At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
you're a reilly o'toole
I'm going to apologize in advance for this edition of FFFF—I had three Illinois games lined up to watch, then the PSU scandal happened and two of the games wouldn't import into iMovie, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the hell was going on and less time actually getting to the film. Luckily, I've already watched two Illinois games—against Northwestern and Purdue—for previous FFFFs, so I've got some previous knowledge to go on.
The bad news: The one video that worked was the Illinois-Penn State offensive debacle from a couple weeks ago. Lucky for you, I get to extract the few successful plays from that game, but let's just say there wasn't much to choose from.
A.J. Jenkins, lone receiving threat. Unfortunately, lone and very good.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? A very run-heavy spread, featuring a lot of zone read and some triple option, though Illinois will also switch it up and go I-form with big starting running back Jason Ford.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Though the Illini run all the freakin' time, they're actually more basketball on grass due to the large percentage of zone running plays. They will pull a guard every once in a while, but zone running is the bread and butter of this offense.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is the Illini's leading rusher with 501 yards, but those have come on 137 carries (just 3.7 ypc). If you take out all the sacks Illinois has allowed this season—they also randomly insert freshman Reilly O'Toole at times, so this may be generous to Scheelhaase—that average jumps to 5.9 yards per carry. He's a powerful runner for a quarterback and can make guys miss or run them over, but doesn't have breakaway speed. I'll give him a 7.
Dangerman: WR A.J. Jenkins (#9) has 68 receptions—46 more than any other Illini player—for 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns. He's their lone big-play threat, but he's also really good, and Illinois runs the ball so much that things often open up for him in the secondary.
OVERVIEW: Illinois is going to run the ball. A lot. Their run/pass split on the season (sacks included as passes) is 383/262, meaning they run the ball right around 60% of the time. They'll mostly go out of the shotgun and their early downs are almost always run plays, rarely passing on first or second down except off play-action, when they'll often take a deep strike to Jenkins to see if they can generate more than five yards on a single play. Both Scheelhaase and running back Jason Ford (6'0", 235 pounds) are downhill runners who are at their best when they find a crease and go until they hit something.
The Illini will also mix in some triple option, often out of this look, which didn't show up in the Penn State game so I'll give you a screencap—the fullback lined up next to Scheelhaase gets the dive (or dive fake), and then the option play goes towards the strong side:
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The option attack hasn't been particularly effective for Illinois, and they abandoned it entirely against Penn State, but we could see it again as the Illini test out the edge of Michigan's defense. However, most of Scheelhaase's runs against Penn State came on designed QB draws, which I think is actually the best way to use him considering his size and lack of breakaway speed—get him going upfield and he has success. It'll be up to Michigan's interior line to stop Scheelhaase and Ford, and they'll be tested frequently.
Illinois also eschews the normal way of assigning linemen (you know, left tackle, right guard, etc.), instead having strongside and weakside tackles and guards who will flip sides depending on the formation. They put their better linemen—tackle Jeff Allen and guard Hugh Thornton—on the strongside and tend to have more success running behind them.
This breakdown will be rather short, as Illinois doesn't exactly have a ton of tricks up their sleeve. Here's what they want to do to your defense—open up a crease in the middle of the line, let Scheelhaase or Ford (in this case, Ford) get going downhill, and pick up big chunks on the ground:
That's a typical Jason Ford run right there—straight north-south, not a lot of wiggle, slam into the guys attempting to tackle. If he gets into the secondary, Woolfolk/Gordon will be tested.
Illinois uses their frequent running to set up the pass, and while it's usually to A.J. Jenkins, here's a PA tight end seam that went for their lone touchdown against Penn State:
The safeties must make sure to stay sharp and disciplined, because it's easy to get lulled to sleep against this offense. All it takes is a couple big plays to turn the tide of a game, and Illinois gets their big plays out of the play-action passing game. Otherwise, Scheelhaase tends to go underneath or, quite often, hold onto the ball too long and either scramble outside for minimal yardage or take a sack. Keep contain, Jake Ryan and Craig Roh. Please keep contain.
- Yes, Illinois's backup QB really is named Reilly O'Toole—Brian said the name reminded him of a Bond girl, though I'm inclined to go with porn star (not that the names are markedly different)—and we'll probably see him come in for a series or two. I'm not exactly sure why. O'Toole doesn't really run (four carries for 12 yards this year), and while he's completed 22 of 29 passes this year (72.4%), he's averaging a paltry 5.1 yards per attempt and has tossed two interceptions. He doesn't have a very strong arm and he's very much a dink-and-dunk QB. Why Illinois regularly lifts Scheelhaase for him is anybody's guess. Maybe Ron Zook just loves the name.
- Michigan could see two different Illinois backup running backs. One is 5'8", 190-pound senior Troy Pollard, who has put up great numbers (48 carries for 390 yards) but almost entirely against terrible competition—his best game against a remotely viable opponent was when he amassed 24 yards on five carries against Ohio State, and he was held to two yards on five carries against the Nittany Lions. Donovonn Young—a 6'0", 215-pound freshman—has 63 carries for 363 yards this year, but again much of his production has come against awful teams (the lion's share of his yards have come against South Dakota State, Western Michigan, and Indiana). He does flash some decent speed, however, and is a decent change-of-pace option to complement Ford.
For the defensive breakdown, hit the jump.