We went over the offensive line last week saying that it would likely be the unit that decides how successful the Illini are on offense this season. Well, life is no different on the defensive side of the ball, where a largely inexperienced defensive line will have a lot to say about how well the entire defense performs.
There are a lot of questions on this unit this season. A lot.
The biggest one is where exactly the pass rush will come from. Of the four projected starters -- Tim Kynard, Austin Teitsma, Jake Howe and Houston Bates at LEO -- there are only four career sacks between them. Kynard was the only one to have a sack last season.
You might have a hard time believing this, but the Illini actually had one of the better pass rushes in the Big Ten last season. Seriously, it's true. If you just look at the sack totals you see that the Illini ranked tied for eighth in the league with 22 sacks, which isn't anything special. However, teams passed less against the Illini than they did against any other team in the conference last year.
When you're up by 30 points you tend to run more often.
When you break it down by sack rate -- which is just sacks/opponent pass attempts -- the Illini defense got a sack 7.10% of the time their opponent dropped back to pass. That's the third-highest sack rate in the league, trailing only Nebraska (7.24%) and Penn State (7.13%).
I have a hard time believing the Illini will be able to maintain that rate in 2013, because guys like Teitsma and Howe are plugs more than they are disrupters in the backfield. And while I think Tim Kynard is a solid player on the line, I don't think he's a great pass-rusher.
Plus there's the fact that, like a lot of areas on this roster, the Illini just aren't very deep on the line. A couple injuries could be devastating to the unit.
Position Grade: D+
I wish I could give this unit a higher grade, I really do. It's just that when I combine the lack of special talent with a lack of depth, well, at least I put a plus on it? I sincerely hope these guys prove me wrong. In fact, I hope you're an Illinois defensive lineman reading this right now thinking "fuck this asshole, I'll show him" and then you proceed to go out and do just that. But, seriously, stop reading this in class.
2012 Stats and Big Ten Rankings
22 sacks (8th), 7.10% sack rate (3rd), 66 tackles for loss (9th), 4.53 yards allowed per rush (8th), 31.76% opponent third down conversion rate (2nd)
30 sacks, 7.0% sack rate, 80 tackles for loss, 4.00 yards allowed per rush, 33% opponent third down conversion rate