to the gap between the tackle and tight end. This allows for a quick block on the weak side linebacker and should isolate McShane on the safety in a lane. If this occurs, Western Illinois will be more than happy with that.
As I mentioned before, the Leathernecks will run Norris quite a bit in this game. Norris is a more bruising tailback, and will follow his blocks. Here he is a year ago on a stretch play.
Norris will take what the defense gives him, but unlike McShane is not a threat to break a run. The offensive line is blocking a straight zone on this play, so once again the Illini can break up the offense with penetration on the inside.
With all the referenes to the Illini getting penetration, I would personally slow the run game down with the screen game. Western is pretty proficient in the screen game, and it allows for McShane to begin operating in space.
The interior offensive line does well on this play. This example was from a year ago though. In the meantime, once again, the offensive line turned over four offensive linemen. The Illini ends will need to make sure they place pressure on the QB if they overpursue and make it hard to find McShane. Did I mention that McShane is only 5'8"?
Over the course of last year, the Leathernecks use the Shotgun formation primarily as a passing formation. In the tape I watched, they passed ~80% of the time out of it. The Illini should be aware of this, but I suspect the Leathernecks will run more Shotgun against the Illini than previous outings. The result will be a passing attack looking to exploit the Illini secondary. The Illini struggled mightily against the Kent State passing attack, especially when the Illini DBs were isolated in man coverage. Look for Western to flood the zones against the Illini, as McGuire is not quite the passer Barrett was, and definitively not the runner.
On this play, the Leathernecks are feigning a WR screen on the sideline, then releasing the blocker down the sideline on an intermediate route. The other option is a deep ball South Dakota St. covered well. Illinois was susceptible to these routes last week against Kent State, and will get their fill this weekend as well.
The tactic to watch for out of Western Illinois is the play action pass. McShane is head and shoulders the best player for Western, but is a limited option as he would be unable to take a full workload. In order to open lanes and keep Illinois guessing on the back end (once again, especially with a young and aggressive secondary), the Leathernecks will look to run play action.
On this version, the Leathernecks run 70 protection, with a guard on pulling to slow the defensive end down. It is a three man flood route. McGuire tends to have a hitch in the intermediate throws.
The Leathernecks ran for 180 yards last week. Sans big plays, the Leathernecks will struggle to consistently move the ball against the Illini. McGuire will need to improve upon his 12/22 passing day, and will absolutely need to eliminate the turnovers. The Leatherneck offense is going to roll through its extensive playbook until they hit on something that starts to work. Illinois is going to need to adjust, which is going to put the young players on alert.
Scouting Review - Defense
The Leathernecks return more talent on defense than offense, but again they have a mixed bag of talent. There primary talent on the DL is a single end, and they mix that with a solid linebacking corps. The secondary has a few solid pieces, but Montana State picked on the field corner.
Against the Illini base formation, Illinois should see an alignment similar to this.
Western Illinois was shredded by a running quarterback last week (18 carries, 109 yards). The Leathernecks rarely stunted the down linemen, but did bring pressure from the stand up OLB and DE. Montana St. seems to have allowed the DEs to get penetration upfield while running underneath. Illinois should make hay with the RPO over the middle as the LBs will be scraping hard on the Illini run action.
What does it mean?
The computers absolutely hate Illinois. And for good reason, statisically Illinois was epically bad on offense last year, and the defense struggled as well. Robert is keen to mention Illinois being the youngest team, but some of the issues were self inflicted. Rod Smith has taken over, and put AJ Bush into the driver's seat of the new look offense. Bush needs to calm his feet and play within the offense, which should move Illinois in a statistically significant direction this year.
Defensively for the Illini it will be a struggle. The Leathernecks have some talented pieces and will bust some big plays. They should be unable to string together a drive on small drives. As a result, Western Illinois is going to struggle to put points on the board. With Illinois running tempo the offense is going to expose the defense a bit.
For Illinois to Win:
Illinois just needs to play assignment football. Period. The Illini need AJ Bush to stop jump passing, the offensive line to be assignment sound, and another receiving weapon to ermerge. On defense, the Illini are still rolling with an extremely green secondary, and as such will need to limit their exposure.
For Western Illinois Win:
Illinois needs to revert to the abysmal team the computers remember from a year ago. As bad as Illinois was against Kent St., it still moved the line against Western Illinois by 2 points by the computers. Western has some talented pieces, but will struggle to match the overall talent level and depth of Illinois. Running tempo will expose both teams to the overall talent of the other. Illinois has a talent advantage that should win out. In order to win, Western needs to get a big lead early, then sit on the ball while the Illini flounder on offense.
As the only line I saw, I will roll with this one. The computers put this game as a tossup (Massey, Compughterratings, etc.), with Massey calling it a WIU victory while Compughterrating give Illinois the advantage because it is a home game. Sagarin calls it an Illinois 8 point win. I think they are all overstating the game since all are using 2017 as the majority of the inputs. Illinois approved by bringing in Rod Smith and getting a year older. Western Illinois saw a great deal of talent leave from a year ago. Just like last week, Illinois has a significant talent and depth advantage, and I the Illini will exploit that in the second half by rolling with tempo. I think Illinois wins this by at least double digits, so I'll take Illinois to cover.
YTD Against the Spread: