Looking ahead to 2020

#52
For the most part, I have been a voice that has been very pro-Lovie and staff and we qualified for a bowl game, with an extraordinary season. We had a phenomenal special teams. We established a strong identity on defense. And we saw vast improvement as a team.

The offense took a step back, which is as expected given the status of our qb room, but the offense did a good enough job protecting the ball. This allowed our turnover margin and special teams to help us win just enough. It would be silly to think that this offense won’t improve (there isn’t much way to go down). And it will be important for the offense to sustain drives next season. The defense can’t stay on the field that much if we want to win games. But with 4 linemen returning from one of the better offensive lines in the big ten, a returning qb that improved over the season and will get time to work With receivers, all top receivers returning, and more talent at receiver than we have had in a long time, I would expect vast improvement. Now, for the sake of completeness, we lost important running backs and I don’t think that should go unmentioned. We will step back at depth and quality of running backs, but we still have Epstein and Chase Brown, and with the added strength and quality of our line, I believe will be good enough to not step back too far.

On defense, we established an identity, we are a turnover defense, that scores touchdowns. We had an extraordinary year. We placed first in fbs with defensive touchdowns. 2nd in fumbles, and were close to top in the nation in all other turnover categories (except int). It would be silly to think there would be one regression toward the mean. That’s how this thing works. You are top in the nation one year, and you regress toward the mean. But our defensive identity is this category, I think we may not lead the nation, but we should expect to be in the top 10-15. If we aren’t, I don’tthink we qualify for a bowl.

Outside of our turnovers, our defense was fairly mediocre/bad. We were 77th in total defense (and there are 65ish power 5 teams). But there were some great improvements. When healthy, we looked very good. We held Wisconsin to 150ish rushing yards. Michigan gave up 359, the great Michigan state defense gave up 222. And we gave up 149, in a game where they were leading the entire game. We held Purdue to 268 total yards And we played Iowa down to the wire. When healthy, we could play with anyone defensively and that couldn’t be said in any of the past many seasons. Couple that with the fact that the offense often failed to get first downs, we can temper the mediocre defensive rankings. Overall, if we could keep this level of defensive play and improve our offense back to 2018 levels, I would expect a huge increase in the quality of our team.

However, We lose some key pieces. To start, we lose our defensive line, our all big ten linebacker, and our safety, Stanley green, who when he was out we lost to eastern Michigan and Nebraska, two games we should not have lost. At linebacker, we have considerable depth. Plus we add Derrick smith, and lavar Gardner, I could really see Gardner step into dele’s role if he could learn the defense fast enough. We also have a host of talented linebackers, including two freshmen phenoms, Barnes and Cooper, who will both he able to contribute next year along with tolson, who made some key plays this year.

At defensive tackle, there are a lot more question marks. Losing Milan, oliver, Jackson, and Oladipo are huge. We need Avery to get conditioning, and deon pate to make a leap. We need impala to become serviceable, and then we brought in shipton. But, this group needs to improve and I don’t see it without another major transfer pickup. Our defensive ends should have enough experience to improve, assuming we don’t lose Betiku to the draft. I’ve seen him projected as a middle round pick, and I think he would benefit from another year of college ball. But gay and carney can improve and Coleman and Randolph could become serviceable. Which would keep us close to where we are now.
We return all cbs and we add a year of weight onto Witherspoon and beason. At safety, we are not so sure. We struggled at safety and it is not clear who can fill the shoes of Stanley green. We need to find at least one, if not two new safeties that can play significant minutes, but if we do, this defense can be solid.

With one of the best special teams in the country and everyone returning, I expect this unit to improve.

Which begs the question, will we be better next year? It’s hard for me to say no. Obviously, we need help on the offensive line, and we need depth. We need to fill a hole at safety and defensive tackle. If we can fill those holes, the defense should
Improve. The offense should take another major step up, and special teams should remain similarly consistent. I would expect the wins to improve. But the wins are less important to me. The team was visibly better and we need to see more improvement. The depth has improved, but not nearly enough to sustain any type of significant injuries. But this is football, just as easily as we won 6, we could have won 3 or 9 games last season. And even if we should win 8 games, we could easily win 4 or 11. And to some extent that is luck. I mean, do we return 3 defensive touchdowns or 6? Could be the difference in 3 wins.

I expect us to be better, I expect our defensive efficiency to improve, our turnover stats to regress (but still remain the key to our identity). And most importantly, I expect the offense will step back into top 70-80 and if that happens I expect us to win 8+ games.
 
#53
I’ve been tossing around the idea of posting a full scale post-review from my notes. Full evals, full grades based on my grading system and a few random musings, thoughts/concerns. I may or not do it but in general I’m less concerned by a few things people seem nervous about and more concerned about a few things people don’t seem to be talking about.
 
#54
I agree with this. The only way the offense does not improve is we have a bunch of injuries again. We return all the WR's and two frosh that will play and help. The current frosh are another year older. They are looking at another transfer to hedge their bets. BP's will have a season and a Spring in this system and Rod Smith will have had that time with him as well. Both were learning as the season went on. RB's will be fine. I feel that Dre is the bigger loss. Epstein is the big wildcard here as he has beat all of them out, in the past. Just cannot stay healthy. Love is a guy Wisky wanted. OL will have four returning starters and hopefully, a fifth guy steps up. Which gets us to TE. Luke Ford immediately makes that better as he can block like an OL and catch passes. Barker, has improved his blocking, but isn't there yet. But, he is another year older as well. TE looks to be a huge strength. If Barker can block next season, you can line the two of them up and pass or run out of it at times. Everything points to the offense could not only improve, but, in a big way.

Defense has the questions you mentioned. They need at least one safety and better yet, two. Green is the biggest loss on defense. He solidified the secondary. Avery, needs to step up. Gay will be another year older as a senior and was playing better. Carney needs to have a senior year. Coleman and company will play and we need something from one of them. Need a DL transfer or two. LB'er is the strength of the defense and I expect some battles there this Spring and training camp. Don't sleep on Barnes. CB, as long as Adams can stay there, is solid with Adams, Hobbs, Beason, and Witherspoon. Defense has questions that can be addressed with some additions from the portal.
 
#55
I’ve been tossing around the idea of posting a full scale post-review from my notes. Full evals, full grades based on my grading system and a few random musings, thoughts/concerns. I may or not do it but in general I’m less concerned by a few things people seem nervous about and more concerned about a few things people don’t seem to be talking about.
I know there is a handful of us that will read anything. Throw it out there. If someone doesn't want to read it, they can scroll past.
 
#56
I'll use the Wisconsin & Oregon examples, two schools playing today that were once consistently bad & mediocre. They have built programs that are now consistently good. It takes time. I lived in Oregon in the 1990s and heard many jaded Ducks fans scoff that they'll never be consistently good! I had family in Wisconsin that heard the same rhetoric from Badger fans in the late 1980s & early 1990s.
Illini fans IT CAN HAPPEN to us also. It takes time. Good luck to coach Smith on the recruiting trail. I see seven wins next year, hopefully some more athletic & skilled recruits see what is being built in Champaign-Urbana & want to be a critical part of the rebuilding of this great program. It would be nice some of the top rated Illinois kids stayed home a problem both Wisconsin & Oregon had just a little over two decades ago keeping top rated Wisconsinites & Oregonians home.
Looks like Minnesota is heading in the right direction also. My better half is a gopher. That would be great for Illinois & the Big Ten when Illinois can once again be a consistent tough competitor in the league & nationally! Obviously a good thing for Illini nation and great for Big Ten football as a whole.
I'm not sure I can wait 30 years.... ;)
It didn't take the Ducks or Badgers 30 years to build what they have now. A team like USC & Ohio State with spoiled fan bases expect things to turn around in two years or less but both schools have an easy time recruiting. Back in the early 1990s Oregon & Wisconsin didn't have that advantage. It took both schools about five to seven years, now 20 plus years later they both recruit nationally. In the Wisconsin case, they pick off highly rated Illinois kids. I think you missed the point!
 
#57
I want to believe we will get to 7 or 8 wins next year, and it certainly seems possible. But remember we will also have Rutgers likely improving quickly under Schiano, and I would imagine Northwestern, Purdue, and Nebraska should see bounce back seasons under their respective solid coaches. Minnesota probably isn't going to plummet back down to earth, and I wouldn't count on Indiana being a doormat. So while we may have a better team, I don't see that automatically adding onto 6 wins. I am probably going to force myself into a mindset of trying to get 6 wins again, which really sucks because 2020 is probably our best chance to take a step forward.
 
#59
I want to believe we will get to 7 or 8 wins next year, and it certainly seems possible. But remember we will also have Rutgers likely improving quickly under Schiano, and I would imagine Northwestern, Purdue, and Nebraska should see bounce back seasons under their respective solid coaches. Minnesota probably isn't going to plummet back down to earth, and I wouldn't count on Indiana being a doormat. So while we may have a better team, I don't see that automatically adding onto 6 wins. I am probably going to force myself into a mindset of trying to get 6 wins again, which really sucks because 2020 is probably our best chance to take a step forward.
There are a few important things to say here

1. Schedule is important. This year, we have a chance to win a lot, but we have 3 gimme wins for out of conference. As long as we are competitive, our seniors will be able to pull us out of some close gamesZ

2. although every team is working toward competence, the recruiting pool is constant. Northwestern and Michigan state are going to be competing with Indiana, Illinois, etc. for recruits from the Midwest. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, will be sharing their pool as well. The other teams will improve, but likely at the expense of other big teams. I would argue it will bring teams toward parity. Lovie has an advantage in having coached Tampa, so we have access to a pool of recruits where other big teams don’t have similar access. But, we aren’t winning a lot of battles, so we also have a disadvantage.

3. it’s not bad to hope for 6 wins. Historically, we haven’t done that back to back Very often. That would show significant improvement. Especially if we could do it three years in a row

4. All teams will deal with ups and downs of recruits graduating, etc. college football works in cycles. MSU qualified for the playoffs not many years ago, and they have struggled since. Partially because they graduated a lot of strength. Partly because they have lost recruiting battles for a lot of key players (Bobby roundtree included) to other Midwest schools.

5. Winning football games is hard, and requires a considerable amount of luck for middle of the pack teams. Even for us to win 6 will require some luck. Generally, it seems, that more experienced teams get more luck. Let’s see if that pans out next year.
 
#60
I’ve been tossing around the idea of posting a full scale post-review from my notes. Full evals, full grades based on my grading system and a few random musings, thoughts/concerns. I may or not do it but in general I’m less concerned by a few things people seem nervous about and more concerned about a few things people don’t seem to be talking about.
Thank you. If you decide to do that, could we get your views on our defensive secondary?
 
#61
Just North of the Southern border!
I want to believe we will get to 7 or 8 wins next year, and it certainly seems possible. But remember we will also have Rutgers likely improving quickly under Schiano, and I would imagine Northwestern, Purdue, and Nebraska should see bounce back seasons under their respective solid coaches. Minnesota probably isn't going to plummet back down to earth, and I wouldn't count on Indiana being a doormat. So while we may have a better team, I don't see that automatically adding onto 6 wins. I am probably going to force myself into a mindset of trying to get 6 wins again, which really sucks because 2020 is probably our best chance to take a step forward.
Both Nebraska and NW have pulled in a very good 2020 class and NW gets all their injured kids back.

I think, next year we either go 3-9 or 9-3.
 
Likes: illinifan4249
#64
.4 percent is still in it kids
Virginia
For the most part, I have been a voice that has been very pro-Lovie and staff and we qualified for a bowl game, with an extraordinary season. We had a phenomenal special teams. We established a strong identity on defense. And we saw vast improvement as a team.

The offense took a step back, which is as expected given the status of our qb room, but the offense did a good enough job protecting the ball. This allowed our turnover margin and special teams to help us win just enough. It would be silly to think that this offense won’t improve (there isn’t much way to go down). And it will be important for the offense to sustain drives next season. The defense can’t stay on the field that much if we want to win games. But with 4 linemen returning from one of the better offensive lines in the big ten, a returning qb that improved over the season and will get time to work With receivers, all top receivers returning, and more talent at receiver than we have had in a long time, I would expect vast improvement. Now, for the sake of completeness, we lost important running backs and I don’t think that should go unmentioned. We will step back at depth and quality of running backs, but we still have Epstein and Chase Brown, and with the added strength and quality of our line, I believe will be good enough to not step back too far.

On defense, we established an identity, we are a turnover defense, that scores touchdowns. We had an extraordinary year. We placed first in fbs with defensive touchdowns. 2nd in fumbles, and were close to top in the nation in all other turnover categories (except int). It would be silly to think there would be one regression toward the mean. That’s how this thing works. You are top in the nation one year, and you regress toward the mean. But our defensive identity is this category, I think we may not lead the nation, but we should expect to be in the top 10-15. If we aren’t, I don’tthink we qualify for a bowl.

Outside of our turnovers, our defense was fairly mediocre/bad. We were 77th in total defense (and there are 65ish power 5 teams). But there were some great improvements. When healthy, we looked very good. We held Wisconsin to 150ish rushing yards. Michigan gave up 359, the great Michigan state defense gave up 222. And we gave up 149, in a game where they were leading the entire game. We held Purdue to 268 total yards And we played Iowa down to the wire. When healthy, we could play with anyone defensively and that couldn’t be said in any of the past many seasons. Couple that with the fact that the offense often failed to get first downs, we can temper the mediocre defensive rankings. Overall, if we could keep this level of defensive play and improve our offense back to 2018 levels, I would expect a huge increase in the quality of our team.

However, We lose some key pieces. To start, we lose our defensive line, our all big ten linebacker, and our safety, Stanley green, who when he was out we lost to eastern Michigan and Nebraska, two games we should not have lost. At linebacker, we have considerable depth. Plus we add Derrick smith, and lavar Gardner, I could really see Gardner step into dele’s role if he could learn the defense fast enough. We also have a host of talented linebackers, including two freshmen phenoms, Barnes and Cooper, who will both he able to contribute next year along with tolson, who made some key plays this year.

At defensive tackle, there are a lot more question marks. Losing Milan, oliver, Jackson, and Oladipo are huge. We need Avery to get conditioning, and deon pate to make a leap. We need impala to become serviceable, and then we brought in shipton. But, this group needs to improve and I don’t see it without another major transfer pickup. Our defensive ends should have enough experience to improve, assuming we don’t lose Betiku to the draft. I’ve seen him projected as a middle round pick, and I think he would benefit from another year of college ball. But gay and carney can improve and Coleman and Randolph could become serviceable. Which would keep us close to where we are now.
We return all cbs and we add a year of weight onto Witherspoon and beason. At safety, we are not so sure. We struggled at safety and it is not clear who can fill the shoes of Stanley green. We need to find at least one, if not two new safeties that can play significant minutes, but if we do, this defense can be solid.

With one of the best special teams in the country and everyone returning, I expect this unit to improve.

Which begs the question, will we be better next year? It’s hard for me to say no. Obviously, we need help on the offensive line, and we need depth. We need to fill a hole at safety and defensive tackle. If we can fill those holes, the defense should
Improve. The offense should take another major step up, and special teams should remain similarly consistent. I would expect the wins to improve. But the wins are less important to me. The team was visibly better and we need to see more improvement. The depth has improved, but not nearly enough to sustain any type of significant injuries. But this is football, just as easily as we won 6, we could have won 3 or 9 games last season. And even if we should win 8 games, we could easily win 4 or 11. And to some extent that is luck. I mean, do we return 3 defensive touchdowns or 6? Could be the difference in 3 wins.

I expect us to be better, I expect our defensive efficiency to improve, our turnover stats to regress (but still remain the key to our identity). And most importantly, I expect the offense will step back into top 70-80 and if that happens I expect us to win 8+ games.
So, for those who are close to these things, why can JW not force a DCoach decision? Does Lovie have in his contract - "Allowed to hire all my guys" or UofI is in breach of contract? "My way or fire me"?

Seems this D is not going to get much better without discipline and a college level approach vs reliance on pro caliber players to make plays. Turnovers are great, but we've looked so lost so many times. Call me crazy, but I'd rather forego counting on TOs and focus on fundamentals, discipline, schemes and good old fashion coaching. In losing Hansen, we lost our TO machine and thus they key to our D.
 
Likes: Arizona Bob
#65
So, for those who are close to these things, why can JW not force a DCoach decision? Does Lovie have in his contract - "Allowed to hire all my guys" or UofI is in breach of contract? "My way or fire me"?

Seems this D is not going to get much better without discipline and a college level approach vs reliance on pro caliber players to make plays. Turnovers are great, but we've looked so lost so many times. Call me crazy, but I'd rather forego counting on TOs and focus on fundamentals, discipline, schemes and good old fashion coaching. In losing Hansen, we lost our TO machine and thus they key to our D.
It might seem like that but the D was miles better than last year, at least in the stat that matters to me.

2018: 39.42 pts per game allowed
2019: 26.15 pts per game allowed

That's almost 2 fewer TDs per game.
 
#67
Year old article that attempts to find a correlation between returning production and success. Essentially what the author found is Quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs had the highest correlation while the trenches and running backs had the lowest correlation.

Its also interesting to look back and see from a statistical perspective how much we returned heading into 2019 and comparing that to the end result.
This article is great, and you can see a bunch of teams that made big jumps, Kent St, Illinois, LSU, Memphis, Minnesota, Indiana, App St. Also teams that struggled, Texas, Ole Miss, Purdue, etc.

I think we will rank top 35 again in returning production, around 75% offense and 60% defense (estimates), which by his stats will mean a big offensive jump while the defense stays about the same or a bit worse
 
Likes: thunderwear
#68
It might seem like that but the D was miles better than last year, at least in the stat that matters to me.

2018: 39.42 pts per game allowed
2019: 26.15 pts per game allowed

That's almost 2 fewer TDs per game.
Much of the improvement was due to a near-perfect punting game. It will be impossible to improve on this next year and it might be a little worse (regression to the mean).
 
Likes: illinifan4249
#69
Much of the improvement was due to a near-perfect punting game. It will be impossible to improve on this next year and it might be a little worse (regression to the mean).
Much of a 14 pt per game drop in points allowed was due to punting? Remind me how poor our punting was in 2018.

By no means am I trying to downplay Hayes' season, or importance to this team, but to say he's the main reason we gave up 2 TDs less a game, from his sophomore to junior year, is absolutely ridiculous.
 
#70
It might seem like that but the D was miles better than last year, at least in the stat that matters to me.

2018: 39.42 pts per game allowed
2019: 26.15 pts per game allowed

That's almost 2 fewer TDs per game.
Hmmm... :unsure: While that's a nice stat at face value, I'm not sure it's the best stat to indicate a better defense. A lot of variables go into the final score of a game that the defense has little control over. I like to use rate stats because it takes into account things based on when the defense was on the field. Let's look at a few stats.

2019 (rank)2018 (rank)
Opponent Points per Game:26.2 (49th)41.7 (126th)
Opponent Yards per Play:5.5 (59th)7.0 (124th)
Opponent Third Down Conversion Percentage:37.17% (39th)46.21% (117th)
Opponent Plays per Game:74.6 (101st)74.3 (86th)
Opponent Average Time of Possession:33:57 (128th)31:51 (112th)

Imagine how much better our record and defense may have looked if our offense could have held onto the ball even just a minute longer per game...
 
#71
This article is great, and you can see a bunch of teams that made big jumps, Kent St, Illinois, LSU, Memphis, Minnesota, Indiana, App St. Also teams that struggled, Texas, Ole Miss, Purdue, etc.

I think we will rank top 35 again in returning production, around 75% offense and 60% defense (estimates), which by his stats will mean a big offensive jump while the defense stays about the same or a bit worse
I just did the math for the offense, and we have 77% of weighted offense production returning, which puts us top 25. I expect a big uptick in our offense, not quite as much as defense did this year.

Screen Shot 2020-01-02 at 3.25.12 PM.png
 
#72
Hmmm... :unsure: While that's a nice stat at face value, I'm not sure it's the best stat to indicate a better defense. A lot of variables go into the final score of a game that the defense has little control over. I like to use rate stats because it takes into account things based on when the defense was on the field. Let's look at a few stats.

2019 (rank)2018 (rank)
Opponent Points per Game:26.2 (49th)41.7 (126th)
Opponent Yards per Play:5.5 (59th)7.0 (124th)
Opponent Third Down Conversion Percentage:37.17% (39th)46.21% (117th)
Opponent Plays per Game:74.6 (101st)74.3 (86th)
Opponent Average Time of Possession:33:57 (128th)31:51 (112th)

Imagine how much better our record and defense may have looked if our offense could have held onto the ball even just a minute longer per game...
mine ofnour biggest problems during Lovies tenure has been our inability to generate first downs. Think about how many more yards thedefense gives up because the offense struggled to extend drives. I think thisnext year, if we can keep turnovers down and improve back to mid 70s offense, I think our defense will also get better from sheer lack of time on the firld
 
#73
Hmmm... :unsure: While that's a nice stat at face value, I'm not sure it's the best stat to indicate a better defense. A lot of variables go into the final score of a game that the defense has little control over. I like to use rate stats because it takes into account things based on when the defense was on the field. Let's look at a few stats.

2019 (rank)2018 (rank)
Opponent Points per Game:26.2 (49th)41.7 (126th)
Opponent Yards per Play:5.5 (59th)7.0 (124th)
Opponent Third Down Conversion Percentage:37.17% (39th)46.21% (117th)
Opponent Plays per Game:74.6 (101st)74.3 (86th)
Opponent Average Time of Possession:33:57 (128th)31:51 (112th)

Imagine how much better our record and defense may have looked if our offense could have held onto the ball even just a minute longer per game...
This is good, but I think time of possession is a bit misleading in the modern football era.

I'm not sure that controlling the football more necessarily correlates with better D or less pts given up
 
Likes: KevinC
#74
IW is a really smart kid understands defenses just didn’t get a lot of reps this year because of a nagging injury that limited him in practice most of the season. He is a determined kid and works his tail off in the film room and weight room as well as in practice when he is able to.
That's the problem, 0440. Reps for QBs in practice is precious, and you can't spend them on players who can't stay healthy even in practice. You need to spend the practice time on players you know will be able to play if needed. Timing and quick decision making is essential at QB, and you need the practice time to get in sync with the receivers and use to what you can expect in pass protection.

Ya just can't devote the development time in fall to QBs who can't count on to stay healthy. The problem is that we only have one physically ready P5 quality QB on the roster this year, and MAYBE one more coming next year in Spann. I think we may need to go with Spann as a backup next year if he can stay healthy and pick up the offense quickly if IW is always banged up from practice.
 
Likes: AZis
#75
Fun fact I'm going to throw out there. We were 8-5 overall and 7-2 in conference play against the spread this year. This is the first winning season ats since 2010 when we went 9-4 (6-2). It means absolutely nothing but I find it interesting.
 
Last edited: