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On the eve of the season-opener vs. SIU, beat writer MATT DANIELS will take your questions. Submit them any time or wait until his 1 p.m. chat gets going.
Greetings everyone. Matt Daniels here for the next hour or so to tackle any Illinois football-related questions, or anything else on your mind. It's a hot one out here today in Champaign-Urbana.
Word of advice for anyone planning to attend tomorrow's 11 a.m. opener against Southern Illinois at Memorial Stadium: hydrate.
Illinois had afternoon practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week at Memorial Stadium, with a walkthrough scheduled for this afternoon. Tim Beckman, his players and his staff are certainly eager to get the season going after four weeks of practice.
Let's get going with the questions.
I have read about the competition for next year's QB position, with the names of O'Toole, Bailey and Lunt mentioned. Did I miss something, or don't we also have a three star QB out of Ohio named Crouch coming in? He is never mentioned in any conversations that I have read.
Hey Illini 87,
You didn't miss anything. Chayce Crouch is the quarterback you are referring to. He opens his high school season at Newark Catholic in Ohio tonight with a game against Bishop Ready (Ohio) High School.
He is a three-star QB that Tim Beckman and his coaches are high on. Illinois offered him a scholarship in early May and he accepted on the spot.
But as far as the competition for the starting quarterback job in the 2014 season after Nathan Scheelhaase graduates, it will come down to either Wes Lunt, Aaron Bailey or Reilly O'Toole.
Crouch had a superb junior season, throwing for more than 2,000 yards and leading Newark Catholic to a state runner-up finish in Division VI (smallest classification Ohio has), but Lunt, Bailey and O'Toole will all have the edge on Crouch. I wouldn't be surprised to see Crouch redshirt next season, although he does plan to graduate early and enroll in time for spring practices next year, which should help his development.
In what capacity do you believe Aaron Bailey will be used this year? And is it okay for me to be far more excited about new uniforms and team next year than this year?
illini fan in longhorn territory
Good question. Aaron Bailey can hurt teams with his arm and feet, with his speed and athleticism his greatest attribute. For the time being. His arm strength impressed Tim Beckman the most in the last four weeks of practices, and Bill Cubit has indicated he will find a way for Bailey to get on the field Saturday.
I'd imagine when Illinois does trot him out against the Salukis, it will be in one of two scenarios. Either with Illinois in a goal-line situation, like the Florida utilized Tim Tebow early in his career or what Oklahoma did last year with Blake Bell, or if Illinois is blowing out SIU in the second half, which could happen.
Beckman or Cubit wouldn't divulge their specific plans for Bailey, so I don't think it will be a situation where Nathan Scheelhaase plays two series, then Bailey plays two and Scheelhaase comes back in for two. Illinois has some certain packages set aside for Bailey's talents, and they'll most likely use him in that role.
Feel free to get excited about whatever aspect of Illinois football you want. The new uniforms that will roll out for the 2014 season with the Nike rebranding initative the school is going through right now is a way to get the fan base pumped, especially when the product on the field left plenty to be desired from a year ago.
Illinois will have new helmets it will wear Saturday, and I'm not sure yet what uniform combination Beckman wants his team to wear.
How many season tickets were sold this year compared to last year?
Referred to Jason Heggmeyer, the Illinois assistant athletic director in charge of ticketing for this answer. He said is right around 31,000 season tickets sold to date for the season so far.
Definitely not an easy job Heggmeyer and his staff have in trying to generate interest for a team coming off a 2-10 season, but the stadium does look nice leading up to the opener. The new scoreboard is certainly way more impressive than the old one, the ribbon boards on each balcony add another nice feature and the lettering put on the front of the press box and various suites this week help out.
Why is Tim Banks still at Illinois? Why has this guy not been fired yet? This guy is the worst Defensive Coordinator that I have ever seen and the numbers last year speak for themselves and the numbers the year before prove it!
Tim Beckman made some changes to his coaching (five of the nine assistants are new this year), but decided to keep Tim Banks in at defensive coordinator.
Beckman, a defensive coach by nature, has become more involved in the defense this year than last as he's specifically working with the cornerbacks, a move he didn't make last year.
It seems Beckman wanted to give Banks another chance to redeem himself. Illinois football was bad last year, both offensively and defensively. Beckman felt the offense needed more of an overhaul, which is why he brought in Bill Cubit.
Banks has had defenses work at Cincinnati in the past. The defense definitely didn't work out the way Banks wanted to last year.
Like Banks mentioned earlier this month after a practice, when his defenses were successful at Cincinnati, other schools were coming after him with job offers, he was up for awards and raises. When a defense fails to produce like Illinois did last year, the criticism will come. Banks understands that.
Now if Illinois' defense falters again this year, and the won-loss record isn't much better, then it will be interesting to see if Illinois makes a change at defensive coordinator.
What do you envision in the first play of Illinois' first offensive series against SIU in the first quarter? A bomb pass? Or DY run up the middle? Or ...?
Hey Illini Power,
Bill Cubit already knows. The Illinois offensive coordinator said he'll usually script about 25 plays to go into a game with.
The two options you suggest are intriguing ones. If you want to get the crowd excited right away, perhaps a play-action post pattern to Ryan Lankford. Then again, that could backfire on Illinois if a turnover happens.
It's anyone's guess as to what Illinois' first play of the season will be. A run by Donovonn Young is a safe choice, plus it could indicate how the offensive line might do with its run blocking against Southern Illinois. Offensively, Illinois has the advantage over SIU's defense, so just about any play call to start the game is in play for Cubit. Maybe we'll see some trickery to. Who knows?
SIU should be a big win. Can we avoid getting anyone hurt? We need all hands on board for Cincinnati.
You are correct. On paper, Illinois should beat SIU. Handily.
Injuries didn't decimate Illinois too much this month like they have in the past. Right guard Teddy Karras (ankle) and STAR Eric Finney (knee) are the only starters who are out for the opener, with defensive tackle Vontrell Williams (foot) out as well. Williams likely would have contributed as a reserve defensive tackle, but hasn't gone through practices this month with the nagging injury.
It's a football game. They are violent and physical, so I'm not making any guarantees Illinois won't come out of its game against SIU without any injuries. Illinois would receive a boost if Karras can play against Cincinnati. The Bearcats are a formidable opponent and easily the most crucial nonconference game for Illinois. A win against Cincinnati would do wonders for the season in terms of giving the players and coaches a confidence boost, and a much-needed injection to a fan base that is yearning for a better football team.
I know Coach Beckman doesn't discuss injuries, but is there any indication that Ted Karras will be back soon?
Hey Mike Z,
Wish I could give you more information to indicate how soon Ted Karras will return, but it would all be speculation.
He injured his left ankle on Aug. 20, the first Illinois practice back at Memorial Stadium after a week at Camp Rantoul. He was on crutches at the end of the practice, and has had a protective boot on his ankle ever since.
He has worked off to the side during practices, mainly either riding a bike with one foot (with his left ankle not moving, obviously) and working with weighted ropes. At least that's all I've seen in the 30-minute window the media is allowed to watch at the start of practice.
Do you think the fb team will slightly, at least, exceed general expectations of this season? That also includes 'passing the eye test.'
Depends who you talk to and what their expectations are of the season. Two weeks ago on Aug. 12, we had The News-Gazette Sports Page radio show up at T&T Tavern in Rantoul. We asked the crowd how many wins they thought Illinois would have, and the majority of responses were either two or three.
So if Illinois finishes at 4-8, then the majority of those fans that were in Rantoul with us would be satisfied. The biggest factor in Tim Beckman's second year that I believe fans want to see is the team be more competitive. Blowout losses like Illinois had last year did not help matters. And ending the 14-game Big Ten losing streak would help out, too.
The offense can't be much worse than last year, and Bill Cubit brings with him a solid reputation based on what his offenses accomplished, mainly in the passing game, at Western Michigan. The big 'passing the eye test,' should come against Cincinnati on Sept. 7. Show improvement against the Bearcats, and heck, sneak out of Memorial Stadium with a win, and the expectations for the season will increase.
How do you see the running game shaking down in terms of workload for each of the running backs?
Good question. Donovonn Young will start behind Nathan Scheelhaase in the backfield whenever he gets on the field. Illinois opened, at times during its only public scrimmage on Aug. 12 in Rantoul, with a five wide-receiver set and no backs. Young should get the majority of the carries, but Josh Ferguson and Dami Ayoola could also get their share.
Illinois should throw the ball more than it runs using Bill Cubit's offense, but I wouldn't be surprised if Donovonn Young gets roughly 20 carries, with Ferguson and Ayoola somewhere between 5 and 10. And Illinois can use Ferguson out in a slot wide receiver role if it wants to. The big key with Ferguson, besides him staying healthy, is getting him the ball in space. He's not the type of running back who will find success between the tackles like Young can.
Going to wrap this chat up. Thanks for all the questions. Need anything else, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter (@mdaniels_NG).
We'll be rolling out our live in-game report from Memorial Stadium around 9 a.m. on Saturday. I'll also be tweeting during the game, along with Marcus Jackson (@MarcusJ_NG), who will keep one eye on the football game and one eye on if Leron Black commits.
Safe travels if you're heading to Champaign-Urbana for the game and enjoy your weekend.