Mercifully, Illinois will take its first bye this week, which means there isn't a defense about which fans may complain. HOWEVER, because this is the Champaign Room and we're all about helping you fulfill your duties as an Illini football fan, we're providing you with some prime, Grade A, 100 percent, purely horrific defense to whine about all day and night.
The following examples are the five biggest plays Purdue ran against Illinois two Saturdays ago. As always with Illinois football, viewer discretion is advised.
Play #1: Mostert Rush Left, 44 yards for a Touchdown
So here we have a play that Wisconsin essentially brought to the Big Ten (to my knowledge, at least). It's an inside zone run with a fly sweep action to distract the defense. The idea is to force the defense to respect the sweep, in the form of linebackers and safeties shading to the bottom of the screen, from this perspective.
Earnest Thomas III and T.J. Neal make the appropriate adjustments and slide down a bit. Taylor Barton (top right) slides down as well, but goes a bit too far for the situation in my opinion. Zane Petty and two linebackers would've been there if the sweep had been the play call. In any case, Purdue's left tackle is going to block Eaton Spence, the left guard is going to move Chunky Clements, and the center and left guard are going to double team Austin Teitsma.
Here is the critical point of the play. As the handoff occurs, it's fairly clear where Raheem Mostert is headed-the gap between the left guard and center. There's no shame in Teitsma being beaten by a double team, but either Mason Monheim or Chunky Clements has to step up and plug the hole. Clements (dude with three arrows pointing to him) is unfortunately shoved aside by the guard, leaving Monheim as the only able body.
For some unknown reason, in spite of the clear direction of the handoff, Monheim anticipates a cutback and makes a quick jump towards the bottom of the screen. He tries to flash back into the correct hole, but that moment's hesitation costs him a chance to stop this for a gain of merely a few yards. Instead, Mostert flies through the hole, past an over-rotated Taylor Barton, and into the end zone.
Making matters worse, Barton takes a poor angle to the ball carrier. He underestimates Mostert's speed and runs directly towards him. Mostert is currently a star for Purdue's track and field team. It should be well known that he has wheels. How Barton could make this mistake is beyond me. If he didn't know that Mostert was fast, that's probably on the coaching staff.
Ultimately though, this play came down to Mason Monheim's ability to identify the play call and Chunky Clements' ability to get off a block. Both failed in this instance, Monheim more egregiously. This was easily preventable and is one of the few plays in this sequence when the runner went untouched.
Here's video of the entire play, with a slow motion version directly following. View the horror yourself. Feast your eyes upon the incompetence. Feel sad.
Play #2: Hunt Rush Middle, 54 yards for a Touchdown
Once again, Purdue is just going to run a simple zone play and Illinois is going to find a way to screw up. At handoff, this play doesn't look terrible. DJ Woods is ready in case Appleby decides to keep the ball, and most of the defensive line was able to push Purdue's OL back a yard or two.
The key players to look at on this play are denoted by the various arrows. Three are pointing to Austin Teitsma, as Purdue's center shoves him down to the inside. At the very least, Teitsma was able to get a small amount of push. Another arrow is pointing to Jihad Ward (I think), who is locked in a battle with Purdue's right guard. He will have an opportunity to make a play, if he can just get off that block. Spoiler alert: he cannot get off that block.
The player in a dashed circle is T.J. Neal, who will ultimately screw up the worst on this play. He essentially takes the role of Mason Monheim in the last play we looked at-he has a clear path and a clear view of the running back, and he chooses to go in the opposite direction for reasons unknown.
Half a second later, Teitsma is on the ground, Jihad Ward is unable to get his hands outside of the Purdue guard's, and T.J. Neal has inexplicably jumped to his left (top of the screen). Neal's jump vacates the hole and Akeem Hunt needs little more than a step of hesitation to blow by Neal.
By this point, all is lost. Neal misses a shoestring tackle attempt and is left in the dust: there is nobody behind him to save this from turning into a touchdown.
Perhaps the most egregious part of this play is the down-and-distance situation. IT IS THIRD DOWN WITH ONE YARD TO GO. Purdue spread the Illini out just a bit with their formation, but there's absolutely no excuse not to be prepared for a run right up the middle in this situation. No excuse at all. Chalk this bad play up to Teitsma and Ward's failure to seal the A gap and Neal's failure to occupy it in their absence.
Play #3: Appleby Pass to Anthrop, 80 yards for a Touchdown
First, notice: all 22 players are either inside the hashes or barely outside them. While this doesn't really mean anything, one imagines big plays rarely occur from this Purdue formation. Not this time.
Two seconds after the snap, notice the complete lack of pressure applied by the Illini front four. Both defensive ends tried to swim inside of the tackles, only to find the entire rest of the offensive line waiting for them. Nobody is even close here, and the ends' failure to contain leaves acres of open space to either side of Appleby.
As should happen when a team brings four rushers, the coverage is pretty solid in the early stages of this play. Illinois has a man or two in the vicinity of every receiver, and three available to cover all sides of Danny Anthrop (middle of the field). Naturally, he will receive the touchdown on this play.
Another second or two later, Appleby has rolled out to the right to buy some more time and threaten a scramble. V'Angelo Bentley is going to peel out of his coverage and charge towards Appleby, looking to force an early throw. This is fine-Bentley knows that Taylor Barton and Mason Monheim are behind him.
My only issues with this play thus far are the lack of pressure by the DL and that Taylor Barton has conceded his deep coverage and now finds himself right next to the receiver. As a safety, I would expect him to be a few yards downfield to prevent a big play. That could be results-oriented analysis, but it seems sound. As we'll find out, this ends up costing the team.
This is just prior to the throw. Honorary Space Cadet Mason Monheim has his head in the clouds and is no longer following the receiver, instead choosing to...help two Illini tackle a quarterback who's almost out of bounds? Not great. Meanwhile, Taylor Barton has joined Monheim on the outskirts of Jupiter and decides to step behind the receiver. Perhaps he's trying to jump in front of the pass for an interception, but he's a full step behind Anthrop and is the last Illini defender behind the receiver. Both of those boneheaded plays combine to create the next image.
Barton misses a weak attempt at a tackle. I put in a thought bubble for the "LOL" here, but I wouldn't be surprised if Anthrop actually laughed audibly at his fortune.
To make matters worse, here comes Zane Petty to attempt a tackle. The orange line represents a rough estimate of Petty's path to the ball. Instead of running to a point 10-15 yards ahead of the receiver and meeting him there, Petty runs directly towards him and somehow ends up running parallel to the receiver. This is a consistent problem for the Illinois safeties. The Illini quite possibly would have won this game if not for poor angles extending big plays into touchdowns.
Also a consistent problem-- Appleby was continuously able to use his mobility and extend passing plays outside the pocket. To me, that says the Illini weren't prepared for a decent runner and didn't focus on keeping contain. Most of Purdue's big passing plays on the day came outside the pocket.
Play #4: Appleby Rush Middle, 62 yards to the Illini One
Here is a draw play for Appleby. Illinois' defensive ends rush five yards upfield, which wouldn't be bad if this were actually a pass play. It is not. This leaves Rob Bain (circled), Jake Howe, and T.J. Neal (circled) to make a tackle. If any of these three successfully gets off a block, the Illini stop Appleby for a maximum gain of five yards. Guess what happens.
Jake Howe is completely turned around and taken out of the play at this point (white arrow). T.J. Neal is being manhandled by a Purdue offensive lineman: Neal is also out of the play. Our hopes rest on the shoulders of Rob Bain, who has improved noticeably this year. He appears to get an arm on Appleby as he's falling to the ground, and...
Appleby bursts through the tackle attempt. Bain is unable to wrap up or even slow Appleby down. That giant orange face was my face upon watching the replay: -____-
After I finished shaking my head in disgust, I saw Clayton Fejedelem's attempt to tackle Appleby. I don't know how much the Illini had prepared for Appleby (I expected Danny Etling to at least start the game), but clearly Fejedelem doesn't know how fast Appleby is. He takes an angle just a few yards ahead of Appleby, who will subsequently blow by him and take the ball down to the one-yard line.
No safety should ever be running parallel to a ball carrier: the Illini have done it in spectacular fashion on the last two plays I've covered. Here's the video:
Play #5: Green Rush Right, 53 yards to the Illini 13
Day XII: Battered and bruised, I've nearly reached the fourth quarter in my film review of the Purdue game. I should be able to return home to you soon, my love. The setting of this play is inauspicious for Purdue: the Illini have nine defenders in the box and there are only seven Boilermakers blocking. It's a third-and-one; surely the Illini are expecting a run play and will stuff it in the backfield.
Day XIII: Almost the entire Illini defense forces their way into the Purdue line. Still, the right side of the line clears out a hole for Green to run through. DeJazz Woods (top arrow) is easily pushed aside by a tight end. An Illini defensive tackle (we believe it to be Jarrod "Chunky" Clements) is easily dispatched by Purdue's right tackle. Mason Monheim blitzes the A gap and finds a pile of fat dudes awaiting him. This leaves V'Angelo Bentley alone in the hole with a 210-pound running back. We fear for his health.
Day XVIII: It's been four days since our last meal. Stress eating ran rampant upon viewing Bentley's missed tackle and Ralph Cooper's failure to get off a block. Clayton Fejedelem just took another horrible angle to a ball carrier. Luckily, the ball carrier is fat and slow. He still ran 53 yards before anybody caught him. Three Illini defenders are running parallel to the running back on the final play. Purdue's quarterback is somehow further downfield than seven of the 11 Illini defenders.
What began as a fear for V'Angelo Bentley's safety begat the destruction of our entire crew. Morale is low and rations are thin. I fear we may not make it back. Merely three quarters have ended, but the toll on our souls of watching the Illini defense may have ended the game of our lives.
That got weirdly dark.
The problems shown are visible throughout every level of the defense. The Illini defensive line was consistently shoved aside by Purdue's relatively average offensive line-that ain't good. When they weren't pushed aside, they failed to get off any blocks. When they got off blocks, they failed to make the tackle.
When the defensive line was taken out of the play, the linebackers consistently made the wrong read and filled the wrong hole-often for no reason at all. There was literally not a single reason for Monheim and Neal to jump aside on the Mostert and Hunt rushes above-not a single one. Monheim is in his third year as a starter. It's inexcusable, both for the players and the coaches, for poor reads like that to occur.
Lastly, once the defensive line has fucked up and the linebackers have fucked up, it's the safeties' turn. Plays that could go for a mere 30 yards are turned into touchdowns by the ludicrous angles Illinois is taking to streaking ball carriers. Whether that comes down to pre-game scouting or simply mental mistakes on the field, it's costing the Illini football games. Oh yeah, and nobody in the secondary can tackle, except maybe Eaton Spence and Jevaris Little, my kick coverage man crush.
We suck. We suck bad. Enjoy your weekend.