Tate: What's wrong with Illini? How long have you got?

Tate: What's wrong with Illini? How long have you got?

Illini offensive statistics speak loud and clear.

They’re scraping the bottom. Considering the proliferation of scoring in the country — Oregon averages 54.8 points, Louisiana Tech 53.4 — this may be the UI’s most inept performance yet. Just two years ago, when Paul Petrino arrived as coordinator, Illinois averaged nearly 32 points per game. It sank in the second half of 2011 and now has fallen to a meager 16.9, ranking 118th out of 120 teams. They’d be last but for a 44-point blowout of previously unknown Charleston Southern.

There stands Baylor, beaten soundly by the Illini two years ago, operating without Robert Griffin III and still producing 564 yards per game. The Illini are short of 300. And don’t ask why Kevin Sumlin preferred Texas A&M over the UI. You got your answer in Saturday’s upset of Alabama. The Aggies’ entry into the SEC finds them averaging 545 yards per game.

Illinois’ multiple losing streaks are well earned. Check out the stats:

Passing: Rank No. 105 nationally and No. 12 in the Big Ten with 175 yards per game.

Rushing: Rank No. 99 nationally and No. 10 in the Big Ten with 123.5 yards per game.

Sacks allowed: Rank No. 104 nationally and No. 12 in the Big Ten with 34.

Illinois has no individual in the conference’s top 10 in rushing, scoring, pass efficiency or receptions.

When you can’t run effectively and can’t protect for a weak aerial game, where do you turn?
Well, of course, you blame the coaches. Tim Beckman needs to get more involved. Or because he already is, he needs to be less involved. And

since he has dual coordinators, too many fingers spoil the pie.

And why have one coach (Chris Beatty) call first and second downs, and another coach (Billy Gonzales) call third down?

Your Aunt Hattie could do a better job calling plays. Right? Or at least Uncle Gabe.

They’re all in
Maybe offense isn’t Beckman’s specialty. He earned his spurs as an apprentice on the defensive side. But he spent years in meeting rooms with such successful head coaches as Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel and Mike Gundy. He understands how it’s done.

“At Oklahoma State, Gundy had four offensive coordinators at one time,” recalled Beckman.

Gundy’s current Cowboys are averaging 44 points a game. The problem with those of us who pose as critics is that we don’t fully understand how the game plan is assembled and carried out. Illinoisans hail Mike White and John Mackovic as the UI’s best play-callers, as though they operated in a vacuum. Actually, they shared duties with assistants who studied film for tendencies and specific situations.

It’s similar everywhere, with lots of fingers in all the pies. During the week, after analyzing the opponent, coaches devise a plan calling for plays most likely to work on first and 10 or third and short on the left hash, or wherever. Mackovic scripted a prearranged list of plays for the start of every game.

What’s the plan?
Last year at LSU, performing for a team that upset Alabama in November but lost to the Crimson Tide in the BCS title game, Gonzales served as passing-game coordinator. LSU scored 35 or more points on 11 occasions with Gonzales setting receiver routes during the week and recommending the appropriate pass plays on game day. He is essentially doing the same thing at Illinois this season as co-coordinator in charge of third down, which often involves the passing game. Each week he determines through study the type of calls that should work best and presents those ideas to the staff for discussion.

“Each coach breaks down a certain area,” Gonzales said Tuesday. “There are many categories ... as examples, red zone, first and 10, second and long, goal line, whatever. And we come back together as an offensive staff to discuss and finalize the plan.”

Beckman is part of that, saying: “I watch tape, and I give ideas on how to help attack the opponent.”

He noted this week that he “went over short-yardage plays” with coaches who are studying the best ones for the team to practice. These are the plays that failed so miserably Saturday against Minnesota.

Part of the considerations are the opponent. Said Gonzales of Purdue:

“Their four linemen are very strong ... a big, thick load. They rotate six linebackers and four corners, but they don’t touch Nos. 4 and 44 (Taylor Richards and Landon Feichter) at safety. Those two make the checks. They don’t rotate.”

Based on Purdue’s strengths and weaknesses, UI coaches will walk into Memorial Stadium with a fixed set of plans to meet each eventuality. When something changes, it’s their job to adjust to it. Up to this point, almost nothing works to satisfaction because the Illini have been losing too many of the one-on-one battles up front.

Getting personnel
Petrino saw this coming last season. He tried without success to adjust when the blocking failed, and his successors inherited the problem. While they won’t publicly discuss it, they realize they need help, and they’re scouring the junior college ranks.

Under NCAA rules, Beckman can recruit 29 players this year, four of whom will count back to the previous class when they can enroll in January.

At this point, the Illini have 19 commitments, one of whom is a juco receiver (Martize Barr). With good luck, they’ll bring in three or four more juco transfers.

But there’s a catch. Whereas the likes of Kansas State and Arizona State can accept almost anyone, and have attracted 20-plus jucos in the past three recruiting classes, Illinois has academic limitations.

Recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh told Rivals.com last week that, of the top 100 jucos, the UI probably would approve about 15 for enrollment.

So the Illini are fishing in a tiny pool while K-State, in a dramatic run for the national championship, has no such restrictions.

What it boils down to is this: The UI has strict limits on juco transfers, isn’t doing well in the populous Chicago area (only three so far), and has no recruits thus far from Florida, Texas or the Southern states. Of 18 preps, half hail from Ohio and Michigan, where major powers in those states have first dibs.

Until the personnel problem is resolved, it doesn’t matter who calls the plays.

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


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JimOATSfan wrote on November 14, 2012 at 3:11 am

Well that's an eye opener.  Perhaps an in depth post on why the top rated o-lineman in the state are choosing to go play for another state's school would be in order. 

Considering the number of Illini playing in the NFL along the o-line, one would think that a co-ordinated group effort (if allowed by the ncaa) of these players that assist the recruiting coaches might tightly focus an excellent presentation to the 17 and 18 year olds being recruited.

Thanks Tate, you've done it again. Cheers!

SwifferFan wrote on November 14, 2012 at 7:11 am

Call me silly, but it is really hard for me to understand how there can ever be more than one "coordinator."  Usually more than one coordinator creates havoc and reduces productivity.  And, honestly?.....a coordinator for third down calls only?  What does that say about the coordinator who calls first and second down plays? 

Good article, Mr. Tate.

Bwp 5P wrote on November 14, 2012 at 8:11 am

Swiffer.....what it tells me is that just like players, we now have "specialist" coaches. That individual watches and studies the plays the opponent had in games on a specific down, what worked, what didn't, then tries to teach the players. It's become a "specialists" world.

SwifferFan wrote on November 14, 2012 at 11:11 am

Yep.  You're right.  I'm not sure it's working here.  Perhaps at other schools?  I would think it would create a "management" nightmare....who is blamed when the system fails and who gets credit when it succeeds?  And, if the buck stops with the head coach, can too many cooks spoil the broth?  Mr. Tate mentioned "muddy the water."  I'm sort of in that camp.  If I were a coach sharing responsibility for an entire scheme with someone else, I sure would want that other coach to be doggone good, otherwise you both look bad. 

chuckles wrote on November 14, 2012 at 8:11 am

It is amazing that Juco players get bashed. In a conversation with a UI ACES head, they said that JUCO transfers into ACES are more suceessful than a 4 year UI ACES student. They love JUCO applicants!

illini82 wrote on November 14, 2012 at 9:11 am

The AD and the BOT better have a meeting of the minds with admissions about JUCO transfers if they even HOPE to be competetive in football.

Talk about trying to fight a fight with one hand tied behind your back and you're already on the ground as it is. The policy is arrogant and archaic.

But remember this is Illinois. Football just doesn't matter. Hasn't for decades so why would it matter now?

mstook423 wrote on November 14, 2012 at 7:11 pm

I don't completely buy the difficult admissions excuse all the time.  I would like to see a comparative analysis of JUCO and High School admission requirements between schools. I've never seen a story that actually details the admission differences between schools.

Looking up typical student profiles at both Michigan and Northwestern shows that both of those schools have a higher average ACT scores that the Universtiy of Illinois.  Ohio State and Wisconsin are very close.


DaisyJ wrote on November 14, 2012 at 2:11 pm

This is not a lack of talent only. It is coaching and mistakes of who plays and how much one plays. It is the wrong play calling, the wrong D, the wrong coaches, the wrong ideas. We have big enough and strong enough people to get the job done on th line. We however have too many things we try to do and that is what gets us in trouble. When you go a whole game and the qb never hardly ever goes under center then that is a big problem. Put O'tool in, run 6 differnt plays only, work on blocking for 6 plays and you will be more successful. Not that hard. Pretty easy.

hopefulmike wrote on November 14, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I agree with Daisy. What is the point of a 100 play playbook, if none of the plays are executed properly. Start with one play, maybe a short pass requiring minimal blocking. Then add a counter to that play, for example, a quarterback draw.

When those two plays are executed to precision, add a running play. Then add a counter again such as a simple play action pass.

Keep slowly adding plays in pairs until you get to maybe 10-20 plays. Then continue to improve execution on those plays. After that, add no more than two plays per week up to a maximum of 20-30 plays.

An inferior player who is at the precise point at the precise time in a well conceived play will beat the superior players. Mike White proved this when he inherited a terrible team and immediately made it competitive with Michigan and Ohio State, even though his players were not as good. He stopped trying to outmuscle them and, instead, he finessed them.

Don't try to overcome a stronger, faster player. Misdirect and confuse him.

bumpin99 wrote on November 14, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Illinois was stupid by not giving the coaching job to Vic Koenning. I gave up this year once I heard that they wouldnt give him a chance and then he went to UNC.

illinifaningeorgia wrote on November 14, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I think Tate is letting the coaching staff off easily by putting the blame for the team's horrendous record mostly on the players. 

Prior to the start of the season, 2 facts were widely accepted.  One was that Zook did not "leave the cupboard bare", as Turner had,  prior to Zook's arrival.  Secondly, the consensus pre-season prognostications were for the most part predicting a 6-6 season, 3-5 in the B1G.

There have not been any major season-ending injuries to key players that have contributed to the hideous play of the team.  The probable final record of 2-10, 0-8 in B1G play, is due as much as, if not more , to incompetent coaching as it is to inferior playing talent.

pberg wrote on November 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Wrong Tate.  Up and until Illinois quits messing around with people no one knows or heard of and hires someone with a proven track record  and pay them accordingly, this will continue until all of us wasting our typing abilities are dead.  They need to come up with the money and get it going.  How else is this going to happen?

penniless wrote on November 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm

I find it strange after not winning a conference game as yet,Tim Beckman has not started play calling as yet.Does not his JOB depend on winning??

Brownshoe wrote on November 14, 2012 at 7:11 pm


Some years ago, in the 90s, when Brad Childress was at Wisconsin, and was interviewed on WDWS he said that the Badgers could not get JUCOs like he (Mike White) got when at Illinois because Wisconsin's admission standards were tougher. Maybe thing have changed now, but then it was easier to get a JOCO into UI than UW.

This year, right from the getgo, we knew that we had problems with the O line. It is my guess that those problems/deficiencies are worse than expected/imagined. That seems apparent to me.

That says it all.

If your O line can't block, you won't have any kind of an offense, and your backs, and especially your QB, will look like they have no talent. (Which may or may not be true, but it will appear to be true in any case.)

Tate often suggests trying to win by being imaginative. I don't think that will work very well, but with no O line, nothing else will either, so they might as well give it a try. Can't hurt, might help.

I am not particularly impressed with TB, but I don't blame him for our rotten offense; for I do not consider it to be his fault that we have no O line. But IMO recruiting O linemen better be his top ten (make it fifty,) priorities if he wants to keep his job. You can't have a winning season with an O line that sucks.

As for those of you who think the problem could be solved by paying big bucks to a “winning” coach, you are living in a dream world. No such coach would come here no matter what you paid, and if you think I'm wrong, just start actually naming the names of these winning coaches whom you think we could attract with haystacks of cash.

If we made a mistake, and I suspect we did, but it is too early to say, it was in not hiring an enthusiastic young assistant a la Fitzgerald at Northwestern or Wilson at Indiana.

1 illinifan wrote on November 14, 2012 at 7:11 pm

This is a crap article, I mean really. Blaming the players, did not think I would be reading this. True, we are not the most talented team, but still there is talent and with the right coaches would have been at least a good year, not fantastic, but good. Not the humiliating, embarrassing crap year we have now. Read this article the other day and could not agree more. I also commented on it as well.




I think it is spot on.