Fee Fi Foe Film: Illinois Offense Comment Count

Ace October 19th, 2016 at 4:27 PM

The good.

The internet appears to be looking out for me, as the only Illinois game readily available was their 31-16 loss at Nebraska a few weeks ago. This prevented me from going over more recent games against Purdue and Rutgers. Thank you, internet.

The Illini managed intermittent success on the ground against the Huskers in a game that was close until midway through the fourth quarter. Their lack of a downfield passing game doomed them; that has been their biggest issue on offense with Wes Lunt at quarterback.

Of course, we're not sure who Illinois will play at QB on Saturday. Lunt exited the Purdue game and missed last week's Rutgers game with a back injury. He's back at practice; replacement Chayse Crouch would provide more a dual-threat, spread-option look if Lunt is benched or can't go.

Personnel. Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:

Another week, another pair of stars added to the Michigan defense; this time around, Ben Gedeon and Delano Hill add theirs. Only Dymonte Thomas and Mike McCray to go, and to be honest, neither is too far off.

The Illinois lineup can only be a guess. Lunt is questionable, three different tailbacks have started, and the offensive line has had five different starting combinations in six games—though they've at least kept this look for two straight weeks.

Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Hybrid. Illinois spent a lot of early downs in a three-WR I-form, a lot of passing downs in the gun, and they mixed in their fair share of Ace and pistol looks. It's hard to pin down an offensive identity for them.

Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Mostly zone blocking in this game, with a couple interesting wrinkles, one of which will be covered later.

Hurry it up or grind it out? A slow grind. Illinois is 124th in adjusted pace. They don't huddle that often; they do stand around forever staring at the sideline.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]

Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Lunt was the quarterback for all but a few snaps in this game, and he's not much of a running threat with 26 yards on six non-sack carries this year. This game featured his longest run of the season, a 14-yard scramble when the Huskers abandoned their lanes up front—Lunt hit the deck as soon as a safety presented himself. He gets a 4.

I haven't seen as much of Crouch, but he has 191 yards on 26 non-sack carries this year. He's a far bigger threat on the ground.

Dangerman: Malik Turner had a tough time getting separation against Nebraska corner Josh Kalu, who's been excellent when I've watched him this year. Against other defensive backs, however, he found room to operate. Turner isn't the quickest or fastest receiver, but he's got a big frame and good route-running skills:

If the Illini need to go downfield, Turner is almost always the primary target. He's grading out at an impressive +10.3 on PFF; no other Illinois receiver to get serious playing time has a positive grade. He can make contested catches, something he'll probably have to do against Michigan's corners, who are better than Kalu and a whole lot better than Nebraska's non-Kalu corners.

Zook Factor: Lovie Smith is a conservative NFL guy who's probably going to do some conservative NFL things. Or just bork clock management. Illinois had a scoring opportunity at the end of the first half following a Tommy Armstrong interception that set them up just inside NU territory with 28 seconds left. Lunt scrambled for a first down on their first play of the drive, temporarily stopping the clock. With two timeouts and 20 seconds on the clock, Illinois tried to hurry to the line instead of using one of their two timeouts; four seconds burned off the clock before the Lovie realized it was a better idea to call a TO.

Illinois managed to get only one offensive snap off after that when Lunt left a throw to the inside, keeping his wideout inbounds. Lovie had no choice but to use their final timeout and kick a field goal. This is a minor nitpick—Illinois was mostly hoping to improve FG position and they did make the kick—but clock management may not be their forte.

HenneChart: Lunt is notorious for playing it safe to a fault and rarely going downfield, and that's important to keep in mind when looking at the chart:

Nebraska 1 10** (2) 1 6* 2 1 -- -- 1 57%

That's a thoroughly meh outing, and it's worse when you note Lunt barely cracked ten yards per completion. Lunt is a strange player to evaluate. He'll occasionally make incredible touch passes:

He'll also do stuff like throw this ball on third and goal:

Lunt plays it way too safe when throwing downfield, which prevents interceptions but also keeps Illinois from sustaining drives. His bad reads weren't of the "this should've been picked" variety, but instead were marked as such for dumping the ball off short of the sticks on third downs when a receiver with some hope of converting would've been a better target.

Crouch did come in for part of one possession near the goal line; he handed off on a blown-up read option, found an open receiver in the flat for a first down, and took a delay of game before Lunt came back in. Even if Lunt plays, don't be surprised to see Crouch as a change-of-pace option.


This really is a grab-bag:

Formations Run Pass PA
Gun 4 12 6
I-Form 6 3 1
Ace 2 -- 3
Pistol 7 -- --
Heavy -- -- --

Certain formations were blatant tips: pistol meant run, shotgun almost always meant pass. Game flow played a large part in that. Illinois tried to establish the run on early downs and had some success; when they failed, they got into obvious passing downs, and that didn't go so well.

Down Run Pass PA
1st 11 4 4
2nd 8 3 5
3rd -- 9 1

Illinois faced ten third- or fourth-down tries. They passed on all ten—out of necessity—and converted only two. That included a dumpoff swing pass to a running back by Lunt on Illinois's final, desperation drive down two scores late in the fourth; he was tackled for no gain on a play that summed up the Wes Lunt experience.

Lunt's conservative ways aren't entirely his fault. Turner was the only receiver who been his man with any frequency. I had Seth label Justin Hardee as a sore spot in part because of his negative PFF rating but more because I went through an entire game without really noticing he was on the field; somewhere in there he grabbed three passes for 17 yards. He couldn't get open downfield at all. Slot Zach Grant didn't fare much better, getting a decent chunk early on a wide open crossing route and otherwise having a quiet game. This passing game is nothing to fear for Michigan.

The running game showed some life. Illinois flips their offensive line based on boundary/field alignment; the side with Christian DiLauro and Nick Allegretti opened up some nice holes, including this zone stretch for a touchdown:

Kendrick Foster, the RB on the play above, didn't stand out too much beyond running fast in the open field, but his stats indicate he finds the open field with regularity. That was certainly the case for Reggie Corbin, who looked explosive between the tackles in a Chris Evans-like fashion. Corbin had several runs that reached the secondary, including back-to-back carries when Illinois actually managed to tempo Nebraska:

That sequence also shows one of Illinois's interesting zone run changeups; note on the first play that while the rest of the offensive line is blocking an inside zone, the right tackle (DiLauro in this case) pulls to the inside and leads through the middle. James Light helped me out in identifying the blocking scheme:

He called that an inside zone with a Dart/Fold tag, which can be a check at the line based on a certain alignment from the defense or its own separate playcall.

While there was room to the DiLauro/Allegretti side, the same could not be said for the opposite side, which in this game featured Gabe Megginson at tackle and Darta Lee at guard. They were bad in both phases, and while Lee is back on the bench, Megginson has started every game and amassed a -22.5 PFF grade, which portends DOOM against M's D-line. Megginson gave up an easy sack, took a hold to prevent another, and got stonewalled in the run game. DiLauro didn't fare much better in pass protection, giving up pressures on a couple plays that kept Lunt from going through his full progression. Even with Austin Schmidt back at tackle, this offensive line isn't a match for M's defensive front.


Big Boutros

October 19th, 2016 at 4:54 PM ^

Crouch hurt his throwing shoulder against Rutgers.

Illinois Loyalty is where I first read the rumor. Lovie would never say it publicly or to his team, but there are winnable games for Illinois this year and this isn't one of them. If his top two quarterbacks are wounded, throwing them to this defense would jeopardize the rest of the season.

Maybe George won't start and play the full 60 minutes but if Lunt and/or Crouch play, I would expect a very quick hook.


October 19th, 2016 at 4:42 PM ^

I think we're getting star happy. Might be experiencing star dilution. I get that our "stars" would be unquestioned stars on other teams, but the star system becomes unhelpful as a means to evaluate stand-outs if they're all starred.

For example, what happens if we played a loaded offense? It would be a team of stars v. a team of stars, which would defeat the purpose of stars altogether.


Blue In NC

October 19th, 2016 at 4:58 PM ^

Agree in part.  From a feelingsball perspective, I think all but Hill are justified.  Gedeon IMO deserves one as he not only has been solid but has also made some spectacular plays.  Hill to me is just a decent safety on a very good defense.  IMO McCray, Hill and Thomas have not done enough to warrant stars.  But I agree with everyone else on D.


October 19th, 2016 at 5:01 PM ^

On one hand, the entire front is NOT diluted.  Lewis, Stribling, Peppers and at least six and probably seven players on the D-line are all MURDERDEATHKILL on their assignments.

Gedeon and Hill are playing well, but it's tough to evaluate their value when the D-line makes things so easy for the rest of the defense.  Gedeon in particular is grading exceptionally well, but Brown's defensive schemes have really gotten him free on blitzes.  The safety position grade was "check back next week" for almost the entire season so far.  Now Hill gets a star?  Based on what?  Not to dispute the assessment on its face, but did I miss something?  I don't recall him standing out on UFR.


October 19th, 2016 at 5:13 PM ^

Hill has consistently shown great open field tackling, and is playing pretty darn good man converage when asked. Many times he has basically played the Peppers position opposite Peppers making it tough for teams to go to either side. I agree he may not be a star in the traditional safety role, but so far he has done everything Brown has asked him to do really well. I think that kind of makes him a star when you consider the total defensive performance.


October 19th, 2016 at 6:11 PM ^

Our baseline for giving a guy a star is:

  • Is he in the running for 1st team all-B1G (or would he be if not for exigent circumstances)
  • Is his team so bad we have to point out someone to pay attention to so here's a guy who's not terrible.

Gedeon's PFF grade is leading Big Ten middle linebackers. Let me say that again: in the deepest year for linebackers since I've been able to qualify that kind of thing, Ben Gedeon has the highest PFF grade among Big Ten linebackers. Raekwon McMillan is in this conference. Anthony Walker is in this conference. Wisconsin is in this conference. A Bullough is still in this conference. Jose Jewell is in this conference. Maryland has a guy named Jermaine Carter who's been great when he can go, and I hear they're in our conference. Indiana's Tegray Scales has been part of Indiana's defensive surgance this year. Only Penn State's Cabinda and Nyeem Wartman-White have dropped out of the running from injury. And Ben Gedeon is LEADING these guys.

And Delano Hill is also leading safeties after Malik Hooker (if you don't count Peppers as one) in the conference, and when we picked our midseason All-B1G teams he was virtually a consensus selection over Igwebuike and Travis. As I noted at the time, Hill has been playing vritually the same position as Peppers and has been holding up--he just doesn't have the fancy TFL stuff, but then, he's not Peppers. Hill's taken another step forward, and last year he was already PFF's 2nd team All Big Ten selection.

We're looking at a historically good defense. That's why all the stars.


October 19th, 2016 at 6:46 PM ^

You make great points. And I agree that Hill and Gedeon have played well. With regard to Gedeon, I appreciate the PFF grades but, in general, I'm starting to get a bit less enthused about PFF. Ironically, it's because of the PFF inclusion in the UFR charts. When there is the occasional significant disagreement between PFF and Brian, Brian's grade seems to meet the eye test much better than PFF. As also noted above, Gedeon has the benefit of a generational line in front of him (and being part of a #1 defense).

That said, I went into the season thinking that the only potential weaknesses in the D were LB and safety. I now think that our LBs, at a minimum, challenge for the best in the conference with Wisc and likely surpass OSU's, imho, overrated trio. Safety has been among the top in the league, but "dangerman" feels a bit of a stretch for Hill, but perhaps simply because he's surrounded by so much talent as his star shines a bit less bright by comparison.


October 20th, 2016 at 8:56 AM ^

Keep in mind that the rankings are more than stars & not stars.  The current system has: blue outlined problem area, circular just a guy, a star, and a shield.  You are correct that if we only have two categories, you can either have an absolute standard for giving a star, or you can use stars to show relative strengths and weaknesses in a given unit, but not both.  However, with four categories, you can do a little bit of both, and still have meaning.


October 19th, 2016 at 4:37 PM ^

I'm sure this has been asked and answered but how are the stars for Michigan determined? PFF numerical cutoff? UFR numerical cutoff? Feelingsball? Just curious.


October 19th, 2016 at 4:50 PM ^

Because red is too close in color to the one orange star on there? Is Seth trying to win a graphic design award with these things, or what?


October 19th, 2016 at 5:42 PM ^

Love the preview. Will there be UFRs posted for Rutgers? (I know what it will show, but still my favorite weekday post on the blog!)

EDIT: I see they will be coming out tomorrow! Thanks. 

Space Coyote

October 20th, 2016 at 9:41 AM ^

I love fold blocks. I believe this is most likely a tag by Illinois based on the alignment of the LB and DL to get most advantageous angles getting to the second level, but it could also be its own play call, as James Light says above.

Benefit is that you have a much better angle to seal the DL to the backside (allowing for a nice cutback lane) while making for a bit of a false read for the defense. The downside is that if you can't win that one on one down block, then two OL can be blown up in the backfield on one play.

Either way, I love fold blocks. Fold tags for Inside Zone, Fold draws, all great use of adventageous angles.