Tate: Without subs, UI will sink
Under intense pressure, to avoid second-guessing, pitchers throw their best pitch and coaches employ their best players.
That’s the quandary in which Tim Beckman finds himself this week. In the 28-17 comeback win against Youngstown State, safeties Taylor Barton and Zane Petty played all 90 downs, and Beckman, who personally handles the cornerbacks, alternated just one sub, Darius Mosely, with juniors V’Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence.
Now comes Western Kentucky with a blistering, fast-paced attack featuring nine receivers who caught 46 passes for 569 yards against Bowling Green. With the Hilltoppers alternating fresh speedsters in an aerial circus, how must Beckman adjust his substitution scheme?
“Three of our four defensive backs graded out (positively), and we were happy with them,” Beckman said. “But early this week we talked about our need to substitute at various positions. We need an organized pattern. We’ll need more players as the season goes on, and in order for them to get better, they have to play.”
Rival coach Jeff Brohm, well-established as a quarterback guru, will look for opportunities to burn inexperienced Illini reserves when he sees them enter. Beckman won’t sub to the extent that Greg Colby does in the defensive line, but the head coach can’t expect his secondary regulars to chase fresh receivers all day without a break. Look for Caleb Day, if fully recovered, and Mosely to be busy, among others.
The Hilltoppers have the early look of the 2012 Louisiana Tech team that averaged 53 points in consecutive early wins against Houston, Rice, Illinois, Virginia and UNLV before falling 59-57 to Texas A&M.
With the Power-5 conferences separating themselves ruleswise from everyone else, Big Ten games against these members are becoming ultra-important.
And this weekend is critical in establishing conference prestige.
After a 1-2 start that featured Rutgers’ win against Washington State — Cal topped Northwestern, and LSU downed Wisconsn — we now look to Michigan State at Oregon, Michigan at Notre Dame, and Ohio State hosting Virginia Tech.
“We can’t worry about anyone else,” dodges Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “People are going to write what they’re going to write.
“Notre Dame makes a lot of big plays in the kicking game, and (Everett) Golson is a dual threat who throws the ball downfield and can go outside the pocket to extend plays. (Bo) Schembechler used to say that Notre Dame is a measuring stick for where you stand, and it still is,” he said.
Hoke regrets the end of the ND series, saying: “I’ve been around this game for so long ... since I was a kid.”
It was a game of attrition in Houston, where LSU arrived without three starters (disciplinary decisions) and Wisconsin was similarly shorted. Sub QB Tanner McEvoy passed for just 50 yards (8 of 24) filling in for Joel Stave, and Wisconsin’s all-new front seven lost two key defensive linemen, Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring, along the way. Zagzebski was wheeled off with a head-neck injury, and Herring was seen on crutches later due to a knee injury.
“We realized after the second scrimmage that Stave (shoulder) had a problem that was lingering,” coach Gary Andersen said. “I didn’t think it was right to tell everybody a day or two before the game. Part of our problem was the inability of receivers to gain separation against the fast LSU defensive backs. It wasn’t just one issue. We didn’t do well for contested balls.”
With Wisconsin losing Stave for an undetermined period, and Ohio State minus Braxton Miller for the season, two of the Big Ten’s most highly touted teams are disadvantaged. The Badgers should have no trouble with Western Illinois this week at home, and then have a much-needed week to nurse their ailments.
Spartans carry banner
“Oregon is on the cutting edge offensively,” said Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, noting it isn’t simply the spread system but rather the quality athletes and superstar quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The Ducks have gone 12-1, 12-2, 12-1 and 11-2 in consecutive years, the offense mounting 55, 57, 59, 59, 62 and 66 points last season. But for the second consecutive season, Stanford took their measure.
“Stanford was very physical last year, but I don’t know if Stanford gives us a blueprint. You have to be perfect in handling assignments to defend Oregon,” Dantonio said.
“It’s a great challenge in a different environment. But we’ve crossed thresholds in defeating every Big Ten team away from home (during his regime). We are comfortable holding the Big Ten banner, as we did in winning the Rose Bowl (against Stanford 24-20).”
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.