Looks Like University Of Illinois - Artur Sitkowski

May 1, 2021

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Not even sure how to go about this backlog. I think I'll start with the QB transfer since he'll be on the roster starting in June. And then I'll start running through all of the football verbals I haven't covered yet. Maybe this backlog will get me through the entire month of May.

OK, so Artur Sitkowski. QB transfer from Rutgers. I think this is what I think:

I feel about Sitkowski the same way I feel about Bret Bielema being named head coach in December.

At first, when I heard it, I was all "whaaaat?". My thoughts surrounding Bielema were mostly shaped by two things: his time at Wisconsin and SEC Twitter's "BERT" memes. He was both the cocky Wisconsin coach who wanted 18-play drives AND the shirtless guy in the meme. When we did the predictions on The Field Pass and I picked Bielema as the guy I'd bet money on (to be the next Illinois head coach), I believe I even said "I pick shirtless Bert".

I found out that Bielema got the job as I was driving from Champaign to State College to cover the Illinois/Penn State game. And because he attended the game that night, I got to interview him at Beaver Stadium. I came away with a completely different impression than "cocky Wisconsin coach" (or "shirtless Bert"). I'm staying reserved - I've put sticky notes on my mental bathroom mirror telling myself to not go all-in with the next head coach - but I've really warmed to the idea of Bret Bielema, Illinois head coach. A lot of people I've talked to feel the same.

That's how I feel about Sitkowski. Not saying it will work. Not gonna say "wow, just landed our starting QB for 2022 and 2023". But I've come a long way since "uh, WHAT?" 48 hours ago. This is not "I've talked myself into him being misused at Rutgers and I think he's ready to break out in a new system". It's just... he's not who I thought he was. He's not the meme I remember. Let me explain.

My first knowledge of Sitkowski, right or wrong, was filtered through Minnesota. I'm not even going to look this up to see if it's true because it doesn't matter - I remember that he was the 4-star QB committed to Rutgers who had lost his starting job at IMG to the walkon going to Minnesota. The way I remember the story, Zach Annexstad was the backup at IMG and Sitkowski was the 4-star who was supposed to pick Miami but ended up at home-state Rutgers. But midway through that season at IMG, Annexstad won the starting job. So the guy committed to Minnesota as a PWO won the job over the 4-star (which dropped him from 4-star status).

Sitkowski went to Rutgers, won the starting job as a true freshman, threw 4 touchdowns and 18 interceptions that season, and I remember thinking (after we beat Rutgers in 2018 thanks to three Sitkowski interceptions) that we learned all we needed to know about him when the Minnesota walkon won the starting spot at IMG. When we beat Rutgers in 2019, Johnny Langan was the quarterback, and when we beat Rutgers in 2020, Nebraska transfer Noah Vedral was the quarterback, so I figured Sitkowski had busted and was done. That was my final Artur Sitkowski thought.

(I remember Rutgers quarterbacks handing us the ball being key to these last three wins over them, so I looked it up. Sitkowski threw 3 interceptions in 2018. Langan threw an interception - a pick six - and fumbled twice, one being returned by Nate Hobbs for a touchdown, in 2019. Vedral threw three interceptions when we won in Piscataway back in November. The key to beating Rutgers: three turnovers from their quarterback.)

Fair or not, that's my memory of Sitkowski. So I was a bit surprised when a Rutgers fan who follows me reached out to give me a bit of a scouting report:

Sit "looked a lot better last season"? Because he didn't play in the Illinois game, I figured he had maybe left Rutgers (or was buried on the bench). So I needed to know what "looked a lot better last season" meant.

First place I looked was PFF and their player ratings. I know some people like to hate on PFF but I'll say it again: using their system, my 16 year-old nephew could do a pretty good evaluation of a football player. Watch every single play and see how each player performs. Got bulldozed by the opponent? Low score for that play. Obliterated two defenders? High score for that play. PFF's evaluators (a bit more well-versed in football than my 16 year-old nephew who is going to try to go sub-22 in the 50 Free at his swim meet tonight and get that AAA time) watch every play 11 times, give each player a score based on what he did in his one-on-one matchup that play, move on to the next play. Again, you could do it and come up with solid scores. Kendrick Green would grade out very high and Derrick Smith would grade out very low.

So I check PFF's ratings for Rutgers last year. Their quarterbacks:

Noah Vedral (452 plays evaluated) - 58.0 passing grade, 63.6 running grade, 60.0 overall
Artur Sitkowski (144 plays evaluated) - 68.3 passing grade, 63.6 running grade, 69.8 overall
Johnny Langan (119 plays evaluated) - 48.3 passing grade, 72.0 running grade, 68.1 overall

For comparison, the Illinois quarterbacks last year:

Isaiah Williams (202 plays evaluated) - 53.1 passing grade, 80.2 running grade, 72.5 overall
Brandon Peters (200 plays evaluated) - 61.6 passing grade, 77.8 running grade, 70.1 overall
Coran Taylor (133 plays evaluated) - 49.8 passing grade, 51.4 running grade, 45.5 overall

OK so that's interesting. The highest passing grade of those six quarterbacks is... Artur Sitkowski? For comparison, Tanner Morgan passing grade at Minnesota: 69.2. Spencer Petras passing grade at Iowa: 56.9. Aidan O'Connell passing grade at Purdue: 63.0. Sean Clifford passing grade at Penn State: 60.9. Graham Mertz at Wisconsin: 66.7.

Now, Sitkowski's passing grade as a freshman (when he threw those 18 interceptions) was a didn't-know-it-went-that-low 27.4. And as a sophomore, when he only appeared in three games, it was a 53.6. So if you look at the three year career, the numbers are bad. There's a reason he lost the starting job. No team can win with a QB that throws 18 interceptions in 11 games.

BUT, that was when he was a true freshman. And if his Year Three had these statistics...

4 games, 52-82 (63.4%) for 444 yards, 3 TD's and 0 INT's

...then, uh, maybe this transfer makes a lot more sense than I originally thought? He played as a true freshman in 2018, only played in three games in 2019 (redshirt), and then 2020 didn't count for anyone. So he arrives in Champaign next fall as a redshirt sophomore. Might he actually be Brandon Peters backup in 2021 and then the starter in 2022 and 2023?

I'm probably getting ahead of myself. But I seriously had no idea Rutgers turned to him late in the year when Vedral was battling an injury. I didn't even remember that Rutgers went to Purdue and won (with Sitkowski starting). I know I take too many "why does everyone love him?" shots at Jeff Brohm, but he lost at home to Rutgers in Year Four while making $6.6 million. He went 2-4 with games canceled against Wisconsin and Indiana (games Purdue would have lost). He has to be on a super hot seat this fall, right? I just went and looked up 2020 coaching salaries. That article lists football and basketball together, but if we take Coach K and Cal out of it....

9. Jeff Brohm, Purdue - $6.6 million
10. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma - $6.4 million
11. Dan Mullen, Florida - $6 million
12. Ryan Day, Ohio State - $6 million
13. James Franklin, Penn State - $5.6 million

Brohm and Lovie won the same number of games 2018 through 2020: 12. Lovie won 4, 6, and 2 and Brohm won 6, 4, and 2). So you're telling me that Brohm going 7-6 in his first season (2017) is worth paying him more than Lincoln Riley, Dan Mullen, Ryan Day, and James Franklin?

I need to get back on track. I promised myself 10 hours of writing today to get three articles done and I spent four hours on three mailbag questions and now I'm nearing six hours watching Sitkowski film and writing this post. And we haven't even gotten to the film yet! 0.0% chance I will get to the third article.

Let's go right to the film. I pulled four throws from 2020 Rutgers games so you can see his throwing motion (and overall 6'-5" frame)...

His first touchdown against Purdue:

Similar TD throw, except this time it's the play that would win every single playground football game in history. Everyone start running right including the QB, one guy runs left and the QB throws back:

And then two more touchdown throws the next week. This shows some arm strength and vision (avoid the rush, hit the tailback):

And then this one technically isn't a touchdown pass because it counts as a lateral:

So yes, he's a tall pocket passer. And the guy starting in the spring game was a tall pocket passer. And the quarterback in the 2022 recruiting class is a tall-ish pocket passer. So I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that this staff is focused on tall pocket passers for this offense.

Which would make sense given the parts of the offense we saw in the spring game. A lot of work under center instead of shotgun. A lot of targets to the tight ends. Just seems like pro-style quarterbacks will be the focus in recruiting.

So maybe this thing is really as simple as "what label was used in the 247 recruiting profile for each quarterback on the roster?".

Brandon Peters - PRO
Coran Taylor - DUAL
Matt Robinson - DUAL
Isaiah Williams - ATH
Deuce Spann - DUAL
Samari Collier - DUAL
Artur Sitkowski - PRO
Donovan Leary - PRO

That probably tells the entire QB story at the moment.

OK, so where do we go with Tom Cruises? The first thing I think about is the scout from the Rutgers Twitter follower. "Just flat out inaccurate" was why he lost the starting job at Rutgers and why they brought in Vedral. And Vedral won the job during their training camp last year. Sitkowski preformed well after Vedral was out, but that was still just 144 plays. He'd need to show it for a lot more than just those 144 plays to be able to say "the light bulb came on".

Still, he was a 4-star recruit because of his height and arm strength. You can't teach that. And his stats as a redshirt sophomore last year were significantly improved. I remember Kurt Kittner's 1 touchdown, 7 interception freshman year (had he started 11 games, he would have probably been close to Sitkowski's 4 TD, 18 INT freshman season). So I always leave room for "by the time he's 22 years old...".

I think I have the TC's here. Want to be in the 3's, but the fact that he hasn't really done it besides those four games last season makes me fall just short of that.

Artur Sitkowski, two and three-quarters Tom Cruises.


HNLINI on May 1, 2021 @ 12:46 AM

Robert, are Tom Cruises awarded on a curve, or an absolute rating? That is, it it easier or harder to get 3 TCs as a RS sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining than it is for a freshman with four years remaining? Or is it easier/harder for them to earn the same rating? It seems to me that the transfers should be on a different scale (at least the ones who have played extensively in college against FBS competition) and have legit PFF ratings, than the incoming freshman for whom ratings are generally much more subjective. And if the transfer market is the "future" of college athletics. I mean, once they play at IL, the LLUOI TC ratings don't mean much, but as a way to rate incoming players I'm unsure if you are using the ratings in the same way for transfers as for incoming frosh. Further, how do you account for the change in offensive philosophy: last year, Sitkowski would never have even approached UofI, nor been approached by UofI - he didn't fit what we were doing. This year, he is arguably the best "fit" of the entire QB room for what they want to do going forward. How does "fit" influence your LLUOI TC ratings? You may have explained this before, but I can't seem to find it.

Brave Illini on May 1, 2021 @ 07:31 AM

Could Tony Peterson be a quarterback whisperer?Maybe guys like Peters and Sitkowski can realize their potential under the guidance of someone like Tony.

Ellisrt1031 on May 1, 2021 @ 09:33 PM

He better be. Peters has proven to be inaccurate in game situations with any kind of pressure.

illinivek23 on May 1, 2021 @ 09:59 AM

I think we may, at the very least, benefit from Artur's learning lessons from playing early. Tony seems to have a really effective coaching style with QBs.

Perhaps his best days are ahead - and also raises the floor and competitive level in the QB room. QB that directs the offense that moves the ball and scores will get the PT.

iluvrt on May 2, 2021 @ 02:51 PM

I live Sitkowski - think he will do well. New coaches, new environment - no one his ceiling

iluvrt on May 2, 2021 @ 02:51 PM

I live Sitkowski - think he will do well. New coaches, new environment - no one his ceiling

illinizeeman on May 3, 2021 @ 02:23 PM

I hope the QBs that won't QB are able to still contribute at other positions. IW is elite, and Taylor and Deuce have good speed and size.

ktal on May 6, 2021 @ 07:52 AM

I feel like we've seen "flat-out innaccurate", and it doesn't complete 63% of it's passes. I'd say that completion percentage (with zero interceptions in 82 throws), is evidence that things may have 'clicked' for Mr. Sitkowski, and he could be a very capable QB.

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