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Illinois Offense, If you can’t beat ‘em, Hire ‘em

Goodbye, Tony Petersen. Hello, Barry Lunney, Jr.

NCAA Football: First Responder Bowl-UL Lafayette vs Texas-San Antonio
What’s a guy got to do to get a P5 gig around here?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It was pretty refreshing for Illinois week to be the third B1G West team to appear here at OTE for the second time in three years. Ok, so that isn’t setting our sights too high, but we are talking about Illinois football here. Last year, the Illinois defense made a dramatic turnaround, but the offense??? Well, not so much.

When Bret Bielema was putting his staff together for his first season, he made numerous impressive hires. He pulled his DC from a middling SEC team (Missouri) and got multiple defensive assistants with previous coordinating experience. Kevin Kane was hired away from a coordinator spot at SMU to be inside LB coach and Andy Buh took the outside LB spot after coordinating previously at an ACC school (Maryland) and Big East school (Rutgers)

That being said, the offensive coordinator hire was a real head scratcher. Tony Petersen was a coaching nomad with a middling resume and came from Appalachian State most recently. The hired might’ve made sense if Illinois had Michigan on the schedule, but alas, that was not the case.

Despite returning one of the most experienced OLs in the country and a 5th year QB, the Illinois Fighting Illini offense struggled and fell to 97th in F+. With baffling decision making and inability to move the football, Tony Petersen almost from day 1 was facing down the pitchforks and torches. I’ll admit that I was proudly leading the charge of internet warriors screaming the FIRE TONY PETERSEN!! battle cry.

According to internet scuttlebutt, Petersen, in addition to being incompetent, was also a prick to work with. So, shortly after the season, Bert pulled the trigger and quelled the rebellious fanbase by cutting Tony loose.

Enter Barry Lunney Jr. on the scene Lunney led the UTSA offense to a very successful season including a win over Illinois. The Roadrunners put up 37 points against Illinois, which is more than any B1G offense managed.

I’m a pretty big fan of the hire. However, I still have low expectations for the Illinois offense in 2022. We are still looking at a competition at QB between Art “the Dart” Sitkowski and Tommy DeVito, who lost his starting spot at Syracuse.

Wait, wrong Tommy DeVito.

At least he will be throwing to guys in pretty much the same uniforms. They will be operating behind an OL that is very thin, both in numbers and experience. There were only 12 linemen on the spring roster and the team returns 73 total starts, but 52 of them are sixth year senior Alex Palczewski, which are the most returning starts of any player in the nation.

Illinois has very little returning production at WR and lost our #1 tight end, Daniel Barker, who transferred to MSU. That transfer is somewhat ironic as Barker caught the decisive TD pass in the 2019 comeback win in East Lansing that saved Lovie’s job for one more year.

You know, that game was so much stupid/fun. Let’s see some more highlights. I know waw won’t want to miss this.

Actually, saying there isn’t much returning production at wideout implies that we had production there last year, but the passing offense was pretty much nonexistent. Illinois ranked 121st in both passing yds/game and passing yds/attempt.

RB is the one position on offense where Illinois is stacked. The top four runners from last year’s team return, including 1,000 yard rusher, Chase Brown and Josh McCray, who had over 500 yards as a true freshman.

Illinois got a major upgrade at OC, lost four starters on the OL, and our most productive QB. Add it all up and I think Illinois will continue to wallow around as a bottom tier P5 offense for another year or two until Lunney can put together an experienced OL and upgrade talent at QB and WR positions. This is a very comfortable place for an Illinois fan, writing off the current season as inevitable failure and grasping for hope that it will be better down the road. So, you guys better watch out for the Illini in 2024!!