Juice Williams and the Downfall of the Illinois Offense

We'll save the cliched dialogue about Zook's hot seat and just go straight to details. A highly hyped Ilini offense put up 180 yards and 0 points in Columbus on Saturday. Quarterback play was mediocre, the line couldn't create holes, and the wide receivers had a ton of legit dropped balls. Time for analysis.

6-13, 34 yards, 1 INT

That would be Isiah Williams passing numbers at halftime. Let me break those down a little more.

He took every snap from the shotgun and didn't face intense pressure. Nonetheless, Juice threw a drive killing pick into quadruple coverage, while another pass skipped off a Buckeye defender surprised to see a ball thrown unimpeded at his numbers. There was only one attempt to go deep, something the Illini did all last year.

I counted four drops. Fayson dropped a ball on a simple crossing route and also mishandled a great cross-field throw from Juice. Arrelious Benn dropped one on the sideline and Daniel Dufrene couldn't handle a dump down that would have led to big yards. Yes, Law Buck, I know it was raining. But that didn't stop Williams from throwing some catchable passes.

46

That's the number of penalty yards accumulated by Illinois in the first half. Holding, delay of game, illegal formation...Pretty much the whole gamut of possible infractions for an offensive unit.

I know the O Line is young (49 combined starts before the season, 2nd lowest in the Big Ten). I know it was wet and OSU features a great defense. But when does Illinois start playing together as a unit?

4-2, 5-1

The formations that Ohio State played the entire game, spreading their linebackers all over the field. Little respect was given to the read option that destroyed OSU two years ago. After Juice ran for 35 yards in the first half on a couple successful QB draws up the middle, a simple adjustment (crash LB middle, send Thaddeus Gibson outside) helped lead to four sacks and the annihilation of the Illini run game.

Conclusion

Two games have showed us the exact same thing. The gashing run attack featured so prominently in '07 is gone. The zone read option is gone, because teams blitz a linebacker directly where Juice might run, unafraid of his passing prospects. The highly touted wide receivers (I called them the Big Ten's best) are dropping balls and unable to stretch the field vertically, something Fayson and Benn should be able to do. And Juice Williams, who I have ardently supported and whose talent I assumed would trump other issues, has been underthrowing routes and irresponsibly slinging balls into tight coverage.

Playing Penn State may not be the best medicine for Zook's slumping offense, but Michigan State's embattled secondary will be a sight for sore eyes in two weeks. This is a "back to basics" week, because I still believe the Illini have the firepower to score points. Here is a laundry list of things the Illini offense can work on this week -

  • Get Juice out of the pocket. Please. He's not effective as a straight drop passer. He doesn't throw a good sit down route on the sidelines, something the new OC is asking him to do. Last year, when Juice excelled, he moved around and heaved the ball around like a playmaker can and should. 
  • If you insist on throwing the sideline routes, work on catching those balls. It's a different angle and Fayson looked unprepared to make those catches and get YAC.
  • Find a run game. The blocking isn't bad, but the O Line has broken down in the last two 2nd halves.
  • Don't bench Juice. His potential is off the charts, but he's got to be put in position to succeed, something the above changes might do.
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