Perfect Spring Day

Apr 22, 2022

You have currently viewed 1 story this month.

IlliniBoard now offers two free stories per month, for more please subscribe.

I cannot find the words to talk about the weather. It was perfection. 72 and sunny with an ideal breeze. I'm sure that was a big reason for the crowd. I've been to every spring game since 2006, and this was a top-3 crowd.

Now, for some Texas A&M fan or whatever, I'm sure that's laughable. They'd see a spring game with only the lower half of one side of the stadium full and say "THAT'S one of the three largest spring game crowds in the last 15 years?" But I grade everything on an Illini football curve, and this is me telling you that this was a large crowd for an Illinois spring game. Yes, I know how many people go to Nebraska's spring game. Don't care. Illinois spring game. Good crowd.

All told, I was at the stadium from 11:58 am until 11:21 pm. Tailgated for 6.5 hours, went to the spring game for 2 hours. And then tailgated for a couple more hours. I've become terribly sloppy about my job - I sat in the stands, skipped the press conference, and was 100% fan all day and night - but, I mean, did you see that weather? How could I sit up there in the pressbox?

As a result, my thoughts on this spring game are not organized. I didn't have my laptop with me, and I didn't follow the stats during the game, so this is more or less going to be From The Stands in written form. Here's all of my (random) thoughts:

+ The ones dominated the twos a little too much for my liking. I think I said that last year as well. You want your ones to dominate (if they don't, you're in big trouble), but you also want your twos to show flashes. And the only time the twos went on scoring drives was when the coaching staff would keep the second string on the field after they failed on third or fourth down. They'd basically give them a free first down to continue the drive (and to give the first string defense more work). After enough of those, yes, the second string offense will probably score.

So the ones completely dominating (on both sides of the ball) means that there's a big dropoff from ones to twos. Which means you're not very deep. That's to be expected - this is year two after a massive senior class graduated and Bielema's first class hasn't arrived on campus yet - but in terms of general takeaways, "there's a big dropoff after the first string" would be my general takeaway. We knew that, but after tonight we really know that.

Again, it's fine. It's just... worth noting.

+ Tommy DeVito was great. There wasn't a pass rush (second string DL has work to do), and so he had time to pick apart the second string secondary, but still, 16-20 for 248 yards and 3 touchdowns is impressive. And I know at least one of those four incompletions was a drop.

I still think it's a full-on QB competition in the fall between Tommy and Art Sitkowski (Sitkowski is still rehabbing his shoulder and won't be back 100% until fall camp), but this was a great debut for DeVito. Pass rush or no pass rush, 16-20 with some drops is 16-20 with some drops.

+ I don't really have any Barry Lunney Jr. scheme thoughts. Mostly because of last year's spring game. During last year's spring game we showed a certain defense mostly as a decoy for Nebraska. As you might recall, Scott Frost said something like "we threw out our offensive gameplan in the second quarter" after the defense was nothing like what Nebraska had reviewed from our spring game.

So I feel like we might have done a little bit of the same tonight. Wyoming will study this film to see what kind of offense Lunney might be running in Champaign, and they'll see a ton of WR motion, and then maybe we'll go the entire Wyoming game only using WR motion three times. (I don't really think that will be the case - this offense uses motion - I'm just saying that there were probably a few dummy plays out there tonight. Maybe more than a few.)

It's harder to do that on offense than on defense. On defense you can just stay in one base look and then not use it in the first game. On offense, your plays are your plays. I'm just saying we likely used the bare minimum.

+ Just like last year, it's interesting to study which players are in white (starters). For example, Isaac Darkangelo is Tarique Barnes' backup at MLB. But he was in white, rotating in a ton with the first string. So that wasn't really the second string defense. There are two ILB spots and the first string had three guys in white. The rest were in blue. I don't think I'm explaining this very well.

There are 22 starters and there were maybe 30 guys wearing white. Those extra eight guys are 100% players to pay attention to. They're not starters, but they probably shouldn't be considered "second-stringers" either. They're not ones, they're not twos, they're 1.5's. A list of 1.5's that surprised me a bit:

  • Northwestern transfer Te'Rah Edwards and Verdis Brown at nose tackle while Calvin Avery was in blue.
  • Isaac Darkangelo in white, revealing that he's absolutely the third linebacker right now.
  • Casey Washington was not playing (hamstring), but he's the #2 receiver next to Isaiah Williams. The other three receivers in white: Pat Bryant, walkon Miles Scott, and Brian Hightower. Pay attention to that.
  • Zy Crisler was in white (and starting at RG). Julian Pearl was not playing (thumb injury), so if Pearl was in there I'm guessing Crisler would have been the one to come off the field, but both juco linemen (Crisler and Adams) wearing white was interesting.
  • If I recall correctly the secondary only had five guys in white (the five starters when we're in the 5 DB defense): Devon Witherspoon, Taz Nicholson, Quan Martin, Sydney Brown, and Kendall Smith. So that's probably a massive flashing sign that says "Nicholson replaces Adams, Smith replaces Joseph, and there's your secondary."

+ Biggest concern is probably still the defensive line. And I'm including the OLB's when I say that. Is Ezekiel Holmes ready to take over for Owen Carney? Ditto for Seth Coleman on the other side. Who is the starter replacing Rod Perry at NT - Verdis? Maybe Te'Rah Edwards?

We know that Johnny Newton and Keith Randolph (who wasn't playing because of an injury) will be super solid inside. But of the five positions, three of them have massive question marks. Maybe the biggest question marks on the entire team.

Actually, let me think about that. Biggest question marks on the team. I'll give you five:

  1. Is there a quarterback on this roster who fits what Lunney wants to do?
  2. Can the DL replace Carney, Gay, and Perry?
  3. Who replaces Kerby in centerfield because Kerby was everything last season.
  4. Is the kicking game going to be a concern? New everything there: punter, kicker, longsnapper, holder - everything.
  5. The OL has two knowns (Pearl and Palcho) and then many questions. Is Pihlstrom a center? Is Slaughter ready? Can Adams start from game one?

I don't want to end with that. Let's end with a positive.

+ I probably feel best about the skill positions on offense (when's the last time an Illini football fan said that?). Chase Brown and Josh McCray are a legitimate one-two punch for a Big Ten backfield. Isaiah Williams is a budding superstar, Casey Washington is a great number two, and guys like Pat Bryant and Miles Scott appear ready. And I think Tip Reiman and Luke Ford make a legitimate Big Ten tight end pairing.

The question: is there a QB who can make it all go and is there a line that can protect? Because I think the skill positions are absolutely there.

We shall find out in 127 days.


PowerGranger on April 22, 2022 @ 08:19 AM

Thanks for the update. Wish I could have gone.

IlliniJoe81 on April 22, 2022 @ 12:36 PM


Taft92 on April 22, 2022 @ 01:34 PM

Totally agree on skill positions. The WR even other than IW actually looked like WR: Few drops, requisite athleticism, decent routes, consistent effort. Against our 2s, sure, and spring game offense can be juiced. But maybe we’re finally recruiting WRs with potential and George McDonald is as good as Bielema regularly says he is. on April 22, 2022 @ 06:34 PM

Philstrom had a number of low snaps that DeVito handled well; but it's something that needs to be addressed.

Joe Edge on April 22, 2022 @ 08:51 PM

I noticed that as well....

jhoncarter on April 25, 2022 @ 05:55 AM

Thank you because you have been willing to share information with us. we will always appreciate all you have done here because I know you are very concerned with our. Stream NFL games free

Speak Your Mind

Please login or register to post comments on the IlliniBoard.

Post Preview