There's no 'd' in 'Illinois'

By DAVID MERCER

CHAMPAIGN — Whatever went wrong at Illinois last season, its defense was a frenzied, high-pressure group that sacked quarterbacks, dragged ball carriers down behind the line and was without question among the best in the country.

Most of the key players are back from that unit, but after Saturday’s 52-24 home loss to Louisiana Tech and a 45-14 whipping two weeks earlier at Arizona State it’s clear something has changed.

Tackles for losses are down from almost eight a game — fourth in the country last year — to five, and the Illini are averaging only 1.5 sacks — 81st in the nation — one season after they were sixth-best in the country with 3.5 per game.

Illinois isn’t blitzing nearly as much as it used to, defensive tackle Akeem Spence said as the Illini (2-2) prepared to open Big Ten play Saturday against Penn State (2-2).

“Last year we blitzed a lot more with our linebackers and this year, you know, they’re sitting back, and they’ve got to read,” Spence said. “We were able to bring pressure form just about anywhere, from the corners. ... We just brought it from a lot of different angles. That’s what we were used to.”

Players have asked the defensive coaches to consider blitzing more, he said.

“I mean, we ask, but at the end of the day they hold the power. All we can do is go out and do what they tell us to do,” he said.

Former defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s defenses specialized in high pressure that led to sacks and big plays that regularly left opponents facing long yardage on second or third down. Koenning left when Ron Zook was fired, and the approach under new coach Tim Beckman and defensive coordinator Tim Banks has so far been more reliant, as Spence said, on reading and reacting.

Beckman said Monday that part of the credit for Illinois’ problems has to be given to the opposition — fast-paced spread offenses run by Arizona State and Louisiana Tech.

The Bulldogs forced Illinois to think about the run and use safeties to cover it, Beckman said. Then Louisiana Tech’s receivers ran wild, frequently finding space behind the Illini secondary and scoring on pass plays of 78, 38, 27 and 21 yards.

“They’re No. 3 in (the country in) scoring, they force you at times to play man-to-man coverages,” Beckman said.

Illinois is also thin at safety, with both Steve Hull and Suppo Sanni injured, but Beckman said everyone simply needed to play better.
Spence said he’s looking forward to getting into the Big Ten, where Illinois won’t see nearly as much of the spread.

“There’s not a lot of trickery like the past (few) weeks,” he said.
 

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports

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peterborich wrote on September 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Before Vic Keonnig officially takes his place among the Gods in Vahalla, Mr. Mercer, please remember how bad the defense was throughout a good portion of last year's Northwestern game, during the first half of the Purdue debacle, during the Michigan disappointment, during the second half of the Wisconsin collapse, and, of course, throughout the Minnesota whipping.

Coach Vic is missed, but stats don't mean everything.  Our secondary likely would have been toasted and roasted by La Tech with Coach Vic here as well.   Remember the flea flicker play in the first half in which our blitz pounded the QB, but he still threw a perfect ball to a wide-open receiver who pants-ed Terry Hawthorne?   

Again, I loved Coach Vic, but he's a nomad, and would have been here only another year or two anyway in a best-case scenario.   Coach Banks has good stats as well as a DC, give him some time before throwing him and the defense under the bus . .  ..

aaeismacgychel wrote on September 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm

You are correct in that there were downsides to Koenning's defense. Since it's predicated on the blitz, QBs who are effective in picking up the blitzer(s) and performing the correct hot read(s) will have success. Persa was a smart senior quarterback who certainly played well against the blitz throughout his career. As for Michigan, blitzing Robinson can work as long as you get there without leaving gaps. Robinson though struggles when you force him to be a pocket passer, so that was not the right gameplan there. As for Purdue, well that trip reminded me a lot of the ASU game where we just seemed to not get off the bus until halftime. Koenning certainly wasn't a messiah, but his game planning was effective against most teams. And I really don't think his defense would've gotten rolled like Banks' did these past 2 games.

Moonpie wrote on September 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Bull! This is the Sleepy Gazoo trying to tell Beckman how to play D. Maybe Obi Wan Tate wrote this  for Mercer or told him what to say. Time will tell whether this is a wise decision not to blitz as much, given personnel, for example. And Beckman is right that the last two teams had something to do with the lack of D success.


Fact is, this is slow team not as talented as Obi Wan has suggested.

jjohnson wrote on September 25, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Moonpie, your one participant duel against Loren is getting a bit stale.

aaeismacgychel wrote on September 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm

What arrogance by Tim Banks, breaking something that wasn't broken simply because he wants his schemes in place. Part of being an effective coordinator is knowing where your players' strengths are at and altering your own schemes and philosophies to take advantage of that. If you have a Top 10 System in the country, you don't just go in and start changing the facets of it that were extremely successfull just because you have an ego problem and want to be self important. You want to be a highly regarded defensive coordiantor, Tim Banks? Then how about looking over some game tape from last year to see what an extremely well regarded defensive coordinator installed and freakin' learn from it. Just because someone previously invented the round rubber wheel, doesn't mean you should put square concrete blocks on your car just to have a different system...

Oh and Coach Beckman, "There's not a lot of trickery like the past (few) weeks"? I know you're new to this whole BCS Conference coaching thing, but that "trickery" you're talking about is a FREAKIN' PLAYACTION PASS! You see, opponents who can run the ball effectively can fake a handoff and pass the ball downfield. It's very effective against defenses trying to stack the box because they've had trouble stopping the run. It's no wonder ASU and LA Tech torched us on playaction passes- you seem to have never heard of the thing before...

I swear each article I read is getting me more and more hot. Freakin' amateur hour in Champaign.

TheChiefLives wrote on September 25, 2012 at 4:09 pm

YESSSSSS!!!!  Love it.  This coaching staff is so vanilla, so outmatched, so Bush League....it makes me sick.

Evidence:  It's pretty bad when the players start calling out the system their "coaches" have in place.  And before anyone starts bashing these players for it, realize that they were the nucleus of an effective defense. (Something the current staff has ABSOLUTELY NO FREAKING CLUE ABOUT!!!)

Speaking of NO FREAKING CLUE:  Moonpie, but I digress...

OKOMIS wrote on September 25, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Coach Vic, Buddy Ryan, Bill Belichick, Vince Lombardi, anybody… we’re 2-2 at this point at best with this team.. granted, the 2 losses were very very ugly, but we beat a much weaker Az St 17-14 last year at HOME with a healthy Scheelhaase and a hot AJ Jenkins and Whitney Mercilus…  La Tech will probably end the season ranked higher than 9-10 of the B1G schools.. had we lost the 2 by a touchsown or less, we’d still be 2-2….there is no one left that we play that are anywhere near as up tempo as them.. fortunately we are in the B1G.. let’s see how we respond.

Jam wrote on September 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Who is David Mercer?

peterborich wrote on September 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Actually, the correct question is "What is a David Mercer?"

leonardn wrote on September 25, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Mr Mercer,

It's quite appalling that you would write an article that clearly causes division in a team that truly needs to work together right now to be successful.  While you make reference so many times to what the defense did last year and how effective they were, but effective at what?  While you are bringing up last year and the defense last year at Illinois, maybe you need to talk about what coach Banks was doing last year.  Last year, Coach Banks was leading a defense that was winning games and ultimately won the Conference Championship.  Last year Coach Banks was leading a defense that was quite stingy with giving up points, lots of blitzing, (#1 and #2 in the Country in Sack and Tackles for loss) and a defense that was aggressive and respected.  Bottom line is, last year coach Banks got a Championship ring for the 3rd time in 5 years as a DC, with 2 different teams and 2 different conferences.  So I'm not quite sure why we are still talking about last year.  I'm sure Coach Banks is doing everything he can with the resources and the personnel he has available.  Being that he's the DC with 3 Championship ring, I think he should be given the benefit of the doubt. 

tonyjb37 wrote on September 25, 2012 at 9:09 pm
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Blitz,Blitz,Blitz! Just shut your freaking mouths, and I am talking to the coaching staff, and BLITZ! You Idiots think you know whats best for the program? You all are nuts! You don't know a darn thing about winning football games! Last year we were one of the best defenses in the country. We were a team that went out and attacked from opening kick off to the last second ticking off the clock. What you coaches are implementing in this program and are players is sissie ball plain and simple. This kind of football is rediculous and looks stupid and I will not waste my time or money coming to watch this kind of football being played by my home state school. You bunch of bozos are not even trying to win. If you play sissie ball the rest of the season I can gaurantee you that you will not win another game.It's simple now listen up dummies, I am going to tell you how you win football games it is so simple that my 5 and 7 year olds can grasp it. First thing is when you are on defense, you blitz on every down and I mean from everywhere, you have to disguise your blitzes in a way that it catches the opposing offenses off gaurd. When you are on offense you don't put less than 4 wide receivers out there at a time, you play alot of 5 wide receiver sets and you throw the ball down field like crazy the more aggressive you are on defense and offense and every aspect of the game of football the more good things will happen and the more games we will win. If you continue playing the way you are playing you will lose, lose, lose and anger the whole Illini nation more then what you already have, and one day the stadium will be completely empty. Fix the problem knuckleheads!

CecilColeman wrote on September 25, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Sanni and Hull missed most of last year as well.

Persa and NU were aided by Jason Ford's ridiculous fumble late in the game.

Who remembers Gary Moeller?

Dan Bloeme wrote on September 26, 2012 at 11:09 am
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Blame it all on Thomas and Beckman. You know those two guys remind me so much of Laurel & Hardy, they even look similar. What have you two guys done but make Illinois a big joke like the two comedians and clowns you are. Well it's not funny anymore if you're an Illini fan. let's get some real coaches in here that CAN win championships and not make the whole nation laugh at our school.

will134 wrote on September 26, 2012 at 9:09 pm

LOL Zooks lookin pretty good now aint he?