The Illinois Fighting Illini finally have an offensive coordinator! After almost a month of waiting, Illinois announced the hiring of Rod Smith as the offensive coordinator today.
Smith is familiar with the Big Ten, spending time with both Indiana and Michigan from 2008-11, and he has been the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with Arizona since 2012.
While Smith was at Arizona, the program established school records in regards to team scoring, total offense and rushing offense. On top of that, his first three seasons at Arizona featured a new starting quarterback each year, and he was still able to tally two of the top-six single-season passing averages in Arizona Wildcats history.
What can we expect out of Smith as he makes his transition back to the Big Ten? For starters, Smith is a big proponent of the rushing attack. Arizona ranked third nationally in rushing with an average of 6.56 yards per carry and over 300 rushing yards per game this past season. Considering the Illini averaged 3.28 YPC and 105.6 YPG this past season, the Illini may have been looking in the right spot with this hire.
In regards to passing, Rod Smith has done very well with a dual-threat quarterback. His primary two starters this past season in Arizona, Brandon Dawkins and Khalil Tate, shined in both passing and rushing. With a 19:13 touchdown to interception ratio and 2,323 yards in the air, Dawkins and Tate flourished under Smith’s guidance.
When you factor in the rushing of Tate and Dawkins, you can add 1,870 yards (8.42 YPC) and 20 touchdowns, you begin to see where his scheme shined.
As a team Arizona tallied 48 touchdowns on the ground. That gave the Wildcats a total of 67 total offensive touchdowns in 2017, compared to 19 for the Illini. If nothing else, Smith should be able to get a great return out of Cam Thomas, a young quarterback with a manageable arm and great footwork.
When you look at passing statistics, a few things stick out.
Smith never ran a pass-heavy offense, as in 2017 Arizona only tallied 245 more passing yards than Illinois for the season. The big difference, though, comes in regards to completion percentage (12.4 percent higher than Illinois), yards per attempt (1.75 more yards per attempt), and touchdown to interception ratio (Illinois tallied 8 touchdowns to 19 interceptions while Arizona notched 19 touchdowns to go with 13 interceptions).
It is clear Smith has a talent when it comes to working an offense to maximize its potential. Illinois fans should be rejoicing today, as not only is the search finally over, but it seems Coach Lovie Smith found a diamond in the rough to help lead this offense in 2018 and beyond.