Oct. 16 Bob Asmussen chat

Oct. 16 Bob Asmussen chat

Monday, October 16, 2017 - 10:00am

How did Lovie Smith's team look against Rutgers? How did Jeff George Jr. perform in his second start this season? Will the team pick up its first road win this season at Minnesota?

For the answers to these questions, and anything else on your mind, check in with our longtime Illinois football beat writer.

Bob Asmussen wrote on October 16, 2017 at 10:10 am
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Welcome back to another Bob Asmussen chat. I will be here for about an hour or so. Hope everyone had a great weekend.

I spent a big chuck of Saturday at Memorial Stadium, watching Illinois  find a way to lose to a team that had dropped 16 Big Ten games in a row. As I wrote in Sunday's paper, it was a low point for the Lovie Smith era and really one of the worst losses for Illinois since I came here in 1989.

Smith and the Illini go to Minneapolis this weekend for a game with the struggling Gophers. Not to say I told you so, but I was not enthusiastic about P.J. Fleck with the Gophers. He is much more style than substance and that has played out the last three games. The Gophers, who have been pretty good in recent years, will make it to a bowl, game, but just barely.

Smith's team won't be going to a bowl this year. It just wants to win another game and that seems unlikely. Maybe Indiana or Purdue, but neither is a guarantee.

Jeff George Jr. finished with good numbers Saturday, but most of the yards came after the outcome was decided. To be fair to George, he is not getting a lot of help.

Enough blathering, time to get to your questions. As always, thanks for your participation.

myattitude wrote on October 16, 2017 at 10:10 am

Bob, I didn't see your grades for the Rutger's game. I assume they would be rather bad again. I didn't see much to hang one's hat on and injuries seem to be hitting the team hard again. Any word on how serious the Dudek injury is? I am still not sold the team will improve much next year. We still don't seem to the speed needed and it is not something easily taught. I am still not down on George as he is young and hopefully still learning. Thanks.

Bob Asmussen wrote on October 16, 2017 at 10:10 am
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Great to hear from you. Scott Richey handled the grades and gave the Illini straight Fs. I agree with that. You can't lose at home to Rutgers. Simple as that.

I have not heard anything about Mikey Dudek, but will at today's press conference. We will get you the word as soon as we get it. I hope for Dudek's sake that it is nothing major. His comeback from two torn ACLs has been remarkable. I think he will do everything he can to get back on the field as soon as he can. I did not see the play when he got hurt. It is a different team without him.

George Jr. had a few bad throws and the interceptions where not what the team needed. But I think he is working with much less than a full set of tools. The offensive line is young and trying, but not doing a great job. Ricky Smalling is really good, but he was upset with himself for a couple of drops. The running game is hurt by the loss of Mike Epstein, who was also a threat as a receiver.

You are right, overall team speed is an issue. And I think the style of play the team is using does not work with this set of players.

If I was in charge, I would pretty much abandon the run game, go up tempo and try to pass my way down the field. George will be good with that kind of offense.


Anonymous User wrote on October 16, 2017 at 10:10 am

Does it seem that after initial success the Illini have run smack into a wall. The freshman class, which seems very talented and is being heavily relied is just that, freshman. I saw a stat on this week's broadcast that Illinois has started at one time or another 15 freshman. The next nearest Big Ten team is 4. I think right there that speaks volumes doesn't it? You look at the more successful programs and the depth chart is overwhelmingly juniors and seniors wouldn't you say? The only time a freshman seems to have major playing time is if they are really talented or a position of need, maybe due to an injury. Our senior and junior classes are really thin aren't they? After Zook the recruiting really dropped off didn't it? I look at this as Lovie's first year because of when he was hired and of this being his first recruiting class. What do you think? Hopefully the Illinois following will see it that way and give him time. I don't really see a bowl game until after the 2019 season when these guys are juniors and we have a couple of good classes after them. What do you think? Sorry for being so long.

Bob Asmussen wrote on October 16, 2017 at 10:10 am
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Great point about the youth of the team. I understand the coaches desire to get the best players on the field. That is what all programs should do. But I can't believe a guy like Christian DiLauro, who had a long starting streak going into the year, isn't better than some of the freshmen who are playing. It can't be true. The rush to get the freshmen on the field seems forced to me. A better plan would have been to have them watch and learn from the older guys and get ready to play next season. I think the coaches needed to show more patience with the growth of the team. The constant changes don't help reach the long-term goal, which is a program that can compete in the Big Ten.

If it was me, I would have played the older guys and redshirted the entire freshman class, with a couple exceptions. Mike Epstein and Ricky Smalling were ready. And maybe Nate Hobbs. The rest of the guys have either hit the wall or never even reached it.

I'm not sure the Illinois fans will be patient, but that doesn't really matter. The only people who can impact Lovie Smith's future at Illinois are the people who hired him and I don't see them making a change. He has five more years left on his deal, plenty of time to get the program turned.

I thought all along the team would have a chance to be a minor bowl team in 2018. The schedule is more favorable and Lovie Smith will have two full classes of his own players. They will still be young, but the team loses just a handful of seniors from this year and few who are playing key roles.

I would also suggest that Illinois fill some holes with graduate transfers and junior college players. Del'Shawn Phillips has been very good this season.


Illini Football Fan wrote on October 16, 2017 at 10:10 am

Bob -

With high probability that our Illini team won't win another game this season, this makes recruiting more challenging. How much turnover do you anticipate among assistant coaches and players after this season? What is the probability of Lovie meeting his six years commitment? 

To date, name 6 football teams that surprised you the most this season. This includes those that were most disappointing and ones that exceeded your expectations.

Thank you.

Bob Asmussen wrote on October 16, 2017 at 10:10 am
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Illini Football Fan,

I agree that it is unlikely the Illini will win another game. Not impossible. And yes, it will have an impact on recruiting. The players need proof the team is getting better and little is being provided.

There will be turnover on the team, especially older guys who have been passed by the freshmen. Not a massive departure, but some. And I think there will be a shakeup on the coaching staff. Not sure which guys, but if the team doesn't better last season's win total, Smith will want to alter the staff.

I think there is a 40 percent chance Lovie Smith finishes his time here. After the fourth season, if it hasn't turned, he will get one more year. I don't think changing coaches all the time is the answer for Illinois.

On the six surprises, three good ones are TCU, Miami and Central Florida. Three on the negative side are Florida State, North Carolina and Tennessee.


Peter T Tomaras wrote on October 16, 2017 at 10:10 am

OK, clearly Kendrick Foster has got crosswise with Lovie, but no one tells the true story.  Especially with Epstein out, Foster could bring breakaway speed and shiftiness to the running game, but Lovie won't play him, now not even on kick returns.  What really gives?

Bob Asmussen wrote on October 16, 2017 at 10:10 am
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The coaches don't think he is better than the guys they are using. You can argue that, but they see the guys in practice every day and we don't.

The old staff didn't value Foster much either, or he would have played more. I think last year's offensive line was better, which helped Foster gain some of his yards.

I don't think it is Lovie Smith's call when it comes to playing time for the running backs. Garrick McGee is in charge of the offense and I think he, with the help of the staff, makes those decisions.

Like you, I am puzzled by Foster's demotion. We put him on the cover or our football yearbook, so we thought he would have been a big year. I don't think it is a personality thing. I just don't think the coaches believe he can get the job done.

Jack R. wrote on October 16, 2017 at 10:10 am

Comparing Illinois' football issue with other Big Ten schools is often irresistible but just as often, incredibly frustrating.  Having said that:

Penn State is now competing for (and will probably win) a national championship just a few short, and relatively painless, years of being on 'probation' from NCAA 'penalties'.

Indiana (after letting their coach go amid improprieties similar to Beckman's) is competing well with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan, and is in strong contention for yet another bowl birth 

Purdue, after being in similar circumstances as Illinois, hires a 'magic man' coach, who has instantly turned that program into one that competes hard against the Michigans, Ohio States, et. al., and will probably go to a bowl game this year as well.

Minnesota, after a players' revolt last year (something that would have definitely cripple a program like Illionis' for years), brings in a coach who albeit doesn't appear to have too much substance behind him.  Nevertheless, he's got his team in bowl contention and competing hard against the Michigan States, etc.  And will no doubt have more than enough talent to brush Illionis aside this weekend, despite having the same type of injury bug hitting his team.

My question:  Is it too much to ask a world renown university (like the U of I) to efficiently solve a football problem that other Big Ten schools (and most other schools who care) seem to have little or no issue with fixing?  Is this issue really that complicated to fix in a couple of years time.  

I'm reminded of that line in "The Untouchables" where Sean Connery asks "What are you prepared to do?"  Either Illinois doesn't want the question asked, or has never bothered to really figure it out (football-wise). 





Bob Asmussen wrote on October 16, 2017 at 11:10 am
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All Sean Connery references are appeciated.

I have been here for almost three decades and don't understand why it hasn't been fixed. There is talent in the state, a great school and some history of success. I love the building and the town. It has simply come down to mistakes in hiring/firing. I don't know if that is the case with Lovie Smith. That is not done yet.

But Ron Zook shouldn't have been fired. That set the program back. Tim Beckman should not have been hired. Bill Cubit should have been given his second year, at least. There are a lot of great coaches in college football. One of them, I promise, can provide a permanent fix for Illinois. The key is finding that person. Honestly, I think Jeff Brohm might have been the right guy, but now he is in the same division as the Illini. That is a shame.

I believe Illinois can be a consistent winner in football and will always believe it. There is too much good in place for that to not be possible.

Illini Football Fan wrote on October 16, 2017 at 11:10 am


I know outside of football, do you think we get Ayo? What's the vibe from your sports dept team regarding Ayo? Is it move over Dee, it's Ayo time???

Bob Asmussen wrote on October 16, 2017 at 11:10 am
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Illini Football Fan,

Based on nothing more than a gut feeling, I think he is coming to Illinois. But I am wrong a lot.

Anonymous User wrote on October 16, 2017 at 11:10 am

Obviously the Illinois FB season is heading towards another season without a bowl game. Hopefully we can see some improvement over the last six games. I think having to play so many freshman seems to indicate how bereft of talent the junior and senior classes are. Can a year in a new system with a new coach and with a vigorous off season training program can we expect to see a much improved team next year? I really think Lovie needs three or four of his own classes to get consistent winning seasons don't you? My hope is that the Illini faithful will hang in there with Josh and Lovie. If I recall Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa did not have winning seasons untill their third year. But those schools stuck with them and have had the types of programs that Illinois has had in the past, be it a long time ago, and deserve!

Bob Asmussen wrote on October 16, 2017 at 11:10 am
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Anon 2,

If the school feels that Lovie Smith is the guy, then it has to give him time. You make great points with Alvarez and Ferentz. If you have a strong leader, like Josh Whitman, he can survive the griping and keep his guy in place. That seems like the plan. Changing coaches every few years does no good. Smith needs time to get his players on the field. If he isn't winning by the fourth year, then the school will have to take a hard look at the future. But 2018 or 2019 seems to be a reasonable enough time for the team to improve. Not win the Big Ten, but be able to compete and not lose at home to Rutgers.

WT Thompson wrote on October 16, 2017 at 11:10 am

This is the 2nd game in the row that the Coach has said that his team was not "prepared" for this game.  Isnt that his job to get the team ready to play?   We have one of the highest payrolls in all of FB for the assistant coaches.  I get that most are family members of Smith, but at the same time, isnt that someones job to get the players prepared.


One last question.


Has attendance gone up or down say from 15 yrs ago   10 yrs ago 5 yrs ago and today.  Does not seem to be much of a Lovie bounce in terms of attendance.

Bob Asmussen wrote on October 16, 2017 at 11:10 am
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You are spot on . It is the coach's job to have the team ready. There are a lot of freshmen playing, but that is his choice and that of staff. Perhaps, he went to the young guys too soon and should have stufck with the older guys a bit longer.

I think we are seeeing the adjustment that Smith is having to make from the NFL to college. In the NFL, if a player isnt' getting it done on the field, he is fired. That is not an option in college football.

The attendance numbers are down. I will try to take a look at it later this season after the Wisconsin game. The Lovie bump has dropped off and that has a lot to do with the team's lack of success. Fans don't want to see their team lose every week.

LifetimeIllini wrote on October 16, 2017 at 11:10 am


I think eventually our offense will turn things around and be respectable.  We have some talent across the board on offense.  But I am worried about our defense.  Watching Rutgers dominate our defensive front 7 was disheartening.  I thought the linebackers were supposed to be a strength of the team, but they couldn't get off blocks and missed a lot of tackles.  What do you see as the future of this group?  Can they become a respectable defense by next year?

Thanks for the chats.

Bob Asmussen wrote on October 16, 2017 at 11:10 am
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Lifetime Illini,

Yes, the defense can get better. But it neeeds the young guys on the team to mature both physically and in terms of understanding the game. And it needs help across the board at all positions. There is nobody on the current Illini defense except for maybe James Crawford who you could see playing on one of the top teams in the SEC. Illinois needs more of those special Whitney Mercilus/Corey Liuget/J Leman type players that allow the defense not only to stop the other team, but to attack it. Not enough pressure, missed tackles and blown coverages have been a problem all season. It is not an overnight fix. It will take a couple more recruiting classes and improved play from the current squad.

Bob Asmussen wrote on October 16, 2017 at 11:10 am
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I am going to close the chat for today. Thanks for all of your great questions.

I will be back next week at the same time. If you have any questions between now and then. feel free to email me at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

If you are in downtown Champaign tonight, stop by The Esquire at 5 for "The News-Gazette Sports Page." It will be our first show without Marcus Jackson. He will be missed, but we can handle it.

Have a great week.