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Solving the Illinois Rush Defense

A lot of fans have been wondering why the Illini defense keeps giving up long touchdowns. Here's why

He gawn
He gawn
Mike McGinnis

Ollie it's your lucky day. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, the below comment is from the Mark's recap the other day:


I decided to write an entire post on the subject since I couldn't do it in just one comment.

To put it plainly, Illinois' rush defense has been horrid for the second straight year; opponents are finding gaping holes on seemingly every attempt. Let's look at just how bad the defense has been:

The Numbers

Illinois currently ranks 120th out of 128 in rush defense this year.

Over the past few games, the team has given up touchdown runs of 72 yards (Corey Clement, Wisconsin), 54 yards (Akeem Hunt, Purdue), and 12 yards (Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska).  Abdullah's run obviously wasn't the same as the other two, but he still managed to rack up 208 yards on the ground.

Here are some more fun statistics; opposing running backs have rushed for 19 TD's against the Illini and are gaining 5 yards a carry--Yes, you just read that right.  The defense is giving up 271 rushing yards/game.

What's causing our defense to allow these wide open holes? Is it coaching? Scheme? The players? I believe there are three explanations that mix the three factors.

Nobody Can Shed Blocks

Our defense is consistently being pushed off line by the opposing offensive line. Since our linebackers (other than Monheim) have been getting blocked as well, the first time a running back gets touched is in the secondary. This ultimately comes down to coaching--the players aren't learning to get off blocks in practice.

The coaching staff needs to be able to address this in practice. We are now more than half way through the season and it is still an issue. Tim Banks needed to see this in the first few games and it should've been point of emphasis in the following practices. Sadly, that isn't even the biggest issue. The biggest issue is that this has been going on since the beginning of last season and the coaching staff has yet to fix it. If the coaches aren't good enough to teach Austin Teitsma, for example, to get off a Wisconsin lineman, then there's problem.

The Safeties

Zane Petty and Taylor Barton are the team's last lines of defense at safety. What have they been doing when the running backs burst through the holes? WARNING: It's about to get ugly.

Taylor Barton

Taylor Barton's problem is picking the wrong hole and being blocked.

Taylor Barton

On this play he (orange circle) is going into the wrong hole and being blocked into the sideline. The blue box represents where Barton is supposed to be; that's right where Clements will run through. If Barton stays in the gap it's a ten yard gain, not a 72 yard touchdown.

Zane Petty Pursuit Angles

Something I've noticed over the past couple of games is the terrible pursuit angles Zane Petty takes to the ball.


Petty is the far safety where the orange arrow is coming from. Also, note the orange circle is still Barton getting blocked out of bounds and completely out of the play. Petty is going to try to stop Clements at the 37 yard line which is about 5 or 10 yards from where he should try and get him.


Clements blows by Petty (far side) and scores. Petty is clearly struggling with pursuit angles and he has been for awhile. The fact that he isn't improving in this area leads me to believe that it isn't being addressed during practice.

You Shouldn't Be Fooled

Literally all I need is one Wisconsin running play to show you major flaws in our defense. This one is on the scheme.

We know Wisconsin is going to run the ball almost every down. On the simple draw play they are running above they try to spread the field to open up the middle--it obviously worked. Tim Banks should have put nine in the box and dared Wisconsin to throw; everyone knows Wisconsin won't throw it.

With a yellow line

We shouldn't have more than two or three people past that yellow line. I mean, look at Darius Mosely (top). What is he doing to help us in this situation? This happened to him many other times throughout the game too.

A combination of bad coaching, scheme, and execution has led to the Illini giving up these long touchdowns. They now have two weeks to prepare for Minnesota, who is also going to try and run all over us. So what do we do? We practice getting off blocks, we practice pursuit angles, and we stack nine in the box and dare the Gophers to throw.