Tate: Defense must 'bounce back'

The late Bob Zuppke has been credited with "inventing" the football huddle at Illinois a century ago, although the idea of concealing sensitive play-calling information originated as far back as the 1890s.

Everyone from the British Secret Service to Bobby Thomson has profited from stolen signals. Communication is ultra-valuable in competitive situations.

Similarly, breakdowns in communication can be detrimental, as it was for Illinois in its 45-14 loss at Arizona State on Saturday night. Illini defenders acknowledged confusion (1) in interpreting early sideline calls that didn't follow the pregame script as coaches sought to adjust and (2) due to the speedy no-huddle tempo that caught the Illini off guard.

Two UI defenders, tackle Akeem Spence and cornerback Justin Green, explained problems that arose early in Tempe's raucous atmosphere.

"We had practiced getting signals communicated from the sideline," Spence said, "but they caught us off guard with the speed of their tempo. It was a case of missed communication. During the week, we had scripted five or six defensive calls in advance. When the coaches made changes, some of the guys were still running the scripted plays while others changed."

The Illini receive hand signals from three sources, but only one is live. Only one counts. One call for all is a change from last year when, for example, coaches Keith Gilmore and Vic Koenning sent separate but compatible signals to their position players.

"Now there is one call for everybody, and we have to make sure we're all on the same page," Spence said. "It was no problem against Western Michigan, but Saturday night was different in that atmosphere and with Arizona State running its plays so fast. We faked ourselves out."

Said Green:

"No lie, that tempo was something we weren't used to. Sometimes it is hard to get the calls that quickly, and we were having issues with communication. We all tried to echo the calls to each other. And Arizona State had some tricks we hadn't seen before. They caught us off guard, and that first series set the tone for the game."

The Sun Devils exploded to the Illini 1-yard before fumbling, then scored on the next four possessions with 11 straight pass completions. Arizona State gained 510 yards overall, 320 of it in the first five possessions. Virtually this same UI defensive unit permitted just 286 yards per game last season, and limited Western Michigan to minus-6 yards rushing a week earlier.

"That's the worst defense we've played since the Michigan game in my sophomore year (a 67-65 3OT loss)," Green said. "We met Sunday to try to figure out what went wrong. We need to stick to our fundamentals. It was a bad game and we were bummed out Sunday. But we have to bounce back. We have to have a short memory."

Missed calls

Tim Beckman called quarterback "wide open this week" as he evaluates the health of Nathan Scheelhaase (ankle), who started 27 straight games before sitting out at Arizona State.

"All three practiced Sunday," the coach said. "Nathan could have entered in an emergency Saturday, but we didn't think it was the right thing for our team or Nathan."

Beckman noted that Miles Osei "dinged his ankle a bit" in the first half Saturday, adding: "Miles did some good things with his feet but those unforced errors (two interceptions) hurt. We simply decided to go with Reilly O'Toole in the second half. We did not play well in any area. I'm not pointing fingers. We need to stop the pass. We didn't. Offensively we need to pick up blitzes and get the ball to our playmakers. We're not. Two young men misread their coverage lanes on the opening kickoff. All these things have to be corrected."

Referring to secondary breakdowns, Beckman said:

"We had eye control violations in that we didn't stay with the players we were assigned to. They were running two and three receivers through a zone — Arizona State had good schemes — and we had some missed communication in our man coverage. Maybe it was the speed of the game ... not all of us on the same page. It is hard to practice how quickly they ran plays, although we tried. They were able to perform well in quick-time, and we didn't."

Defensively, it doesn't appear either of last year's starting safeties, Supo Sanni and Steve Hull, will play this week. Beckman called Sanni "doubtful." Hull injured the same shoulder that required surgery earlier.

On the plus side

The search for something positive swings over to the offensive side. Billy Gonzales, speaking Monday to the Quarterback Club, pointed to:

(1) A rushing attack that netted a respectable 231 yards on 50 rushes, 10 of which were negative-yardage plays (mostly sacks);

(2) Youthful running backs Josh Ferguson (101 yards) and Donovonn Young (65) who did the brunt of the work, the Illini demonstrating good ball security with no fumbles.

(3) Touchdowns on their only two ventures into the red zone, completing a pass to tight end Eddie Viliunas for the second one.

(4) With Darius Millines injured, Cleveland freshman Justin Hardee stepped in with a 17-yard reception and is ticketed for more opportunities.

These positives were offset by backfires that included three interceptions, delay penalties and lack of a vertical passing game. Said Gonzales:

"We want to run first and use play-action passes to take pressure off our offensive line. We have to do what our players do best. Different guys have different tools, and that holds true at quarterback."

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports

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calvin wrote on September 11, 2012 at 10:09 am

That this team was outcoached in every conceivable fashion is no news to anyone who watched even five minutes of this game.  After all of the negativity of the last few years, it is hard to get involved with any more of it.  Losing is one thing, but losing repeatedly in such poor fashion is just unacceptable and Illini fans just can't be expected to put up with much more of it.

patrick wrote on September 11, 2012 at 11:09 am

I fully agree, Calvin. The team and coaches talk talk about a "communication" problem. Really?

Isn't that a major job of the coaching staff? if Plan A isn't working, is there a Plan B?

Aside from that, it appeared to me that the defense starting giving up later in the game. I can understand being beaten by a superior team, but, giving up? There's just no excuse for that.

we often read here about the lack of support from the fans. Well, the fans don't like losing (who does?) , but will support this team if we see that they're always trying. I've seen some dreadful Illini teams over the last 40 + years, but very few gave up. This bunch seemed to give up...and it's the second game of the season.

 

DaisyJ wrote on September 11, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Did they not ever hear of the word "TIMEOUT" REF.   This is a new excuse that is pretty lame.

 

So when will football end as we know it with the head injury's. When. Sports Illustrated on Jim

McMahon is enough to turn your stomach. All unnecessary. Not to mention the spinal and leg

inuries that occur. WE only have one brain, time we used it.

houstonillini84 wrote on September 11, 2012 at 5:09 pm

I didnt sense they werent trying. In fact, in the first game I thought Beckman had them coming out and playing very hard. The problem against ASU was just that we were totally outclassed. They were better than us in virtually every facet of the game. In fact I wish I thought it was lack of effort because that can be corrected. Mental mistakes can also be corrected, and maybe those did have something to do with it. But lack of talent and mediocre coaching cant be corrected, and IMO thats the main problem. Our offense is bad and has been since Leshoure left; we play a spread but dont have the talent that fits a spread, in particular a vertical passing game. Our defense is better but obviously not very good. And it will only get worse next year when the talent drops off. If Beckman cant get a good recruiting class this year, we could be bad for several more years. Ugh.

aaeismacgychel wrote on September 11, 2012 at 5:09 pm

There was actually a pretty solid showing of Illini fans at Sun Devil Stadium- a heck of a lot more orange shirts than I figured. Plus, I was even sitting right next to Terry Hawthorne's godmother who had some choice words for our performance, and none of them being synonyms for "good". But yes, every single Illini fan at the game would confirm that there were all sorts of issues with communication between the staff and the players, primarily when it came to sending plays in. And here's the kicker- the ASU fans weren't even that loud! The problem wasn't that the players couldn't hear, it was that the coordinators did not do a good job of getting plays in. Several times, we didn't even break the huddle until the 5 or 6 second mark on the play clock because we couldn't get the play in in time. And if you're a coordinator and you see you're confusing your players because you didn't make sure they knew the shifts and audibles you're flashing, then call a damn timeout and go to simpler defensive packages. What an amateurish game from the coordinators.

houstonillini84 wrote on September 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

Thats a very good point. Our coordinators have been less than impressive. We miss coach Vic on D especially.

SwifferFan wrote on September 12, 2012 at 5:09 am

Assuming all is equal with talent, it seems to me the components that give another team the edge include game plan, execution, and conditioning.  Are any of these an easy fix for Illinois?