Interceptions 2019

Jul 17, 2019

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Remember when sitcoms in the 1980's would do a clip show where they'd just have one character set it up and then show clips from previous shows the next 29 minutes? Wait, many of you weren't born then? Well, see kids, back in the 80's, sitcoms would do clip shows...

This will be a clip show. It's my eighth year writing this post, and I write the same post every year, so why not just cut and paste the meat from last year's post?

We'll start with the numbers. Then the clip. Then a conclusion.

I started tracking this in 2012. I ran the numbers and the Illini were the worst in the nation at grabbing interceptions over the previous 10 seasons. 120-some teams, dead last. Want to improve the Illini defense? Start grabbing interceptions.

The first year I tracked it from that starting point (2003 to 2012) and then I kept running the numbers each summer. After about five years of that, someone suggested it should be a running total. Remove the pin in 2003 and just run the previous ten years. Because when you include the atrocious numbers from the mid-2000's, we weren't really going to get anywhere (besides that glorious day in around 2015 when we passed Eastern Michigan to be second-to-last on my list).

So... each year I update the numbers. And here are the numbers for the years 2009 through 2018:

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

Note that I'm keeping the same list of teams here, so anyone added to the FBS (like, say, UMass or Coastal Carolina) or removed from the FBS (like Idaho) are not included. Basically, it's FBS teams from 2012 minus Idaho. I don't think going back in and adding Texas State once they reach 10 seasons in FBS will tell us much. Also, that's too much work.

So... tied for 6th-from-last! Up from 3rd-from-last last year! I probably make the same Arrested Development joke each year but... DON'T BUY DON'T BUY DON'T BUY!

Here's where I'll cut and paste the "what this means" part from last season. Just picture the 80's sitcom screen squiggle as we look back........

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.

The number for 2018: 15 interceptions (tied for 20th nationally and our highest total since 17 in 2007). So... that's good. But it doesn't really matter when you give up 39.4 points per game. We actually found a way to render 15 interceptions useless.

Can we maintain that number in 2019? It will be difficult. 15 is a lot. Remember, we had 6 in 2008, 5 in 2009, 7 in 2010, and 7 in 2011. So if we had 25 total over four seasons from 2008 through 2011, it's difficult to think that we'd get 15 last season and 15 more this season.

But, Jartavius Martin has shown a knack for interceptions (three as a true freshmen last fall and about 79 in the scrimmages I watched this spring - that's more a bad thing than a good thing, mind you), so there's hope that this can be that kind of defense. And, really, it needs to be. We were sold "turnovers" as the focus of this defense, it's the fourth year for this defense, we were -4 in Turnover Margin last season (only 5 fumble recoveries vs. 10 lost fumbles plus 14 interceptions thrown), so it's time to see that number flip the other way. Needs to be +5 or better this fall.

Can it be? Let me see if I have any clips from old defenses I can plug in below.....

(This space intentionally left blank.)


Nashvegas Illini on July 17, 2019 @ 02:35 PM

This is why I come here. Can't find this anywhere else. In fact its been my obsession to figure out how we can be this bad at football and Robert, you are only one giving me stuff like this. How do we go from 4 wins to 8 wins? Stop giving up big plays/create turnover/limit turnovers/create big plays/win the field position battle. This isn't sexy stuff. Tweeting this out will not make you a trending topic. But if you want to go from a horrible football team to a good one than this is what you need. Thank you for keeping up with stuff like this for 10 yrs because no one else would.

IBFan on July 17, 2019 @ 05:00 PM

Anybody else rewatch season yet? Getting a little jumpy for some fall sports myself. I know there is no way for some of you to see the football as "half full" and we know the trolls love to go everywhere Illini and spew their crap, but color me orange. I think the improvement in interception numbers is a good thing and maybe we get a similar result with a couple less fumbles in the return game. Pray for BR.

Worra89 on July 17, 2019 @ 05:55 PM

I would be interested in seeing where we ranked on a 5-year roller. Looking at 10 years with three different coaches/schemes makes the previous programs have too much impact on where we rank in the nation, either positively or negatively. How about turnovers? Why track interceptions but not fumbles? Where do we rank in turnovers?

Nice article; keep up the great work!

CraigG on July 18, 2019 @ 12:47 PM

5 year roller for INT alone - Illinois is 85th, tied for 11th in the B1G with Maryland, and above Michigan and Rutgers.

Total Turnovers Illinois is 72nd overall - 10th in the B1G.

Overall, Illinois is 93rd nationally in TO margin over 5 years. Beating out Purdue, Rutgers, Nebraska, Michigan, and Maryland.

Fun stat for Michigan on Interceptions - they are 92nd in that time for INTs, but 10th in TDs from INTs.

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