Preview: Illinois 2012 Comment Count

Brian October 12th, 2012 at 2:19 PM

Previously here: Lanyard Program. Jon Valk wallpaper. ACE FFFF!


WHAT Michigan vs Illinois
WHERE Michigan Stadium
Ann Arbor, MI
October 13th, 2012
(coverage map)
WEATHER around 50, light rain all day w storms at gametime

Bring your ponchos out. Image via Dubsism.


Run Offense vs Illinois

Michael Buchanan Michigan v Illinois c7ygQmG73Mql[1]

Do not get used to this statement about the Illini football team: hey, this isn't half bad. Every other Illini stat of relevance languishes 80th or below; Illinois is 38th in rush defense despite acquiring almost no sacks. The problems only happen against bad BCS rushing offenses:

Opponent Att YDS TD YPC
ASU 37 197 3 5.3
PSU 49 207 4 4.2
Wisconsin 32 174 2 5.4

PSU is currently 80th, Wisconsin 90th in rush offense. Arizona State is okay at 55th. The week before the Illinois-Wisconsin game, the Badgers got Montee Ball 93 yards… on 31 carries. You can probably chalk the relative statistical success here up to schedule effects that will evaporate as the season goes along.

Hypothetically, Illinois has a ton of talent. Michael Buchanan, Akeem Spence, and Jonathan Brown are all high on NFL draft radars, with Buchanan and Spence hyped up as potential first round picks.

Spence's star has started to fade without departed defensive coordinator Vic Koenning:

Akeem Spence*/DL/Illinois: Spence recorded 9 tackles during the loss to Penn State, but the statistics don't tell the whole story. The junior tackle was manhandled most of the game and pushed off the line of scrimmage or controlled in man-on-man blocking. Spence did not turn in a terrible performance, but did not look like the first-round prospect most believe him to be.

My memories of Spence are mostly David Molk reaching him like a boss.

Okay, okay, but Wisconsin had about half of those yards in the fourth quarter when things got out of hand, and Michigan has not been pushing guys around. Everyone's concerned about Fitz Toussaint's production, or lack thereof, and despite the numbers above this just doesn't seem like a slam dunk, especially if Michigan is going to put the passing game in the barn again.

That said, fits and starts are the order of the day, with starts being long long runs when Illinois busts something and the fits coming when one of their players shoves someone other than Lewan into the backfield. It'll be an ugh-ugh-WOO kind of thing.

Key Matchup: Mealer/Omameh/Barnum versus Spence and Other Guy. Would like to see some movement here, some inside zone doubles that actually come off, some Toussaint yards. Our operative theory so far is that it's hard to deal with Short and ND's 3-4s in Michigan's non-Denard Run Game; movement Saturday is necessary to continue that narrative.

[Hit THE JUMP for Champaign Supernova despair.]

Pass Offense vs Illinois



This has been poor to date and star cornerback Terry Hawthorne may not be available after a scary incident last weekend that saw him down on the field for an extended period of time. He eventually left in an ambulance. He is apparently "fine"—/eyeroll—but has lingering "soreness" after the incident, which the SJR states resulted in Hawthorne getting knocked unconscious. He's questionable:

“He didn’t get to do as much as we’d like to do today,’’ Beckman said after practice Tuesday. … Hawthorne must pass a concussion test, undergo a cardio workout and then handle a practice before he’s eligible to play under Big Ten rules regarding concussions, Beckman said.

He should be out but hey there's a meaningless game to not win in a lost season at stake here. Starting Illini safeties Supo Sanni and Steve Hull have also battled injuries; they're expected to play but may not be 100%.

Whoever's out there probably won't matter because Michigan's not going to pass much. When they do, they project to get lots of yards. Everyone except Best Quarterback In The State™ Alex Carder and Matt McGloin™ have ripped the Illini to shreds:

Opponent Att Cmp Yards TD Int YPA
WMU 47 28 265 1 3 5.6
Arizona State 29 23 318 3 0 11.0
La Tech 22 15 284 4 0 12.9
Penn State 30 18 211 1 0 7.0
Wisconsin 25 16 254 2 1 10.2

The only thing keeping the Illini afloat in the passer efficiency rankings are the three INTs Best Quarterback In the State™ Alex Carder tossed up in the opener, and probably some stuff Charleston Southern tried to do.

On the rare occasions Michigan does drop back to pass, guys will be open, busts may be spectacular, and Denard should be pretty clean. Despite having that DL talent, Illini sacks have dropped massively. They're down to 89th so far this year, and as the chart above shows they've had an approximately average number of opportunities.

Michigan's passing game has been just fine when Denard isn't getting pressure and Devin Gardner isn't showing off his rawness at wide receiver, which has only been intermittent. The kind of stuff Denard did against the Boilers was about par for the course minus the ball deposited directly into a linebacker's gut. An emphasis on simplifying the passing offense, giving Denard a pocket, and avoiding that throwing business altogether promises similar outputs until a defense can put the hammer down on the run game.

Key Matchup: Denard throwing the ball into a linebacker's chest, or not, as always. Secondarily it's about keeping his feet set, Al Borges and offensive line.

Run Defense vs Illinois


Ain't got one. Illinois is 94th in rushing by conventional stats. Their top two ballcarriers are averaging 3.8 YPC (Donovonn Young) and 4.1 YPC (Josh Ferguson) against a schedule still 50% composed of low-level teams. The carnage:

  • The Illini picked up 4.4 YPC against Louisiana Tech and barely crested 100 yards on the ground against WMU and Charleston Southern.
  • Against Penn State, Young got loose for a 52-yarder; 18 other carries combined to gain 44 yards as Scheelhaase threw 46 times.
  • Illini tailbacks combined for 22 yards on 12 carries against Wisconsin with a long of six. Scheelhaase did manage 107 yards on 18 carries.

They did have a good outing against Arizona State, but how much of that was against a first string defense when the Sun Devils were up 35-7 moments into the third is unknown. Probably not much.

Illinois's problems are simple and twofold: they have no one to carry the ball, and no one to block. The latter problem is going to get a boost as injured linemen Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton are now fully healthy. That may not help much against a defense that's just held ND and Purdue under 100 yards rushing.

As for the guys carrying the ball, Ferguson is the nominal starter. He's a redshirt freshman who played a few games in 2011 before taking a medical redshirt after a hamstring issue; as a recruit he was a generic three star. Young's a sophomore who had some success last year despite having North Texas and McNeese State as his other offers; he's the much bigger back.

Michigan meanwhile comes off those back-to-back stonings. Purdue may not be a whole lot better on the ground than Illinois; Notre Dame definitely is. Michigan's national rankings are being held down by a poor scheme against Air Force and getting 'Bamaed in the first game of the season. The more recent performances are more relevant to what's going to happen against the Illini, which is not much.

Key Matchup: Ryan/assorted edge defenders against Illinois options. I'm assuming they'll get pulled out and tried because if a defender busts you can make some yards and Michigan had trouble with Air Force.

Pass Defense vs Illinois


now my punter

The Illinois offensive line is also horrendous at pass blocking. They've given up 20 sacks already—109th nationally. Michigan's pass rush is hanging out and saying hi, however, as they're 104th. Sack/pass-attempt ratios would move that a little closer to reasonable for M but just eyeballing it suggests the pass rush really is an issue. Michigan doesn't have anyone who can beat a tackle one-on-one and relies on Mattison's zone blitzes to get free runners to generate most of its pressure.

This could be an opportunity to get the pass rush healthy, or a depressing confirmation that Brandon Graham isn't walking through that door. I'm leaning towards the former, actually—Alabama's OL almost doesn't count, Air Force doesn't throw, UMass and Purdue are dink offenses, and ND went into a shell as well. Michigan hasn't had many opportunities to get after the quarterback. If Illinois gives them some, their background suggests Michigan will get some pressure.

Meanwhile, the Michigan secondary has been about as good as you can expect. They chased Everett Golson and Caleb TerBush, picked up a huge coverage number last week against Purdue, and haven't allowed an uncontested big play all year other than the won't-be-replicated Air Force bomb. They're solid, they know what they're doing, and they very very rarely bust assignments.

The Illinois passing game is pretty bleh, 78th in efficiency. We'll set aside the Arizona State game, in which Scheelhaase did not play. The two most recent outings:

  • Against Penn State, Scheelhaase goes 28 of 46 for 270 yards and two INTs, 5.8 YPA.
  • Against Wisconsin, 18 of 19 for 178 yards, one TD, one INT, 6.1 YPA. Details from Ace: "He had a terrible first half, throwing an awful interception on a well-covered hitch. His second half was far more productive, though it's worth noting that his DSR vastly improved in the late going when Illinois fell behind and the Badgers went conservative with their defense." FWIW, Ace had been calculating the DSR wrong—he actually hit 47%. Not good.
  • PSU and Wisconsin also combined for seven sacks; Ace charted a whopping four PRs in limited opportunities.

    Scheelhaase remains a guy relatively comfortable taking underneath stuff who lacks the playmakers to do much downfield. Amazing early stat: the top two tailbacks are the #2 and #3 receivers with 23 and 20 catches, with Young averaging under five yards a reception. Ryan Lankford is the only guy on the roster with actual WR-type production. His 25 catches have gone for 362 yards and five TDs. If anyone's going to burn Michigan, it's him.

Key Matchup: Michigan DEs versus Illinois tackles. Get pressure, plz.

Special Teams

Illinois return units do not exist. They're 114th at both disciplines; Illinois is squeezing out just 16 yards a kick return, which I don't even know how that happens. Their punting is pretty good but freshman kicker Taylor Zalewski is only 2 of 4 so far in his career; Illinois does not trust him much outside of 40 yards and will accidentally be forced into correct strategy there.

Michigan's dispensed with their punt coverage issues by refusing to punt; Gibbons generally puts it through the uprights, and Dennis Norfleet has been a threat on kick returns. Punt returns are generally irrelevant these days but Michigan did put a second guy back there against Purdue, which saved them 20 yards when Drew Dileo was in position to make an over-the-head snag of a Boilermaker punt and return it 10 yards.

With a 25 point spread, special teams are not likely to be decisive. Michigan still has a slight advantage.



Third hit for "chewing tobacco kitten":



I have just realized this does not warrant a cat given the spread anyway.

Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Michigan's OL can't get Fitz some yards this time around.
  • Michigan shows anything they haven't already put on film.
  • Scheelhaase is finding gaps in option D.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • The Michigan DL is rampant as you might expect.
  • Run run run run run run run run
  • Ron Zook is sitting next to you, shaking his head

Fear/Paranoia Level: 1 (Baseline 5; –1 for Mattison Must Break You, –1 for In This Case "You" Is Already Broken, –1 for You Fired Ron Zook And Got A Coaching Downgrade, +1 for Dusty Memories Of A Game That Was Like What 67-65 LOL GTFO, –1 for Four Touchdown Loss To Louisiana Tech, Which Is From A State That Doesn't Even Have Technology, +1 for It Would Be So Big Ten To Lose This Game, –1 for Denard Versus Meh Defense, –1 for How Is Illinois Going To Score?)

Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for WIN THIS DAMN CONFERENCE, +1 for Rose Bowl, +1 for Oh Hai Ohio State Just Sitting Over Here In Pasadena Where Are You Going Oh I See Kroger, +1 for Rose Bowl, +1 for Rose Bowl)

Loss will cause me to... detach my jaw so my gawp can get down to the floor.

Win will cause me to... immediately start fretting that Al Borges showed anything other than an off tackle run to MSU.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

Well, I do think it'll be tough to cover since the Illinois run defense has respectable players and held out for most of the game against Wisconsin before collapsing in the fourth. Michigan will play it close to the vest because it is the new Lloydbomanpigball offense and they would dearly like to not lose to Michigan State, which can and probably will lead to some of those punt thing early.

But they'll grind out some drives here and there and slowly build a lead as the Illinois offense sits on the sideline thinking "I wish we went forward sometimes."

Add in what promises to be a wet, ugly day and you've got a recipe for a boring, boring win that seems a little disappointing.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Clark and Roh get sacks; Michigan actually features pass rush.
  • Toussaint goes over 100 yards.
  • Run pass ratio is basically last weeks: 3/4ths run.
  • Michigan, 29-11


PB-J Time

October 12th, 2012 at 2:50 PM ^

A. I very much agree for this game. Wife and I were planning on going to the game...plans changed (to Iowa) and looks like we won't get soaked but I would have liked a noon kick.

B. Love the avatar. Jungite aut Perite my fellow SoB


October 12th, 2012 at 2:36 PM ^

I agree with Frank Murphy that 11 is pretty odd and 29 isnt really that common.  Last week you picked 32-18 I think.  Do you have some sort of model that is spitting out a number?


October 12th, 2012 at 2:39 PM ^

Geez Brian! What is up with your wacky score predictions?? Have even heard of a football team scoring 11 points??? 3 FGs and a saftey?? Would you like to place a bet on it? I will put my serious internet tough guy reputation on the line!!


October 12th, 2012 at 3:15 PM ^

Why? Why you ask? It's because he's an evil genius, and he doesn't even make these predicitiions.  He wrote a computer program that scans the interwebz and predicts the score that will generate the most comments, thus leading to more page hits thus more money.  Brian's not doing anything but sitting back and letting his computer program run and muttering to himself about winning like Charlie Sheen on steroids.


October 12th, 2012 at 4:46 PM ^

I'm pretty sure Illinois has fumbled at least one possibly 2 inside their own 5 which probably skews their return numbers considerably.  Not that they would be good without those fumbles, but it possibly explains why they're so bad.


November 15th, 2012 at 10:57 PM ^

What is up with your crazy ranking predictions?? Have even observed of a soccer group reviewing 11 points??? 3 FGs and a saftey?? Would you like to position a bet on it? I will put my serious online challenging guy popularity on the line!!

Gym Pasadena