Nov. 22 football/recruiting chat

Friday, November 22, 2013 - 2:00pm

Can Illinois actually win at Purdue? How has John Groce recovered from being spurned by Cliff Alexander and Quentin Snider? Ask our football beat writer and recruiting blogger Matt Daniels during his weekly give and take. Submit questions any time.

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 02:01 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Good afternoon everyone. Matt Daniels here to answer any Illinois football and any Illinois recruiting questions you might have. It's a bit calmer on the recruiting side than it was last Friday at this time. The circus surrounding Cliff Alexander's recruitment is now over.

What isn't over for the Illinois football team is its ugly 20-game Big Ten losing streak. Illinois departed this afternoon from Memorial Stadium to make the short bus ride to West Lafayette for tomorrow's game at Purdue.

It will be a cold one, much like it is today in Champaign-Urbana. Wind chills should be in the teens. Yikes. Enough weather talk. Let's get this chat rolling.

BrianA — 02:01 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Will making a change at defensive cordinator really make that much of a difference for next season ?

I agree that coaching is a part of the problem.  But the bigger problem is lack of talent 

unless you can bring in someone who will majorly help recruiting is that the path to take ? I know Beckman will probably be forced to make some changes  but who is going to want to take the job knowing next year is more than likely a make or break year for the staff 

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 02:06 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Hey BrianA,

Good question and good points you bring up. I think the best defensive minds in football would have a hard time getting positive results from the Illinois defense. The glimmer of productivity Tim Banks' unit showed at Penn State quickly disappeared the last two weeks at Indiana and last Saturday against Ohio State. Both the Hoosiers and Buckeyes have put up bunches of points this season, but the ease in which they did so against Illinois was alarming.

I think it's a combination based on the talent and coaching, but fall more so on the talent. The recruiting efforts dipped in Ron Zook's final few seasons in Champaign, and what you're seeing right now is the result of that.

Even if Illinois finishes 5-7, which is a possibility, there will most likely be staff changes made. The Illinois assistant coaches realize the business they're in, and it's a production-based business. Fair or unfair, that's the reality. Plus, most coaches are so focused on what they have to get done that day that they don't really concern themselves with where they might be next year. This comes into play if Illinois does make some staff changes in terms of who they might bring in. Coaching in the Big Ten is appealing to almost any college coach, and that's a selling point Illinois will use to its advantage if staff changes are made this offseason.

rickyb — 02:06 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Hey I missed the basketball chat earlier this week so here it goes honestly I wasn't a big fan of either Snider or cliff Alexander idk why but honestly I don't think they were a good fit for illinois ix much rather see Charles Mathews and Carlton Bragg in illinois uniforms what do u think illinois chances are in landing the two also I seen that dj Williams is good friends with zachary Norvell I really like his game almost deron Williams like how big of a get would that be in 2016 class I think by the time he is a senior he will be the elite pg of that class and would be a great fit

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 02:11 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Hey rickyb,

Thanks for your thoughts on Cliff Alexander and Quentin Snider. The topic of those two players has been a hot one for the past seven days or so in Champaign-Urbana, but it is slowly going by the wayside.

Charles Matthews is real close with D.J. Williams, the wing from Chicago Simeon you mention, so that could help Illinois in trying to get a top-10 player in the Class of 2015, like Matthews is. The Chicago St. Rita combo guard is poised for an even bigger junior season this winter with the Mustangs.

Carlton Bragg is another five-star talent in the Class of 2015 Illinois was in on early. The Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph power forward has all the big boys wanting his services, but Illinois has established itself in a good position with him.

Zack Norvell is a promising prospect in the Class of 2016 from Chicago Simeon. With John Groce having already established a pipeline of players from Simeon to Illinois since he landed the Illinois job, Groce's staff is well aware of the sophomore guard, who Rob Smith will look to run the team from the point guard position this year. Norvell might not burst onto the scene this winter, but he is a player to keep an eye on in the future.

Nick N. — 02:12 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Hey Matt...I assume the Northwestern game will be senior day for the Illini. Are they going to let Nathan's dad into the stadium for that one? And my other question would be if you think the coaching dominos at some of the other major programs (Texas, USC) would cause Illinois to hold onto Beckman even if they finish 3-9 as the Illini would probably be about 4-deep in the major program pecking order for a new coach? The team has been more competitive this year thanks to the offsense, but the defense is terrrible and Beckman just looks lost out there most of the time. Thomas cannot ignore the empty stands, can he? Thanks.

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 02:16 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Hey Nick N.,

Next Saturday's regular season finale against Northwestern at Memorial Stadium is senior day for Illinois. Nathan Scheelhaase's father will not be in attendance. Our own Patrick Wade reported on the matter in last Saturday's paper, so click here to check out that story.

I think Tim Beckman's job is safe for next season. Even if Illinois finishes 3-9. Most likely there will be some staff changes made, but that isn't uncommon at most college football programs every offeseason, especially at programs with losing records. You're right, the Illinois job isn't that high up on the pecking order compared to other programs in the power five conferences. But the lure of playing in the Big Ten and possibly being that coach that could someday turn Illinois into a consistent winner every year are appealing aspects of the job to any budding head coach out there.

The defense has been flat out bad for most of the Big Ten season. About the only exception was the loss three weeks ago at Penn State. The best way for fans to show their displeasure with a sports team is not to show up to their games, and that was fully evident last Saturday in Champaign, where Ohio State fans made up almost 50 percent, if not more, of the total fans that were at the game.

Steve Z — 02:17 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Hey Matt,   How have the redshirt freshmen looked??   Read a positive article about Bryce Douglass recently, have any of the other freshmen stood out?   Has Illinois Bigten losing streak contributed to any negative recruiting, it would really be a downer if UI started losing some of its higher rated commits similar to last season.

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 02:24 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Hey Steve Z,

Probably the most promising redshirt freshman that Illinois has this season is linebacker T.J. Neal. He has made some important stops at key times (notably at Penn State on a fourth-and-1 play) and shows potential, plus he's come up with 32 tackles. The coaches like the progress they're seeing from the Pennsylvania native.

Taylor Barton started the season at free safety and has one of the two interceptions Illinois has come up with this year, but lost his starting job at the midway point of the season to Zane Petty and has played sparingly since then. Joe Spencer is another redshirt freshman who has contributed at times on the offensive line while Zach Hirth is the starting long snapper. Robbie Bain has played some at defensive tackle, more out of necessity because of injury. Those are about the only redshirt freshmen to see the field this year.

Bryce Douglas hasn't played all season as he has dealt with a neck injury most of the season, too. The coaches like his raw potential, but want him to get in better shape. The year off should benefit him in the long run as long as he's able to stay healthy moving forward.

The true freshmen are getting a crash course on playing cornerback, with Darius Mosely, Jaylen Dunlap and Caleb Day all seeing significant time at stretches this season, with Jarrod Clements and Dawaune Smoot playing meaningful snaps along the defensive line as well. And Aaron Bailey has had fleeting moments of success, too, both running and throwing the ball.

The Big Ten losing streak certainly doesn't help recruiting. Recruits are aware of what is going on at Illinois, much like they are at other Big Ten programs, and the losing doesn't help any recruit that wants to go to a program with a winning track record. The biggest selling point Illinois has to recruits is come to Champaign-Urbana and help get the program turned around. So far, none of the 14 commits Illinois has in the Class of 2014 have decommitted, which is progress compared to last year's class, which already had several decommitments by this point last year.

Anonymous User — 02:25 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

For two years now Illinois defense has been nothing but horrible. Our offense was the same way.In comes an experienced coach like Cubit and presto we have a respectable offense. He's made Nathan a respectable QB of a good unit. Same thing happened defensively with Koeinng. Do you think this is the way we have to go, or is it just the lack of talent? Also with Lunt probably starting next year, do you think he could be the kind of pied piper and get some good talented recruits to commit here? We need playmakers in  bad way. adit

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 02:29 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Hey anonymous,

Bringing in an experience defensive coordinator with a good track record, if Illinois decides to let Tim Banks go, would be a popular move. Vic Koenning had that background, and the same is true of Bill Cubit. Not too sure, if Illinois does fire Banks, that Illinois could bring in a similar type coordinator. The selling points would be that almost all of the defensive starters return for Illinois, but some coaches might view that as a red flag, too, based on the way Illinois has played this season.

The lack of talent among some of the starters on defense and, in particular, among their backups, is a key reason why the Illinois defense has struggled the way it has this season.

Wes Lunt is a valuable recruiting tool. The Oklahoma State transfer usually talks to all the recruits that come to home games in Champaign. His easy-going nature and humble approach would sit well with any potential recruit and his family. Shortly after he transferred in June, Illinois received a commitment from Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin wide receiver Malik Turner, who has had a superb senior season with the Cyclones. And it most likely helped, too, in landing two junior college wide receivers in July in Tyrin Stone-Davis and Geronimo Allison.

Canadian Orange and Blue — 02:30 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

So, Matt, five adults in my family accompanied me, a long-suffering alumnus, in a 10-hour drive last weekend to have a bi-annual over-indulgent weekend of Illini sports:  football, volleyball and basketball games.  The latter two were very enjoyable-to-watch victories with spirited crowd support that revived my memories of yesteryear. In football, what was a depressing start against the Buckeyes became an increasingly competitive game.  Our family left the stadium feeling that (i) we had been entertained which is essential when laying out 60 bucks for a seat, and (ii) maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel for Beckman's team in 2014 ... or maybe not.  Questions: are the team`s defensive failings due largely to deficiencies in talent at the Big 10 level, or to too many players who are talented but still-immature, or to deficient coaching?   Which is it, and can we expect in 2014 that our defense will stop yielding 50+ points against us game after game? 

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 02:35 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Hey Canadian Orange and Blue,

Take the cold weather back with you north. Just kidding. It's late November in Illinois, so I should be used to it by now.

Sounds like you had a very, like you said, overindulgent weekend of Illinois sports. The volleyball program, along with both basketball programs, are in solid standings right now. The same can't be said for football at the moment.

The Illinois offense is vastly improved to where it was a year ago. It has made leaps and bounds in most statistical categories compared to what the 2012 unit did in Tim Beckman's first season.

I'd say the biggest reason for the poor showings by the Illinois defense are lack of talent. Playing young players on defense is sure to come with a few bumps, too, and the combination of youth and lack of talent is a key reason why Illinois is giving up the yards and points it seems to give up in the Big Ten. Illinois could mask some of its glaring weaknesses in nonconference play, but perhaps it was an omen when Southern Illinois put 34 points up on Illinois in the season opener.

I don't see how the defense could be any worse in 2014, but, many of the same players that are out there this year will return next year as well. Which is a good or bad scenario, depending on your outlook.

Packer Lee — 02:35 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Has Groce publicly responded to his opinion of the "hat incident," or has he just chalked it up to youth and moved on?

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 02:37 PM on Fri, 11/22/2013

Hey Packer Lee,

John Groce didn't address Cliff Alexander or any of the antics that took place during Alexander's annoucement last Friday when he talked to the media about the Class of 2014 signees Michael Finke and Leron Black last Saturday after the Illinois football game.

Doubt the passionate Illinois coach was pleased with the way Alexander handled his announcement, but he was probably more concerned about where Alexander would wind up instead of how he handled the hats.

Alexander has said it probably wasn't the best idea to do the hat fake, but he wasn't the first recruit to do so and he won't be the last either.