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Is Lovie Smith holding back Illinois’ offense?

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And is Quad City pizza actually pizza? Asking the tough questions on the Day 2 Potluck of Illinois Week.

Illinois v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Good afternoon. Are you enjoying Illinois Week? Me neither. But then again a storm blew half my tent over this morning and Pierre is an incredibly weird place (it’s like New Ulm became the capital of Minnesota and also super western while claiming to be in the Midwest), so I’m done trying to understand what is happening and why I have made these life decisions.

Let’s talk about Illinois offense and wasted talent today. Without bringing up Rashard Mendenhall, Juice Williams, and the 2009 Illini and sending Thump spiraling into a state of despa—oh shit look what I did

Anyways, we’ve got a three part potluck for you. Let’s hit the questions!

(1) In honor of the Illinois commitment to "Our State, Our Team" and ruining things with great potential, we present the Quad City pizza:

What the hell is happening here.
WIKIPEDIA

Shamelessly pulled from Wikipedia:

Quad City-style pizza dough contains a "spice jam", which is heavy on malt,[2] which lends a toasted, nutty flavor.[1] The pizzas are hand-tossed to be stretched into an even quarter-inch thin crust with a slight lip ringing the edge. The sauce contains both red chili flakes and ground cayenne, and the smooth, thin tomato spread is more spicy than sweet. The sausage is typically a thick blanket of lean, fennel-flecked Italian sausage[3] sometimes ground twice and spread from edge to edge.[4][5] The pizzas are cooked using a special gas oven with an average cooking time of about 12 minutes. The pizza is cut into strips,[1] as opposed to being cut in slices. An average 16-inch pizza has about 14 strips, and a 10-inch pizza has about 10 strips.[3]

Tell us why this is terrible.

(2) Illinois stands poised to run a pretty exciting offense in 2017, with the mobile Chayce Crouch and the explosive Kendrick Foster (5.7 YPC, 7 TDs) forming a speedy if slight backfield. Do you think Illinois takes a step forward on offense in 2017 with development led by OC Garrick McGee, or does Lovie's pro-style inclination hamper their progress?

(3) What's one thing your team's coach/AD does that you believe is holding your program back?

Graham Filler:

1) That’s dignified flat-bread. That’s not pizza. But hey, if you’re ever in Mid-Michigan, go to Main Street Pizza. Best pizza in the world. Brilliantly fresh ingredients, stacked high and baked into the tasty no-frills cheese, with that medium size crust and base that Michigan-area pizza is known for. I get the Hawaiian but there aren’t any wrong answers here. http://eatmainstreetpizza.com/

2) Illinois puts the “I” in injuries. Just really wanted to write that. The offense always gains yards and scores no points. That’s the life of a mediocre squad beset with injury issues.

3) Let me answer for the Spartans here. Mark Dantonio is too loyal to less-than-spectacular assistant coaches. Coaching staff cohesion is good when the coaches are good.

Jesse Collins: I am usually of the mindset that there are no bad pizzas. When I was in high school, I was shopping the wonderful aisles of No Frills Supermarket when I saw a ShurFine brand pizza on sale for literally $0.19. I was with a couple of friends of mine and we thought, “There will never be an opportunity to have pizza for cheaper than this exact moment.” After rushing home, putting it in the oven, and seeing the pizza turn a strange shade of orange-brown, there was a little hesitation. I hate to admit that there was a bad pizza. This Quad City-style pizza reminds me of that moment. Also, this is what happens when you let Iowa and Illinois make a pizza baby.

As for the offense, I intend to hit on a later potluck, but Illinois might not have been the worse offense from a pure stats point-of-view, but for the life of them they couldn’t score, which is sort of the point of football. To take a step forward, it seems to me that they need to be much more consistent getting the ball in the end zone if they want to be taken seriously. Perhaps the pro-style, ball control offense is going to be good in the long run, but either mistakes, idiotic playcalling at the worst point in time, or just the lack of playmakers doomed them to be 122/128 teams in points per game.

That said, I guess it’s like the original pizza question. In theory, all styles of offense can succeed, and the yards per play stat showed some signs of good things to come. I don’t know, let’s split the difference and assume they’ll be better than Rutgers again.

Lastly, the one thing holding Nebraska back is that we apparently aren’t paying enough to our coaches despite that literally being the dumbest thing a local paper has ever said. So hey, you know, one of the largest budgets on the planet AND IT’S THE PAY THAT IS THE PROBLEM. Football is amazing and dumb, no?

Stew:

  1. Yuck, you own this, Illinois. Don’t put that evil on me. Still, it’s better than St. Louis style pizza.
  2. Seeing as the B1G West is a bastion of potent offenses, I just don’t see Illinois being able to crack the top half of the division. But seriously. Being a Bears fan for a long time, it seems to me that Lovie Smith doesn’t actually have a preferred offensive style. He’s all defense, and a bit more hands off with the offense. So I would be he lets his OC shape the offense he wants. It also seems that Illinois has just been hamstrung so much with injuries at key spots on their offense. Whether it’s going to their 4th QB in Jeff George Jr. or Mikey Dudek tearing another knee ligament, they just can’t get their best players on the field consistently. That all said, they’re not going to get very far with a shit OL.
  3. One? Man, I don’t know. I’m not sure I can find one with either the long-time, stubborn, football coach, or the AD. Man I just can’t think of a single thing about a coach that loves to call a stretch play to the boundary on 3rd and medium. Or an AD that was just found to have discriminated against a former administrator, and is about to start another trial and is still under investigation for Title IX infractions. Nope, I got nothing.

GF3:

  1. I’d eat it. But I was raised on chow hall food so my left and right limits for what qualifies as edible pizza are fairly skewed.
  2. There’s a lot to digest here. Basing my thoughts on Illinois’ offense purely from my SMCD exploits last year, they always seemed to be just shy of putting it all together. They’d put up impressive stats in one category and drop a turd in the others. The biggest challenge will be consistency across the offense. They’ve always had talent, they just couldn’t make it add up. Knowing nothing of their offensive line, I have no idea whether this “slight but potent backfield” has a prayer of reaching scrimmage on any given play. The B1G West fancies itself some land of defensive stalwarts, so I’m sure we’ll see soon enough when the Illini find themselves in a pitched 9-7 battle against the Gophers. Maybe then we’ll see an offensive flurry. Or not. I didn’t follow Lovie with the Bears and I only grudgingly reported on Illinois last year...
  3. Other than keeping Tim Beck and Ed W. around as the two-headed beast of offensive ineptitude? My only real criticism of Urban is that he seems to fall in love with the ugly baby. Even when things aren’t working, he rides the decision into the ground. Attendant to that is the hands-off approach to play-calling that resulted in Hyde, Elliott, and Samuel all being ignored in critical moments.

MNW: I don’t even know what the hell is going on with that pizza. What is it with the stretch of America from St. Louis through Butternut Country that thinks it needs to “improve upon” or “modify” pizza? PIZZA’S ALREADY REALLY FUCKING GOOD. STOP IT.

As a side note, I really hate when I can still see the individual shreds of cheese and the texture is all bumpy. Like, am way, way less inclined to eat the pizza. Is that weird?

To my question, I’ll be honest. As I wrote these up, I thought to myself “Why don’t I remember Juice Williams starting against Northwestern in 2009?” And then I realized it was because Jacob Charest started after Williams was hurt and had been benched at one point in favor of Eddie McGee DEAR GOD ILLINOIS TAKE THE GUN OFF YOUR FOOT THIS CAN’T BE FUN but seriously I’m not quite sure why Illinois—with a semi-competent offensive line although one that did not produce great YPC in standard run downs (2.63), to answer GF3’s query!—can’t actually accept that Wes Lunt is not Kyle Orton or Sexy Rexy and just play to their strengths. If McGee is given free rein with the offense this year, I think Illinois is top half in the country and wins a couple games it shouldn’t (probably HAT because I’ve talked a lot of shit this year).

This is the same fault I have with Pat Fitzgerald, though: A maddening inflexibility in the face of THIS ISN’T WORKING, STOP DOING IT. But as a noted Accepter of Mediocrity, I will grit me teeth, bitch about things like “Mick McCall” and “Hank Hankwitz” (depending on which side of the ball is worse that given year for Northwestern) and feign surprise when nothing changes at the end of the year. And then when Mike Trumpy fumbles the ball on the 3rd-and-9 speed option, I wil—

/commits seppuku

Thumpasaurus: Wait. “Spice jam.” Quad Cities. Is this. Um. What.

Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now.

I’m not going to acknowledge that pizza is a thing.

To answer the second question, Lovie’s always been all about defense and if he’s going to micromanage any component of the team, it will be that side of the ball. I see McGee having a high degree of freedom in terms of shaping the offense and recruiting to his desired scheme. Wes Lunt was emphatically NOT the type of quarterback McGee wanted to use, but was the most experienced and the most accurate so they simply made do. Had Chayce Crouch not ruined his throwing shoulder early against Rutgers, the 2016 offense might have eventually resembled 2017’s. But alas, we were forced to ride out the remainder of the year with Jeff George until Lunt was healthy, then desperately attempt to roll Lunt out.

Quarterback isn’t the only situation that will be more to McGee’s liking. The receiver depth chart was decimated last year with Mikey Dudek, Desmond Cain, Justin Hardee and Malik Turner all missing significant time. Dudek will hopefully return to form this year, while Hardee graduated and Cain transferred. Turner showed the ability to get separation from Big Ten corners and made some spectacular plays last year, but was not dominant enough to thrive as the only option in the passing game. With a healthy Turner and Dudek, a returning Sam Mays and Dominic Thieman and talented newcomers Ricky Smalling and Carmoni Green, don’t be surprised if the Illini have more success throwing the ball despite a much less effective arm.

As for the third question...well, that remains to be seen. I’ve been very happy with Josh Whitman so far. He seems to know how to run the department; there were no leaks on either of his major hires, and he seems to say all the right things. Crucially, he is able to connect with Illini fans of all generations, particularly big money donors. Time will tell how his hires work out, but they’ve certainly created positive buzz.

Townie: First, WTF is up with you mid-westerners and ruining pizza? For crying out loud, stop. Just stop. You are doing it wrong.

Second, I do see Illinois having the speed and potential to score points against mediocre defenses. The problem is doing it against good defenses. They got blanked by Iowa, barely managed a field goal against Wisconsin, and just a paltry 10 points against Western Michigan.

Last year, Illinois ranked second to last in scoring, trailed only by...rutger. Illinios scored just 28 touchdowns and 12 field goals last year. To put that in perspective, the top three teams - Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State all scored 66 touchdowns over the first 12 games.

Total offense was just as bad. Illinois once again sat second to last, ahead of...you guessed it...rutger. Illinois could only must 1,686 yards, just slightly more than half of what Michigan racked up. Half.

The biggest problem for Illinois was possessing the ball. THey were dead last in plays run at 711. The next lowest was Iowa at 812...fully 100 more plays for the year. That’s terrible.

As a funny side note, Illinois had nearly 400 more total yards than rutger, while running 110 fewer plays.

Here’s a quick table of just how bad Illinois was on Offense

Illinois Offensive Statistics

Statistic Number Rank
Statistic Number Rank
Avg. Points Per Game 19.7 13th
Touchdowns 28 13th
Field Goals 12 Tied - 8th
Rushing Yards 1,686 13th
Passing Yards 2,095 12th
Total Yards 3,781 13th
Illinois is Bad on Offense

As you can see, with few exceptions, Illinois sits at the bottom of the barrel on offense in the B1G. Purdue was better than Illinois in every offensive category I looked at. This is a team that is desperate for anything on offense.

There isn’t much left here for Lovie to fuck up...Pro-style or otherwise.

To sum this data-heavy rant up, Illinois’ new OC needs to speed up the tempo and possess the ball more.

Finally, the worst thing that Coach Hype could do would be to go back to calling plays. If he stays out of the way, like a good CEO, and let’s Joe Moorhead run the offense, we’re going to be pretty good this year.

We need Moorhead...period. But then, doesn’t everybody?

LPW: What the flying spaghetti monster is that abomination you call Pizza?!? Good god I want to vomit ... again. I vomited when MNW brought up bad memories of Mike Trumpy fumbling again far behind the line of scrimmage.

As for Illinois’s offense: I’ll second what Stew says: Lovie Smith is a defensive guy and will most likely defer to whatever plays Garrick McGee draws up. I’ve seen McGee’s work first-hand due to his tenure as Northwestern’s OC between 2004 and 2007, and given the right personnel it can work. I always say this, but a successful offense depends on a good line. If they don’t have a good line, well, good luck. Crouch won’t get the ball to Foster or Mikey Dudek (if healthy) if he’s running for dear life all the time.

As for 3). Well. <cracks knuckles> Pat Fitzgerald needs to get a little less stubborn when things aren’t working. He’d periodically in the past try to run power when we didn’t have the personnel for it, and we’d get stuffed. Not changing coaches in the slide from 9 wins in 2008 to 6 wins in 2011 causes certain Wildcat fans to throw sharp objects in the general direction of their butlers (seriously, Vaudvillain’s Butler must get hazard pay), but then faith is rewarded with a ten win season, ....followed by two inexplicable five win seasons, which leads to more calls to fire coaches, then another ten win season.


Be sure to vote in the polls and let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Poll

Will Illinois' offense improve in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Yes, top half of the B1G
    (9 votes)
  • 50%
    Yes, but there’s really nowhere to go but up
    (66 votes)
  • 26%
    Actually, turns out they’ll be just as bad
    (35 votes)
  • 16%
    Congrats, rutger! You’re NOT the worst!
    (21 votes)
131 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is that a pizza?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Yes
    (34 votes)
  • 73%
    No
    (94 votes)
128 votes total Vote Now