Vicious Electronic Questioning: Illinois
There isn't really an Illinois blog on the radar yet, but hey, Iowa just played them and we don't play Iowa this year so why don't we bring in Oops Pow Surprise from Black Heart, Gold Pants? Okay! Let's do it. O... P... S... go!
a request before we start
I'm not doing this nude.
Actual English with capitals and periods and stuff will make this much easier on me. Also please take your clothes off.
Fuck! Duly noted.
Okay. Prepare for the questioning.
After the Oregon game, Michigan fans looked at Juice Williams, said "fuck, mobile quarterback," and chalked up the Illinois game as a humiliating loss. Things seem different now, largely because a heretofore flailing Iowa team held Illinois to six points. How did the Hawkeyes stop the Illini?
Well, the victory was had in the game plan. Knowing that Juice Williams is a "quarterback" the way Crocs are real shoes--i.e., solely by a measure of classification and location, the Hawkeyes completely and utterly sold out against the option. Aside from glaringly obvious passing downs, there was always, always, always at least one man shadowing Juice, and another playing Mendenhall on the pitch. The results speak for themselves: 35 rushes for 137 yards. Normally, those numbers would be ho-hum for each side of the ball, but remember: Illinois simply cannot pass.
Is the Iowa run defense particularly well-disciplined or good this year? Iowa's offense hs been... uh... I can't even say Penn State-esque anymore. Thanks for nothing, Wisconsin. Suffice it to say, the Iowa offense has been eye-clawingly bad, but the defense could be significantly better than Michigan's occasionally dodgy linebackers. Yesno?
The Iowa defense has vacillated between nonpareil and pedestrian, usually leaning toward the former. Dodgy's a good word for the Michigan linebackers, and they're going to have to put forth their best tackling effort of the season. Rashard Mendenhall is a Man-denhall (sorry) [there can be no forgiveness for this -ed], and for a noodle-armed basket case, the Juice can run a keeper extremely well. The key is shutting the Illini down early and often; they were definitely missing their swagger by the second half last season, and it's a lot easier to defend an option when the quarterback is running it like a frightened rabbit.
Chris Graham, if left unblocked, can spear mofos like nobody's business... or overrun them and flail. It will be interesting. I heard that Iowa spent the day in a 4-3, ignoring the idea of a passing game despite facing a spread. Is this true?
To be fair, sir, both teams were ignoring the idea of an Illinois passing game. As for Graham, Crable, etc., they're going to have to make sure they don't, as your example would ably demonstrate, have their athleticism used against them. But at the same time, they can't play timid, either; Illinois' guys are going to make anyone miss from time to time.
But did Iowa spend the day in a 4-3? Yes, and usually spying instead of in the Cover 2 shell that Norm Parker has used as a security blanket for decades. It's radically audacious, and Illinois' response--or more accurately, lack thereof--is about what you would expect from a head coach who brings checkers to a chess tournament.
Also to be fair, it's not clear that Zook can do anything except order his quarterbacks to throw interceptions. Speaking of interceptions: is Illinois backup SomethingSomething McGee any different than Juice?
Before we go any further with this question, I hope to God their backup QB somehow acquires the nickname "Tits." I don't care how.
Working on it. My Iowa preview last year was titled "Show Me Your Tates," so I am a kindred spirit.
What's striking about the Illinois quarterback situation is that for as physically talented as Juice is, there seem to be two undeniable truths:
1) He is at a point in a quarterback's maturation process that would keep him buried on most depth charts;
2) His coach does not seem remotely capable of remedying that fact.
Have you seen any marked improvement in Juice's game as a passer? He's completing all of 55% of his passes these days, which is better than 39% the way that herpes is
better than cancer.
Also, it seems that whenever McGee comes into the game, Zook all but scraps the option and lets the kid start throwing the ball, which he's not too bad at doing. Is it at all healthy for Williams, as a true sophomore, to already see his PT cut in order to give a freshman below him some snaps? Probably not. But that's the Zooker for you.
I would be careful... for one, Zook might hunt you down and crush your trachea. For two, all he has to do at Illinois is go 8-4 most years and he'll get a statue. I am betting on long term success for Zook. Which might be insane, but there it is.
I'm betting--nay, praying--for an Uncle Glen-like level of success from the Zooker. Which, really, would probably earn him a statue.
Anyway, on to the other side of the ball.
Ten points isn't a lot, but remember the eye-clawing thing. Any particular weaknesses in the Illinois defense? The stats seem to imply they have potentially major secondary issues but are stout against the run and tend to roll up a lot of sacks. Have a scouting report?
Keep in mind that I've only watched them against Iowa and Wisconsin, so please, please, consider the context.
Context locked in.
Oh, and a quarter against Missouri.
Context radically reconfigured.
The defense looked surprisingly decent. You're exactly right about their front seven. Their line is decent, but not of the type that Michigan would need to start slowing them down with counters or cutbacks.
Their line's strength isn't in the plays made, but rather a pretty impressive ability to tie up blockers and let the linebackers and secondary make plays.
That's really interesting vis a vis the Michigan run game, which often flat refuses to double linemen, instead allowing sometimes-overmatched center Justin Boren to get driven into the backfield rather than sacrifice the ability to get out on a linebacker.
And yes, the J Leman picture.
Tying up blockers is not something that results in a lot of sacks, which they have. Did you see much of a pass rush from them? How did the hold Iowa to only ten points?
If the line play is as uninspired as Wisconsin's, that will lead to trouble. Even with a long run in the second half, he didn't even sniff 100 yards.
They do get sacks, usually by opening up blitzes from all over the place. And they've got some ends that'll pin their ears back on 3rd and long.
As far as holding Iowa to 10, that's no great feat, of course. That said, they were especially aided by an Iowa turnover on the Illini 10 in the fourth quarter. The defensive effort was nothing remarkable, overall; Iowa accumulated 323 yards (which, adjusted for Michigan, is well over 700) and ran for about 150 of them. They're solid, don't get me wrong. This isn't the Orange Crushed from a few years ago. But there'll be holes in their zone when they start bringing heat on 3rd downs.
Oh, it should also be noted that Iowa did attempt two fourth-down conversions in the first quarter from Illinois territory and missed on both. So the 10 points are misleading next to 21 first downs and 10-17 3rd down conversions.
And the Penn State game was drive after drive into Illinois territory followed by horrible Morelli fumble/interception.
So... a prediction?
It's tough to call. How flexible are Michigan's defensive schemes from week to week?
Or in other words, how likely are they to repeat the mistakes of whatever euphemism you've given Week 1?
Chosen euphemism: "The Horror."
Michigan's defense has improved significantly. DE/DT Brandon Graham returned from injury or suspension to become a terror; Johnny Sears was replaced with Donovan Warren, and Stevie Brown got benched for Brandent Englemon. Each new player is vastly outperforming their counterparts.
The scheme is not likely to change. Michigan will go with a nickel, though there might be significantly more of the 3-3-5 look they brought out against Purdue to let Crable get out on the edge.
Michigan has always had problems with option attacks but has also crushed one-dimensional offenses. It's hard to know what will happen.
I've noticed that, and I'm secretly hoping to see Michigan go 8-0 in the Big Ten, being that it A) would not affect Iowa in the slightest, and B) would probably cause Kirk Herbstreit's head to melt.
I wonder what Kirk thinks about "Penn State, Big Ten champs! Anthony Morelli superfantastic!" now.
You know he's absolutely dreading the highlight package that he has to narrate while saying things like, "Morelli has really come into his own as a leader," and with a straight face.
Anyway, for the sake of putting a number out there, Illinois is playing in front of their fans, and at night to boot. Just about anything can happen. But I'm tempted to think that this Michigan team can run on Illinois well enough to control the pace of the game. My score prediction, which has a 99.3% chance of being wrong, is 24-19 Michigan.
Excellent. ONE OF US. ONE OF US.
What's the line on the game, anyway?
Michigan by 3. [this has moved to Illinois by one or a pick 'em, actually. -ed]
After these last two seasons, it would only happen if the Michigan athletic department wanted to conduct a sick sociological experiment to see if they could make the Ann Arbor townfolk march on the athletic complex with torches and pitchforks.
Past that, I don't think Ferentz would want to do that to Iowa.
Everyone says that Mary Sue and Captain Kirk are BFFs, but I agree with your assessment.
Isn't another kid of his showing up this fall?
James. And he's reportedly better than Brian was. Now, unless there's an upgrade at offensive line coach, that likely won't matter one whit, but supposedly the kid can play.
Thanks again to OPS of BHGP. And J Leman.