July 16 Bob Asmussen chat

July 16 Bob Asmussen chat

Monday, July 16, 2018 - 10:00am

How are the summer workouts going for Lovie Smith's team? Who will be the starting quarterback against Kent State? When will the team announce its training camp schedule?

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 July 16, 2018 at 10:07 am
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Welcome back to another Bob Asmussen chat. Hope everyone had a great weekend. I went up to Chicago to spend time with my family. Lots of great food and great fun. I also found time to watch tennis and baseball. Oh yeah, I went to the new "Ant Man" movie. Thumbs up.

The start of football is getting closer. A week from now, I will be at the  Big Ten Kickoff in Chicago. And the seaon will be here before you know it.

I hope you have been able to follow our Top 50 countdowns. We are at No. 19 today.

Enough stalling, time to get to your questions.

As always, thanks for your participation. I really enjoy the chats.


Major Tom wrote on July 16, 2018 at 10:07 am

Hey Bob:  I thought i would run some thoughts by you.  Back on Saturday July 7th I took my grandson up to Catawba College for a football camp and while there I ran into Dustin Ward, who is the new quarterbacks coach for the Indians.  He noticed my "Chief" hat and we had a real nice conversation about his time with the Fighting Illini.  Really nice guy, hope he continues to advance in the profession.  I do believe you remember him.  I got to see him play versus San Diego State at Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium in like 2001 or 2002!  He was on two of the best Illini Football Teams in the last 20 years in 1999 and 2001!  Don't want to get this too lengthy so I will close and write again soon.  Read your chats all of the time and most of your atricles at illlinihq.com!  I really enjoy your opinions.  I am an old timer Illini fan of 61 years.  Hope they become a winner again soon...I ain't got that much time left, patience isn't a virtue when you are 70 years old.  GO ILLINI!!!   Maj. Tom

Bob Asmussen wrote on July 16, 2018 at 10:07 am
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Maj. Tom,

Thanks for the kind words. I covered Dustin Ward during his time at Illinois and have talked to him in the years since he got into coaching. He is a very good guy from a very nice family. I didn't realize he was at Catawba, so you get the scoop award.

The 1999 and 2001 teams were two of my favorites to cover. A lot of great people on those teams and I got along with Ron Turner and his staff. The 2007 team, which is having a reunion this weekend, was another fun one.

I understand how difficult it is to be patient when your team is struggling. I am a long time Atlanta Braves fan and there were a few lean years after all the great success. Looks like the team is bouncing back now.

I have often written that I think Illinois can be a consistent winner in football. I think there is a good chance you will see it.

Please write any time.



Panera Guy wrote on July 16, 2018 at 10:07 am


Thanks again for taking our questions today, I have a few for you.

I read an interview with Gabe Megginson yesterday where he talked about the disconnect between McGee and Butkus last year. While it certainly explains some things, it raised a few questions for me.

First of all, how can you have 2 completely different philosophies being taught at the same time for your offense? Isn't that where the head coach should step in and determine which is correct? Do you think that Lovie didn't want to lose Butkus if he supported McGee? 

Do you think that McGee was hired because of his success at Louisville and whether or not his offense fit in with the rest of the coaches wasn't thought of/discussed?

Lastly, do you think that Rod Smith and Butkus, along with the rest of the staff are on the same page with this year's team? I would love to "assume" that they are, but then again, I "assumed" that they were last year and obviously they weren't. 

Bob Asmussen wrote on July 16, 2018 at 10:07 am
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Panera Guy,

Great questions. From what I understand, Garrick McGee was hired in part because of the success he had at Louisville, but also because of his past relatonship with Lovie Smith and his familiarity with the Big Ten. Certainly, Coach McGee had plenty to do with the great work done at Louisville, but I think the bulk of the credit goes to Coach Bobby Petrino. It was his system that made the Cardinals go.

There was a difference of opinion between Coach McGee and Coach Butkus in terms of offensive line play. Generally, I would defer to the position coach when it comes to who should be on the field, but the offensive coordinator has to make it work with his system.

Yes, the head coach could have stepped in. He could also let them try to work it out on their own. Lovie Smith doesn't like to share details about the inner workings of the team, so I am not sure we will ever get the full story.

Illinois has moved on, firing Garrick McGee, who is now at Missouri. I have tried to reach him since he left here but haven't been successful. I will keep trying.

Yes, Rod Smith and the rest of the offensive staff are on the same page. I have talked to Coach Smith about Luke Butkus and there is great respect there. Same with the other offensive assistants.

It's important to remember that when the offense or defense struggles, it tends to make the coaching office an unhappy place. There is frustration and finger pointing,. When it gets healed, the teams start to have success.

Put any 10 people together and there will be some differences of opinion. It is how they respond to that difference that is the key.



Anonymous User wrote on July 16, 2018 at 11:07 am

I believe the Illini have 8 commitments for 2019. are you satisfied with this or do you think there momentum has slowed somewhat?  Is it Lovie's style to be laid back and wait or do you think they are being cautious to land maybe higher rated prospects as the year goes on? How many commits will they get? I am figuring 18-22. What do you think? 

Bob Asmussen wrote on July 16, 2018 at 11:07 am
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There is a low number of seniors leaving the program after this season, which will impact the 2019 class. I don't think you will see another 25 guys added, More likely, as you suggest in the high teens or low 20s.

The coaches need to emphasize quality over quantity. It is easy to fill your class with a bunch of lower-rated guys. Illinois is attempting to do better than that, which requires some patience. There are two high-level players who have made committments: Isaiah Williams and Marquez Beason. The final 10-12 spots will be heavy on big men on both sides of the ball.

The Illinois staff has a list of players it wants to fill those spots. The coaches feel if they get the players to visit, it greatly enhances their chances to land the recruit. They are right. There is a positive buzz within the team. The current players are often the best recruiters.

I know some fans are worried about the low numbers of recruits, but it is still very early. If the number is under 10 in late November, then the worry is more justified. You can't rush recruiting,


Anonymous User wrote on July 16, 2018 at 11:07 am

Listening to the information from the strength coaches has got me a little pumped up for the season.I believe that both sides of the line should be better just from the experience and one year of conditioning and pumping iron. I would say that the offensive line benefits the most. If they can establish a running game, protect the QB, whoever that may be, and operate what appears to be a potential multiple set offense it accomplishes three things. Puts points on the board, takes time off the clock, and keeps a defense off the field and rested. What do you think?  

Bob Asmussen wrote on July 16, 2018 at 11:07 am
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Anon 2.

You must be reading Lovie Smith's notes.

There is a stat category that Illinois must climb if it is to win more games in 2018: first downs. The team ranked near the bottom nationally and it is a great reason why the team won just two games.

Rod Smith wants to score points. If you do that while controlling the clock, it helps the defense. I think this is what Lovie Smith looked for with his first offensive coordinator, but didn't get it, So, he made a change.

I agree that the offensive line will be improved. I also think there is a very good group of running backs. Mikey Dudek and Lou Dorsey will have good seasons. If the quarterback play is solid, the Illinois offense will move up nationally in points and total offense.

What does that mean in terms of wins? It depends on the opponetns and how well the defense performs,

LifetimeIllini wrote on July 16, 2018 at 11:07 am


Please share your thoughts on the Illini QB battle.  Who is the best fit with Smith’s offense?  Also, how much talent depth is there at linebacker?  That seems to be the weak link in the defense.

Bob Asmussen wrote on July 16, 2018 at 11:07 am
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Lifetime Illini,

I think Cam Thomas has a huge edge going into training camp because of his familiarity with both the offense and with the Big Ten. He has played in the conference and knows what to expect. He seems to have a good relationship with Rod Smith.

All of the other quarterbacks have strengths. Coran Taylor is a very good athlete. M.J. Rivers is a leader and a winner. Matt Robinson is a talented passer who can run. I won't be at all surprised if he gets on the field this year. A.J. Bush is on his fourth college stop. His experience will be important both on the field and behind the scenes. He will have a strong influence on the other quarterabcks.

On the linebackers, Illinois won't have three on the field at one time very often, so the depth is not a huge issue. Del'Shawn Phillips is a very good player and I think he will have big tackle numbers this season. Jake Hansen is coming back from injury and is reportedly on track to play. Dele Harding will be an important player.

Illinois lost some talented linebackers to transfer. Tre Watson will likely be starting against the Illini when they travel to Maryland.

If it can avoid injury this season, Illinois has enough depth at linebacker in 2018.


Bob Asmussen wrote on July 16, 2018 at 11:07 am
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I am going to close the chat for today. Thanks for all of your great questions.

Next week's chat will be pushed back two days to Wednesday because of the Big Ten Kickoff. If you have any questions between now and then, feel free to email me at asmussen@news-gazette,com.

Have a great week.