Scouting Report: Illinois

Submitted by drexel on October 3rd, 2008 at 2:31 AM

I watched the first three quarters of PSU and the first half of Mizzou.  Here it goes.


Illini Offense:


  • The offense set is similar to Michigan’s.  Their base personnel is 3 wideouts, a tight end, tailback, and the Juice at QB.  They will keep the tight end in and flex him and run the zone read option either way.  They will also take out the TE and bring in a second back to run the set where there is a tailback on either side of Juice Williams.  A couple times they also kept the TE in the game and replaced the slot receiver with a tailback.  This is mostly a running formation.  If my notes are accurate, they only threw twice out of this formation.  They had one long drive against PSU exclusively out of this formation running both the zone read option and speed option.  They also run 4 and 5 wide receiver sets.  These are mostly passing formations on passing downs, but they like to run the QB draw out of the 4 receiver set with the tailback as a lead blocker.  They will also pull the backside tackle through the hole on the QB draw.  They will also line up in the I-form, where they like to run the zone lead play, outside zone with a pitch, and they ran play action with once in the first half of the Missouri game.  They do not do a lot of motion or shifting, but if the TE is lined up as a wing and goes in motion, the will run towards motion.  It was always a zone read option or a speed option.  They will also send the tailback in a quick motion away from Juice Williams.  This was always a speed option to the motion.  They will motion Arrellious Benn into the backfield sometimes as well.  When he goes in motion, they are giving him the ball.  Its going to be a zone read or speed option with him as the tailback, or they will flair him out and run the bubble screen.   
  • The offensive line is pretty average.  Missouri consistently pushed these guys backwards and blew up their inside and outside zone plays.  Penn State also pushed them around for the most part, but Illinois ran some counters and traps to punish them for getting up field.  They are athletic enough to get down field and get a block.  They also seem to have their timing figured out a little better than Michigan on their chip blocks in the zone scheme.  They also execute the counter and trap well when they pull.  There was one play where they tried to pull the tackle through the hole on a QB draw and, Juice Williams got to the hole first.  In the second half of the PSU game they went to a lot of outside running plays, because they were getting handled up front.  There appears to be a significant difference in mentality between Illinois and Wisconsin.  The Badger O-Line looked to work to the second level and absolutely bury linebackers.  The Illini seem to just try and get in the way of linebackers.  It looked much easier to shed their blocks than the Wisconsin O-line.  At times, they were able to get a push against PSU and Missouri, but it was not consistent.  Overall, they can execute their offense well enough to move the ball, but I will be disappointed if we don’t dominate their O-line all day.
  •  Their running backs are pretty good.  Dufrene is not Mendenhall, but he is a good back.  He is quick and has a good burst through the hole.  He looked very quick on the counters and traps, and got through the hole with speed.  He keeps his legs moving on contact and will run through arm tackles.  We have to hit him and wrap up this week.  They will also put #5 into the game, and he looked pretty good as well.  As everybody knows, Juice Williams is a dangerous runner.  I liked what Missouri did with him on the speed options.  When he ran that play, they just hit him and forced the pitch.  They caused a fumble doing this one time as well.  I noticed a couple things in the Penn State game that were a little different.  Sometimes when they motion the tight end as a wing, they will run what looks like a zone read.  However, the tight end blocks down on the DE and the playside tackle goes after the OLB.  I think this is a designed QB run with the play fake meant to draw the OLB into the block. I could be wrong, but there doesn’t seem to be anybody to option on this play.  They will also run a sort of a counter zone read option.  PSU defensive ends were getting up field, so Juice ran the zone read except that if the DE comes up field, he hands off.  If the LB stays and squeezes down, he keeps it and runs the zone play himself.  It went for a big gain on PSU.  Juice is also good at escaping pressure in passing situations.  Missouri had a pretty consistent pass rush, and Juice made some of his biggest plays when he escaped and found somebody open on scramble drill.  Of course, when he gets down field on a run, he is a threat to take it to the house every time.
  • They have one great receiver in Benn and the rest are ok.  Judson has decent speed they threw a deep TD pass to him in the Missouri game.  Missouri was able to jam them up front, and disrupt some of their routes.  It came as no surprise that when they throw the ball, they are looking for Benn.  He made a great catch in the PSU game down field, but they didn’t go back to him on deep throws.  They mostly keep him in the slot.  PSU kept a safety over top of him, and on a pass, would bring an outside linebacker out to him to try and knock him off is route.  This seemed to be effective, because Juice was often searching for receivers down field.  Juice has turned into an adequate passer.  He can make plays after avoiding pressure, but still seems to be inaccurate when his first target is not open.  They will run some bubble screens to twins and trips especially if a safety over #2 or #3 is playing very deep.  They run the curl route the same way Michigan does by trying to sell the vertical seam by the #1 receiver and breaking back to the QB.  They also like to run some crossing routes to the outside where the inside receiver runs an out and the outside receiver coming in just sits where the zone opens up.  They will run some 4 vertical, and I think they were running some dig routes against Missouri.  Sometimes its hard to see on TV.


Illini Defense:


  • They base out of a 4-3 but will run a nickel with either #31 or #20 playing the nickel.  They were almost exclusively nickel against Missouri, mostly due to Missouri going 5 wide all the time.  Against the “Spread HD”( which is such a stupid name it makes me want to hit something), they ran both the nickel and base packages.  They occasionally run a 3 man front on third and long, and they like to blitz out of this front.  They will start out of a cover 2 shell and will run multiple coverages.  It looks like they run a straight two, two man, a 2 read scheme where the strong safety will rob the middle without a vertical threat, and maybe a quarter quarter half coverage.  It looked like they also ran some Tampa Two where the MLB ran with the TE down the middle.  Usually they are in man when they blitz, but they do run a zone blitz that gave PSU problems.  They don’t run it often, but they blitz the mike through strong side C gap and stunt the DE into A gap.  The weakside DE sprints to the flat while the corner takes a deep half.  The free safety replaces the Mike in the middle hole, and the strong safety takes a deep half.  Their favorite blitz out of their base 4-3 is to bring the weakside backer and slant the DL to the strong side.  This usually leaves Martez Wilson unblocked on the blitz, but PSU was able to block the slanting DL and Wilson was usually out of the play.  They blitzed Missouri more than PSU especially the last drive of the first half.  They brought the two linebackers on the outside blitz from either side.  One of them came unblocked but Daniel just took off and gashed them for big yardage. 
  • The way they align against trips and five wide will give Michigan an advantage for the bubble screens.  To twins they will play the corner over #1 but will split the distance between the tackle and #2 with the outside linebacker.  To the trips they will put a ban over #1 and #2 and a safety deep over #3.  It is hard for the inside defender to make a play on the bubble screen in this alignment, and I expect to see Michigan try to exploit this.  If this leads to the safety creeping up, it could lead to big plays over the top.  If it takes a linebacker all the way out over a receiver, it could lead to a numbers advantage in the running game.  Hopefully, Threet can connect on these throws. 
  • The defensive line is also an average group.  #81 Davis and #94 Lindquist seem to be pretty good athletes, but in the film I watched they did not consistently make plays.  PSU was able to blows them off the ball most of the game.  They were a little better against Missouri, but nobody really stood out to me the way Wisconsin’s guys did.  They like to stunt the DE into A gap and the DT into C.  They had some success with this against Missouri.  Like I said before, they like to slant away from an outside blitzing linebacker.  On a couple of these slants, the PSU lineman caught them off balance and drove them into the ground.  I think they will probably blow up a few plays here and there, but they don’t seem like a group that’s going to control the line of scrimmage all day.  They are better than ND, but I will be disappointed if we don’t run the ball consistently on Saturday. 
  • I also think their linebackers are pretty average.  #45 Pittman is probably their best.  He plays pretty aggressively and is a good athlete.  #44 Miller is ok.  He looks slow to react sometimes, and gets caught waiting for the play to get to him.  PSU was able to block him pretty consistently all day.  He is a good athlete and is able to chase down outside running plays if he doesn’t get caught up inside.  If I remember correctly, Martez Wilson was a pretty highly regarded recruit, but he looked awful against PSU.  He was not aggressive, didn’t look to hit anyone, and looked lost in pass coverage.  One time, a PSU guard was able to block him with one arm.  He is the weak side backer, so maybe we can run some counters to the weak side and just let a pulling lineman blow this guy up.  He looked better against Missouri, but he didn’t have to stand up to many lineman or lead blockers down field.  They like to blitz him with his good speed, but I didn’t notice him making many plays when he blitzed.  I would love to see a wide out come in and light this guy up on a crack block. 
  • Their secondary is also pretty average.  Vonte Davis is pretty good.  Other than that, they don’t have anybody that is good in man coverage.  Some of their cover 2 schemes where the free safety robs the middle of the field may confuse Threet, although he should see enough of this against Michigan’s defense.  Hopefully we don’t see a pick when running the curl with the outside receiver, or dig with the slot.  I think we will be able to get an easy one down the sideline.  The safeties are not quick to get to the sideline if there is a vertical threat down the seam.  If we get a player in the flat to hold the corner, and a guy down the side line and down the seam, somebody will be open for a big play.   
  • Overall it’s a pretty average defense.  Nobody really stands out except maybe Vonte Davis.  They are better overall than Notre Dame, but not as good as Wisconsin.  However, Maurice Crum made a lot of tackles against us, and I think he would be their best linebacker if he played for them.  We should be able to get on their linebackers and sustain blocks.  One on one, I think our lineman can handle this D-line for the most part.  Hopefully, we see some improvement on the timing and chip blocks on our zone plays.  It would be great to see some more traps and counters as well.  Maybe we are just not executing those plays well enough in practice, but I don’t think Michigan has shown much of that package. 


I am more optimistic about this game than Wisconsin.  I was probably more worried about Wisconsin’s interior line wreaking havoc than I wrote about last week.  Illinois is not as good up front on either side of the ball.  They have some dangerous playmakers on offense that can get them a couple scores.  I really don’t think their defense is that good.  Obviously, they have given up a lot of points, but they are not a great tackling team either.  They don’t always play disciplined, especially Wilson, and I hope this game can be a confidence builder for the offense.  If we get some accurate throws and some better zone blocking, I think we can put up a decent number of points.  I’m hoping I don’t jinx Michigan by saying that, but that’s what I think after watching their film.




October 3rd, 2008 at 9:54 AM ^

Michigan is improving the offense in a two-step fashion. Take a step forward...take a step back. It is frustrating to watch because whenever they take a step forward I see how explosive the offense could be. I get pumped up, excited, and optimistic about scoring future touchdowns, and then they take a step back and throw a performance out there like the first half of the Wisconsin game. (which roused me quickly from the couch in search of something heavy to bash my head in with, all the while screaming "WTF! WTF! WTF!") Michigan has GOT to improve immediately on offense, and continue to make gradual improvements in order to compete with the remaining teams on our schedule. Quit doing this silly two-step and focus on putting the ball in the back of the end zone. Do it NOW! before I end up in the emergency room.


October 3rd, 2008 at 10:06 AM ^

Please do not throw the ball anywhere near Vontae Davis.

That guy is a stud and made several game changing INTs last year en route to the Rose Bowl for the Illini.

If Michigan can keep the pressure off Threet and he plays with a bit more start to finish efficiency, I think Michigan not only wins, but may look like the better team the whole way.

I still the Illini have some wonderful individual talent on the Defensive side. They have played a pair of powerful offenses and got smacked around. They might find UM a bit more to their liking tomorrow.

Expect another tight one.....but as Drexel pointed out, I love UM's D-line vs Illini's O-line. Keep the Juice bottled up, like last year, and UM should win.

Excellent breakdown, as always Drex!!


October 3rd, 2008 at 11:27 AM ^

Thanks for the compliment.  I probably should have written a little more about Davis.  I didn't see him make a lot of plays in the time that I watched, but that means they were not throwing to his side.  He is good both in their two scheme and when they play man, and is quick to come up on the run.  I agree that we should try to avoid his side of the field.  I thought about the fact that Illinois has played better competition than what I watched for Wisconsin, but the fact is they did not hold up well against these better teams.  We're not at the level offensively yet of Missouri and Penn State, but I think we can win some individual battles on the line and in the secondary.  Hopefully the execution improves, and we see some points on the board.  Execution also means no more turnovers.  I think we will see a lot of their OLB blitz with the D-Line slanting to the strong side.  The inside trap should slow this down, but I don't we've seen Michigan run very much of it this year. 


October 3rd, 2008 at 11:57 AM ^

Really appreciate you putting in the time to write this up. You obviously know your football.

It would actually be interesting to look back and analyze exactly what USC did both on o and d against an Illinois team that by all accounts was better than this year's team.


October 3rd, 2008 at 12:12 PM ^

You correctly point out that Martez Wilson doesn't always seem aggressive. He reminds me of some other ultra-athletic LB's that aren't always in the right place - dangerous at times, but also a target to exploit if you can make them think instead of play.


October 3rd, 2008 at 1:32 PM ^

Yeah he really did not look impressive against Penn State.  Maybe he just had a bad game or was confused about his assignments.  Sometimes it really looked like he just didn't want to hit anybody.  Based on the footage I saw, our lineman can bury this guy if they get to the second level.  There was one play where PSU ran to the strong side.  A lineman worked off to block Miller I think, and Wilson was coming over from the weak side.  The lineman just stuck out his arm and actually slowed Wilson down.  He didn't grab him or anything.  This play stuck out to me because I couldn't believe that a Big Ten linebacker got blocked by an arm. 


October 3rd, 2008 at 12:15 PM ^

Good to hear that in your estimation Wisky's OLINE is better than the Illini's. I'll have to keep my eyes peeled when M is on D, we shall see what kind of penetration they get (TWSS). I'm a little worried about their back's speed. We all know that P.J. Hill is a fat ass and therefore our DL beat the ever loving hell out of him. Fast backs? Not so much. Here's hoping for some improvement there due to eeeeeeee BARWIS!


October 3rd, 2008 at 8:33 PM ^

I would be satisfied if we kicked a field goal to win 3-0. But I might still be critical of an offense/special team that only puts up three points against Illinois. With that being said, I think Michigan will do much better than that. If Michigan brings their "second half offense" into the first half of this game, and improves as the game goes on, I don't think it will even be close. Keep playing strong defense and stop giving the ball away and I think Michigan wins 38-24