I thought that myself when I read that article that talked about a Data Scientist(tm)
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True story. My dog runs to the pantry every time he hears the word "Touchdown."
Poor little guy gets a little confused sometimes-- he knows he only gets one for a Michigan touchdown, but was so bombarded during the Baylor-West Virginia game I think he lost control of the concept. We're back on track now after going hungry in South Bend.
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After last week’s venture examining Purdue’s defense, I’ve decided to try my hand at creating a defensive preview each week for Michigan’s opponent. I will compound as many facts together about the opponent and try to give you as close to an insider look as possible. We’ll look at personnel, their defensive stats so far this year, and how they performed against Michigan last year. So here it is - I give you the 2012 Illinois Defensive Preview.
2012 ALL STAR PERFORMERS
It could almost go without saying that Illinois has missed their award winning defensive end this year, Whitney Mercilus. Mercilus was a unanimous 1st Team All American, a consensus 1st Team All B1G player, the winner of the Bill Willis Lineman Award, and also won the Ted Hendricks Award for best defensive end. His shoes would be hard for anyone to fill, and Illinois doesn’t have anyone who has remotely stepped up to that task so far.
It isn’t all bad though; returning for his senior year on the other side of the defensive line is consensus 2nd Team All B1G bandit, Michael Buchanan. Buchanan is rated as highly as the 2nd best DE in the draft, so he comes with great fanfare. Buchanan has picked up where he left of last year, being quite disruptive. He has 24 tackles, with 5 of those for a loss. He leads the Illini with 2.5 sacks, and 11 passes broken up (!). He even has an interception to his name which came in the 1st quarter versus Western Michigan in their season opener. Last week versus Wisconsin he recorded 5 tackles, 0 sacks, and was otherwise kept silent for most of the game. Not exactly the game changing performance Illinois needs from him and hopefully we’ll see a repeat performance this week. FWIW - he has been bothered by his leg, (he was questionable for the Penn State game earlier this year), so there might be something there.
Also returning this year is 2011 coaches’ honorable mention All B1G linebacker Jonathan Brown. From the WILL linebacker spot, Jonathan leads the Illini with 6.5 tackles for loss. He is 2nd on the team in total tackling, with 38, and also has 1.5 sacks to his name. Brown was also injured this year (a trend we will see throughout this preview), he was questionable for the Wisconsin game, but managed to play and record 9 tackles. Similar to Buchanan, he didn’t really change the game all that much. He is playing hurt according to Tim Beckman, and gave a gutsy performance though his injury. Those two have been the healthiest performers for Illinois, so that’s where we’ll stop this section. Let’s take a look at the defensive front a little closer.
So now that we’ve looked at Buchanan, let’s take a look at some of his defensive line teammates. Akeem Spence is a junior defensive tackle that appears to be a victim of the change in the Illini defensive scheme. Spence does have 27 tackles making him the 4th most active Illini player in that category. However, he has not been very disruptive in the backfield, recording only 2 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks this year. Spence is capable of plugging holes, but so far this year that’s about it.
Glenn Foster is the other starting defensive tackle and has been even less impressive than Spence. Foster has 13 tackles, with 2 of those for a loss, and has yet to record a sack this year.
Tim Kynard has been starting at the other DE spot and has 9 tackles, 1.5 of those for a loss, and 0.5 sacks this year. It’s pretty safe to say that Kynard is no Mercilus. Even worse than the stark realization that Kynard is not Mercilus, is that Kynard was seen on crutches at the Wisconsin game, so it’s likely that Justin Staples will get the start versus Michigan. This only compounds the depth problems for Illinois on the defensive line after sophomore DT Jake Howe went out for the season with a broken arm. Howe was a backup for Akeem Spence.
There is also this: starting defensive lineman not named Michael Buchanan have amassed 49 tackles, with 5.5 of those for a loss, and only 1 sack this season. Versus Wisconsin, the Illini DL starters including players named Michael Buchanan recorded 14 tackles, 0 of those for a loss, 0 sacks, and broke up 2 passes. They didn’t pressure the QB much, if at all, and were slashed for pretty good yards on the ground. Expect Michigan to game plan away from Buchanan as he is really the only disruptive player the Illini have up front.
Having covered Jonathan Brown above, we’ll look at the other workhorse of the linebacker set. Illinois uses a safety/linebacker hybrid called a STAR, and their current starter at that spot is senior Ashante Williams. Williams leads the Illini with 41 tackles this year, has 0.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, 5 broken up passes, and 1 interception that he returned for a 60 yard touchdown versus Western Michigan.
At the MIKE position Illinois started the season fairly young. An injury to sophomore Houston Bates left Illinois even younger. His backup Mason Monheim is a true freshman but he has outperformed everyone’s expectations so far. For his performance against Penn State he earned B1G Freshman of the Week honors. He is second among all Illini players with 38 tackles, with 2.5 of those for a loss. He has also recorded 1 sack, 1 pass broken up, and 1 interception.
That is where the bright spots end for the Illini at linebacker, unfortunately. Similar to their defensive line woes - depth, injury, and experience will be a problem as the B1G season plods on. Out of the 6 players in the Illini two deep at linebacker, 4 are freshmen, 1 is a junior, and 1 is a senior; the backups to the freshmen are mostly freshmen. Between the depth/injury problems at DL and the depth/experience/injury issues at linebacker, long sustained drives will benefit the Wolverines as the game grinds on (IF Illinois could somehow manage to keep it close).
(CB) Justin Green and (S) Steve Hull
I will start this section with an update on Terry Hawthorne. For those that don’t know, Hawthorne was the Illini player who was taken off the field on a stretcher against Wisconsin. According to Illinois head coach Tim Beckman, Hawthorne sustained no serious injuries and was able to return with the team. Great news for what looked like a very scary situation.
With that said, Hawthorne will be replaced by a mix of senior Jack Ramsey and freshman V’Angelo Bentley. Ramsey has 12 tackles and 2 broken up passes and is a slight step down from Hawthorne. Bentley is very athletic and has the 3rd most broken up passes on the team, but is also a freshman with mostly special teams experience.
At the other cornerback position is “The Observer,” senior Justin Green. Green has 17 tackles, 0 for a loss, 0 sacks, 0 passes broken up, and 0 interceptions. His specialty appears to be watching receivers catch passes and then abruptly tackling them for good measure. He was a highly touted 4 star recruit but so far hasn’t lived up to the hype. In his 2 years starting at cornerback Green has yet to record 1 interception and has only broken up 7 passes in those same 2 years (!)
Losing Hawthorne takes the Illini from bad to worse at this spot. The only relief for Illinois here is that the cornerbacks probably won’t get picked on that much, as Michigan will focus mostly on the ground attack.
A sad safety, Steve Hull
Illinois could really be in a bad spot at safety, had their projected starters not returned, well one of them has returned, I think, wait…nevermind. Injury prone senior Supo Sanni and junior Steve Hull returning to the Illini starting lineup would help this group out, however Supo Sanni can’t make up his mind on which limb he should abuse from week to week. Will he play versus Michigan? I dunno, ask me after the game. Steve Hull looks very probable for the Michigan game though. The replacement safeties (Earnest Thomas, Tommy Davis, and
Pat Nixon-Youman*) have combined to record 59 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 interception, and 1 pass broken up. Not exactly a lethal group without Sanni and Hull, and not to say that Sanni and Hull are world beaters, but Illinois is slightly better with them FWIW. Against Wisconsin Illinois gave up a 62 and 59 yard touchdown pass. The big play should be on the table for Michigan if they get past the second level of the defense.
*In the time it took to write this report, Pat Nixon-Youman sustained an injury, seriously.
Lack of depth, lack of talent, a new system that isn’t working, and player health are all problems for Illinois. Buchanan and Brown are studs; the rest of their defense is either injured, confused by the new scheme, merely serviceable, just plain bad, or inexperienced (or some combination of a few of these). Illinois could be in for a long and painful B1G season. Their fans are already feeling it; just listen to the pain only half way through their season from A Lion Eye –
This season gets a D so far. The only thing preventing an F was the opening win over Western Michigan. We haven’t been anywhere close in our three losses. Only the second quarter against Louisiana Tech could even be considered competitive. And the Charleston Southern game doesn’t count. (By the way, Charleston Southern’s losing streak is over. They beat Shorter University, a school that just made the jump this year from NAIA to Division II. And Charleston Southern only won 23-20. At home. Against an school transitioning from NAIA. They’re the worst team we’ll face in the next 50 years.)
There is growing frustration in the fan base about their inability to get pressure on the quarterback.
109th nationally and last in the Big Ten in sacks allowed. So why do we find ourselves in so many third-and-long situations? And why are our opponents in so many third-and-short situations? We can’t get to their quarterback, and they can easily get to ours.
There is also blame being thrown around, as Illinois is not used to being blown out by more than 17 points. For the record, they have been blown out by 17 in all of their losses this year. Once again, credit to A Lion Eye for documenting the last four 17 point losses –
11/26/11: Minnesota 27, Illinois 7
11/12/11: Michigan 31, Illinois 14
10/16/10: Michigan State 26, Illinois 6
10/03/09: Penn State 35, Illinois 17
That’s it. Under Zook the Illini may not have been out for world domination, but they usually made you earn it. Illinois went from being a decent running team that relied on their defense to keep them in the game, to a poor running team that has trouble keeping the offense off the field.
So how can Michigan attack the Illini defense? Take your pick, either option is quite appealing. We’ll start with the rushing defense. Here is a chart showing rushing yards allowed versus opponent and the opponent’s rushing yardage ranking (in parenthesis).
- I gave Western Michigan 0 yards, even though they had a negative day (-6) without adjusting for the sacks. With a negative number it made the chart look strange and I couldn't figure out how to fix it, so yeah.
- The average ranking of Illinois opponents for rushing total yardage is 65. Illinois is ranked 38th in rushing defense, but that comes with the disclaimer that their opponents haven’t been very good at running the ball this year.
- The toughest opponent they have faced has been Louisiana Tech (18th in rushing offense), Holding them to 119 yards should be commended, except that Louisiana Tech torched them for 284 yards through the air, so a running game wasn’t really a necessary part of their strategy. Also Louisiana Tech has 5 wins and 0 losses which should also be commended, except their 5 wins came against the likes of Houston (2-3), Rice (1-5), Illinois (2-4), Virginia (2-4), and UNLV (1-5). Virginia just got torched by Duke, yes Duke. If you are counting Illinois and Virginia as your quality wins, then using rankings is probably a moot point.
- Illinois is giving up 100+ yards to everyone who is not Western Michigan or otherwise listed an FCS school. Michigan is not Western Michigan or an FCS school; we should use this to our advantage.
- Illinois gave up 173 yards to Wisconsin who has Montee Ball and James White. They also gave up 173 yards to Penn State who has Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton. All of these guys are great quality backs, but Wisconsin and Penn State are also the 86th and 91st teams in total rushing yards to date.
- Watching the Wisconsin game gave me hope that Fitz can take on a more North-South running approach, as the holes that Illinois left open were wide and obvious.
- For Wisconsin, Ball averaged 6.1 YPC and White averaged 7.0 YPC, and the long was only 23 yards. Their numbers aren’t skewed by an 80 or 90 yard run, which tells us that they gashed them for 7 to 10 yards all day long. Watching the replay on BTN2GO confirms this.
I present to you the chart for Illini pass defense; each team’s ranking is in parenthesis.
- The average passing yardage ranking of the Illini’s opponents thus far is 49. On average they have given up over 200 yards per game through the air. Illinois is 63rd in passing defense so far this year.
highlightlowlight for their secondary was giving up 254 yards to a former walk on quarterback last week. Wisconsin ranks 101st in total passing yards and this includes their “Air Raid” attack on a helpless Illinois secondary.
- The only team that Illinois kept to less than 100 yards passing was an FCS school.
- The only team that is not an FCS school that Illinois kept to less than 200 yards passing was [this portion intentionally left blank for future opponent].
2011 MICHIGAN OFFENSE VERSUS ILLINOIS DEFENSE
Fitzgerald Toussaint 192 yard rushing party! That was basically the ball game as Toussaint filled a major gap when Denard left with an injured wrist. With the stellar performance by Toussaint, Hoke was able to leave Gardner in the game and not risk aggravating Denard’s wrist more. A 65 yard TD by Fitz highlighted his performance and his 7.1 YPC on the ground paved the way to an easy Michigan victory. Michigan went through the air 15 times, only completed 8 passes, but got big yardage each play. Both Robinson and Gardner averaged over 9 YPC with two of Michigan’s receivers averaging over 20 yards per completion (!). Illinois gave up 139 passing yards, 223 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns, 1 passing touchdown, intercepted 1 pass, and recovered 2 fumbles.
2012 MICHIGAN OFFENSE VERSUS ILLINOIS DEFENSE
Your Second Half Quarterback?
Look for a similar game plan as last year. Michigan will give Illinois a heavy dose of running. If Michigan doesn’t turn the ball over, this might be over by the 2nd quarter. If that happens, Bellomy should get some snaps, and we should see more of Thomas Rawls. Computers are projecting a 38-14 final score; there isn’t anything that I found in my analysis that would make me think otherwise.
Now that’s more like it.
Burst of Impetus
- Before checking the boxscore, I thought that Purdue wasn’t as bad as the score indicated, and that the game came down to a couple key fourth down plays. I mean, we only had four more first downs than them, 19-15. However, I quickly came across the “TOTAL OFFENSE YARDS” line which showed MICH 409, PUR 213. Yeah, we crushed them.
- The 4thdown plays were still key to setting the tone early. On Purdue’s first drive, they were stalled at their own 34, 4thand 1. They could have made a statement there. They punted.
- On our first drive, we stalled at their 22, 4thand 4. That’s 5 yards within Gibbons range, as we later found out. We could have put some points on the board and been happy. Instead, Brady made a statement. You cannot stop us. Denard to Gardner for 8 yards and the drive continues, leading to an eventual TD.
- Fast forward to the 2ndquarter, now Purdue has 4thand 1. This time, Hope goes for it. The ball bounces off the receiver’s hands, into the awaiting arms of Raymon Taylor, who Rayces into the endzone for six. UM 21, Purdue 0, game effectively over. And if it wasn’t over then, the fumble on the ensuing kickoff confirmed to Purdue that it just wasn’t going to be their day.
- Have I mentioned before how much I love good defense? We held TerBush and his brother Akeem and his other brother Akeem to 213 yards. (Nothing racial intended here, just playing off of the, “I’m Larry, and this is my brother Darryl and my other brother Darryl” from the old Newhart show. The theme of this season is rapidly coalescing around old sitcoms.)
- Purdue was 1 of 11 on third down and 1 of 3 on fourth down. When we had an opportunity to get off the field, we did.
- 22 players show up in the defensive stats, including the mysteriously named, “TEAM” with ## “TM.” TEAM had 1 solo tackle.
- Demens, Ryan, and Morgan all lead us in tackles with 6 apiece. Notice something about that, they’re ALL linebackers!
- We had 6 TFLs, 2 INTs, 3 pass breakups (2 from J.T. Floyd) and 2 sacks.
- Neither team recorded a QH.
- There was a thread earlier this week about Kovacs’ tackle totals. He only had 1 this week. He basically wandered around centerfield watching everything happen in front of him. That’s how impressive our defensive performance was.
- Denard ran 24 times for 235 yards. His one TD rushing was not awarded by some weird replay officiating. The Purdue catch was conclusive enough to be overturned, but Denard’s TD wasn’t?
- Denard averaged 9.8 yards per carry with a long of 59 yards. It seemed like Purdue’s gameplan was to not let Fitz beat them again. OK, fine. Let Denard run for 235. Had Denard kept on all the handoffs to Fitz, I bet he could have run for 400 yards. He set some records or something. What else is new.
- Denard didn’t throw any interceptions, and actually threw a ball out of bounds. Whoo-hoo!!!
Bunches of Funchess
- Gardner’s TD reception was smoooth.
- Denard completed one pass on 3rdand 11 to Funchess. It was behind him, much like the throws against ND that were deflected and picked off, but Devin reached back with one giant meathook and snagged the ball out of the air. First down Michigan. On the next play, Toussaint scored making it 14-0.
- Gallon lead with 3 receptions for 37 yards.
- Purdue was the more interesting team at least in this regard. They had a 4D, 2D, and a 7D record tackles, they wore pink for awareness, and their students raise shoes during kickoffs. What is that all about?!?
- They also have players named Akeem, Akeem and Raheem, and Bush and TerBush.
- On defense, they have Kawann Short (pronounced KAY-wann, and all this time I thought it was Kah-wann,) Schmeig, and a Higgs. I hope they recruit a Boson for next year.
Norf and Souf
- Norfleet continues to impress with his “get as many yards as you can, as quickly as you can” approach.
- Apparently, we don’t like punting in Indiana. After punting once against ND, we did not punt in the first half. In the 2ndhalf, Hagerup boomed a 57 yarder.
- Gibbons doinked one off the cross-bar from 44 yards. He made his three other attempts from 27, 29, and 42 yards. Two FGs from <30 yards? That score could have been a lot worse.
- Dileo had a punt return for 10 yards. I like the fact that they are putting a 2nd guy back there to prevent the "punt plus roll" which usually costs another 10-20 yards.
- Wile only had 1 touchback out of 9 kickoffs. While that did lead to a Purdue fumble, it seemed odd not watching him kick it 5 yards into the endzone.
- This was at least our second game with LeMonnier’s crew. Very few penalties were called. They basically didn’t factor in the game, and for that, we can be grateful.
Outside the Boxscore
If it’s true that defense wins championships, I like what these scores say about our ability to win the Legends division:
- MSU 31, IU 27, yeah, they beat IU, but they gave up 27 points
- PSU 39, NorU 28
- OSU 63, NebU 38
- Iowa 31, CMU 32 (Iowa had a bye, so we get to relive the CMU shocker for another week. Heck, let's relive this all season long.)
- Minn 13, Iowa 31, after getting beat by Central, Iowa blows out Minnesota.
- OSU and PSU are probably the two best teams in the Leaders division, and both are ineligible for the championship game. This is the year to win the Legends if you want a cakewalk in the championship game.
When faced with insomnia, I apparently update the recruiting rankings. Scout's (sorry, Fox Sports Next's) new layout is an absolute unnavigable travesty. As there was all of one new commitment this week, that's all I've got. Changes since the last rankings:
10-1-12: Illinois picks up Tyler White.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||24/7 Avg||ESPN Avg||Avg Avg^||POINTS*|
^The average of the average rankings of the four recruiting services (the previous four columns). The figure is calculated based on the raw numbers and then rounded, so the numbers above may not average out exactly.
*The product of number of Commits and Average Average
NOTE: Unranked recruits are counted as two-star players.
On to the full data after the jump.
Low pressure in Canada to the north of Michigan (cold front passed to the south overnight) causing some cool fall weather - highs in the low 50s are what's normal for November in West Lafayette! Clear skies overnight let morning lows get into the 30s, and we may see some frost. Starting off the day with a lot of sunshine, and then seeing more clouds build in on the backside of the low as it pushes east. Winds out of the NW all day.
If you're in West Lafayette...
If you're up early you may see some frost! We'll start off the day with sunny skies, but don't expect it to feel like summer- temps are in the low 30s! Plenty of sunshine throughout the morning, and reaching the mid 40s for lunch, low 50s in the afternoon. Winds will pick up throughout the morning, out of the WNW at 10mph (leaves blow about) by mid-morning and as we head into the afternoon they'll be up in the mid-teens with gusts possible in the upper teens (small branches move).
Partly cloudy by the time we reach kick-off, and hitting the high temperature of 55 degrees. Winds will start to drop, and although they will remain out of the NW, we'll mainly get rid of the gusts and steady winds are around 13mph.
Dropping a couple degrees by the end of the first half, and still seeing some sun lingering between those clouds. Winds are down to 10mph, out of the NW.
Both winds and temps continue to drop throughout the evening, while cloud cover stays up. Winds stay out of the NW, becoming light by the time you're done with dinner. Keep that extra layer handy because we're down to 43 degrees by the time we hit 10pm! Sky cover is partly to mostly cloudy and we'll stay that way overnight... but the clouds don't really help us stay warm - upper 30s if you're headed home after last call! There is a slight chance for an isolated rain shower later at night - but most, if not everyone, will stay dry.
If you're in Ann Arbor...
Starting off the day with some fog and temps in the mid 30s. Some sun and some clouds throughout the day, hitting a high of 54 degrees. What you'll notice most is the wind-much breezier here than Indiana. Winds out of the west at 10-20mph with gusts around 30mph possible (you can hear the wind whistle, small trees sway). For your dinner-time hours, winds die down to 10mph and temps are in the low 40s. If you're headed out afterward to celebrate the win, by closing time we're in the mid 30s-starting to talk winter coat weather!
Christina Burkhart is a meteorologist for NBC/ABC in Traverse City, MI, and temporarily for NBC25 in Flint/Saginaw, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!!
OK, so I'm REALLY behind because of some other not-so-fun projects and a full work week, but here's a wallpaper I put together today in some spare time. I'll try to get it re-sized and all soon, however, I was short on time. Per some of my critiques on the last few, I tried something new. This wallpaper is almost exclusively typography driven. It was fun to try to re-create an old-style typography. I hope you like it. As always, constructive criticism and suggestions are welcome!
ASIDE: I know the game is not at home.
EDIT: I made the type larger for old men like me...and added "OF" for those who wondered why it said "Ann Arbor" when the game was in West Lafayette.
Version without the "of" (which I prefer):
Go Blue, beat Purdue!