(Craig Has The) Bowl Takeaway

Dec 31, 2019

Scott Frost made reference to it early in the year. Beau Baldwin brought it up as well. Illinois is not very schematically complex on defense. And when they are unable to generate turnovers, they get picked apart. Said more simply, welcome to the Redbox Bowl.

In order to win with these schemes, Illinois has to force turnovers. The Illini defense as constituted gives up too many yards, and without turnovers, they will give up points. Cal had their high in points today. And the points per drive was their highest on the season. Illinois had a worse points per drive performance than Washington State, a known defensive powerhouse. Rod Smith actually outgained Cal today, but Cal took away the edge run game and the run game ground to a halt.

I'll make a few excuses for Rod Smith. The Illini lacked a legitimate receiving threat to take the top off of a defense. Rod did some cool things moving the OL around and giving some looks to the Cal defense. Eventually, Tim DeRuyter gave up on the fact that Illinois could go deep, and they just sat and smothered Illinois. All due credit to Brandon Peters, the offense click today. DeRuyter eventually moved out of their single-high safety look and moved to a Nickel look with Cover 4 schemes behind it. The change allowed the safeties to come downhill in a hurry and bottle up the Illini run game. Cal stopped blitzing and sat on the Illini run game. Peters was a highlight, but at some point, Illinois has to run to win. Mark Dantonio rides with the Cover 4 because eventually, the QB makes a bad throw and the secondary gets a great look. The Peters interception was exactly that.

Defensively, Beau Baldwin rides off to Cal Poly with a nice feather in his cap. He took Lovie to school today and went hard after a couple of players in the secondary in particular. Baldwin schemed to get the matchups he wanted and took advantage of the Illini defense. As Frost said, Illinois does what they do. Late in 2nd half, Lovie finally moved from the Cover 2 he ran most of the game and finally started running some single-high safety. Illinois forced Cal to punt a couple of times out of it, and Chase Garbers looked human again. At that point though, the Illini were down 3 scores and the game was out of reach.

Seeing Tim DeRuyter run the game makes me appreciate just how good he is as a defensive coordinator. He is running Justin Wilcox's defense, but it adjusting as the game moves along. Lovie Smith thrives on takeaways, I hope that is the one takeaway the Illini have from the Redbox Bowl.


The Olaf Rules on December 31 @ 11:31 AM CST

I doubt whether this scheme will ever be more than modestly effective given the personnel on the roster. That’s not meant as a slight to the players. I just don’t see how this really works without NFL caliber athletes at DE and LB, which are not on the roster nor on the recruiting horizon. Why won’t the DC adjust scheme to maximize what the roster players can actually do?

Groundhogday on December 31 @ 01:39 PM CST

Not sure you need NFL talent, but I worry that you need exceptional D talent for whatever level it is being used. Sort of like the Jim Tressel offense that worked great at Youngstown state and tOSU when they had an overwhelming talent advantage. We won’t have that at Illinois.

CraigG on December 31 @ 05:50 PM CST

Iowa runs a similar front, just Cover 3 and 4 on the back end. As for recruiting the right personnel, it requires a DE who can bring it on the pass rush

Norcal Illini on December 31 @ 01:40 PM CST

From my angle in the end zone, it looked like Cal was isolating Hobbs on the Illini's left side. He looked like he was playing soft in the first half, which made it look easy to complete passes. Do you think it was because Stanley Green wasn't playing? I noticed that Martin and Ware were playing safety at times, which might have been for lack of bodies.

CraigG on December 31 @ 05:51 PM CST

They took a lot of shots at him, by design. I think Green was out so they could assess guys for safety next year

thumpasaurus on January 02 @ 10:39 AM CST

Would it be fair to say that winning the game was not especially high on Lovie's list of priorities Monday?

I mean, this would have been the last game of Green's career. The pregame injury list made me think Lovie told everyone they're not playing unless they're observably 100% or something.

Norcal Illini on January 02 @ 01:38 PM CST

I noticed that Green was in on the first defensive play of the second half, but I don't remember seeing him in the first half. I think he played most of the second half as well. Was he suspended for the first half or ejected for targeting in a previous game?

I was also surprised to see Martin playing safety in the first half when Brown wasn't in the game. That could have been for lack of healthy bodies. My assumption was that they didn't blitz and Hobbs played soft because they needed to protect all the young or inexperienced DBs. Clearly that didn't work very well.

CraigG on January 02 @ 01:50 PM CST

I think they were playing to win the game, I think they had some other items they wanted to get accomplished at the same time though. So, they played the extra safeties, but didn't expect it to negatively impact the game plan. (It did).
Green played in both halves, but the safety rotation was still in play. I think they were wanting to get real game action for the guys coming back next year they moved in the practices. That is one big advantage of the bowl game, extra practices and a preamble to next season.

Groundhogday on December 31 @ 01:41 PM CST

The roster is shaping up for a good season next year, but this D scheme is a major concern. I don’t seen the dominant front 4 needed to get good pressure without blitzing and I don’t see the dominant safeties and LB needed to make plays in the base cover 2.

Brave Illini on December 31 @ 02:06 PM CST

I think Josh Whitman has much higher goals for the Illini major sports, and will be aiming for a much higher caliber football roster than we've had in recent years. I don't know if Lovie Smith is the coach that can get us to where Whitman wants the program to be, either with recruiting or coaching, and the onus will be in him to figure that out and make the right changes at the right time. That's his job, and he needs to do it well. I expect that he can and will.

Illiniiniowa on December 31 @ 06:37 PM CST

I don't know if it's just coincidence, but our best defensive games all came with Tony Adams at corner.

IBFan on December 31 @ 11:00 PM CST

Bobby Roundtree, Jake Hansen et al. Soooo many players hurt this year missing time or playing injured not sure you can blame it all on scheme. How much is Hansen alone worth? Ohio st that as deep as any team in the country loses a man to a bogus call and it changed the entire effectiveness of their defense.
Just like the offense with no receivers and the starting center out and the guy filling in for him with a bad ankle. Yes I agree it’s all on Lovie and whatever the cause it needs to be better. Hoping for a healthy year and a bowl game with no SEC refs.

illinisludge on January 01 @ 11:24 AM CST

thanks for your coverage. can you do a post about the schematic deficiencies of Lovie's D? (not too technical)

illiniranger on January 02 @ 08:49 AM CST

I’m not Craig, but here goes.

Cover 2 means the CBs are in the flat, 3x LBs in three middle zones and 2 safeties taking 1/2 the field each. The open spots in the zone are the seam behind the LB and between the safeties and the “honey hole” which is the open area behind the corners and in front of the safeties. Teams attack the middle with digs, posts, and slant routes. They’ll attack the honey hole with out routes and corner routes.

You’ll hear ppl discuss “Tampa 2” which is an adjustment where the MLB drops deep between the two safeties to try and take that open seam away. Takes a special player to effectively cover that, someone like Derrick Brooks or Urlacher.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Cover 2. It works on a chalkboard. But you have to be able to execute it. It is in my opinion a better defense to deploy against pro style offenses that utilize more TEs and passes to the HBs. It is not ideal for defending 3 and 4 WR spread offenses. I think a “match quarters” scheme is a better zone defense base alignment. But every team jumps between their base zone and man to man, usually depending on alignment, matchups, and down and distance.

If you watch Lovie here at IL we do a pretty good job defending pro style teams out of our Cover 2. Iowa, WI, MSU, have all seen good performances by the D over the years - Lovie is even 2-0 vs MSU. But we really struggle against the more progressive spread teams.

I think there are some scheme deficiencies, but mostly I think are issues are execution. We’re in the wrong place at the wrong time too frequently. That’s coaching too, but I wouldn’t call it scheme. We also struggle to get pressure. Our blitzing is usually very formulaic, and our front 4 are more “mauler” types vs guys that can get to the QB. The last one is a talent issue, but a lot of B1G teams struggle with that.

Groundhogday on January 02 @ 11:57 AM CST

Ditto on pressure. Getting pressure on the QB can make up for all kinds of deficiencies and mistakes. Ditto for penetration on run plays that can get a team into 3rd-and-long situations. If you don't have NFL caliber rushers, then you need to scheme and mix things up to get that disruptive D pressure up front. We haven't gotten nearly enough pressure from our front four.

CraigG on January 03 @ 08:33 AM CST

I don't do anything not too technical. Ranger did a nice job describing it, but I'll since it is a free month, I might just throw out 3,000 words on the 4-3 just because.

John Case on January 02 @ 01:15 PM CST

my biggest concern with illinois defense has nothing to do with scheme. the dline cant get off blocks. betiku did early in season. austin clark needs to reassess how he is developing these d linemen.

1970 John on January 03 @ 04:58 AM CST

I’m curious about the overall effect of the refs calling the fumble a forward pass. Did Oregon score on that drive? At least for that, then, Oregon would have had 28 instead of 35 points.

If Illinois got the ball inside the 20, might they have scored? They’ve had a pretty good track record of scoring off turnovers and we’re finally moving the ball. If they did, with a PAT, the score is 28-27. Unless Illinois makes a two point conversion. In OT, if the defense can hold, McCourt gets to be a hero again.

Would it happen? Probably not. Too much has to go our way. On the other hand, the game was NOT unwinnable. A comeback was wholly within the realm of possibility.

CraigG on January 03 @ 08:30 AM CST

The game was absolutely winnable. The thing that was glaring to me though was the speed with which adjustments were made. Illinois just seemed to be a step behind compared to Cal.

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