Alright, so let's get last weekend's debacle out of our minds and start fresh.
Illinois faces a daunting task on the road against the ranked Wisconsin Badgers. Here's what they need to do in order to stand a chance.
Throw the Ball.
So...can Illinois get the passing offense to work?
We know Illinois can run the ball. However, Purdue exposed the weaknesses of AJ Bush by loading the box and forcing him to make plays with his arm. Obviously, he wasn't effective. His mechanical flaws were also on full display with sloppy footwork and too many missed opportunities. The scheme is there. It just has to start with the catalyst.
The best way to counteract blitzing and loaded boxes is to get the ball out quickly. Screens, slants, curls, passes that create first downs and short third downs. Effectively, a passing game that acts as a pseudo-run game.
The impetus for this strategy is wide receivers who block in space and open up lanes outside. The offensive line has been pretty solid in their pulls and run blocking. They need help on the outside in the screen game. Bubble screens specifically.
It also would help if receivers could consistently get open and catch the ball. Sam Mays and Trenard Davis have been fairly reliable. The Illini need more from Ricky Smalling and Carmoni Green, two guys who can catch the ball in traffic and/or stretch the defense. Their hands have been sketchy so far, though, and they'll be needed to challenge Wisconsin on the outside.
It would also be nice if Daniel Barker and the rest of the tight ends (without Louis Dorsey now) could make a play here or there. (Scrap the RPO pass to the tight end that's never caught and won't gain anything; it hasn't worked yet.)
Get creative rushing the passer.
Now's the time to get creative, Lovie.
You can't continue to play back and be conservative. No more cushions, no more linebackers not blitzing. It's time to create pressure through alternate means. Linebackers, defensive backs, blitzing, press corners. Smother Wisconsin's receivers. Throw the kitchen sink at them. You have nothing to lose at this point. It's time to get out of your comfort zone and mix it up.
Personally, it would also be nice to see more Calvin Avery at defensive tackle and put Isaiah Gay at more of a hybrid linebacker/rusher spot. Tymir Oliver and Jamal Milan have been solid, but the Illini pass rush seems to uptick with Avery in the game. To me, Gay is a Shea McClellan type. Not a hand on the ground d-end, but more of a Swiss army knife defensive rusher, coming at you from all sides. He could also hold the edge at the position, which Illinois' linebackers have had a huge problem with. Jake Hansen is great at being where he needs to be, and as a blitzer he could be extremely useful.
Lovie: be aggressive.
If Illinois is going to win anything the rest of the way, they need to shake it up. Time to earn your paychecks, coaches. Whether it's player personnel or schematic changes, things have to change.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!