It was early on a Sunday morning last season. The Fighting Illini had soundly defeated the Western Illinois Leathernecks to make their early season record a flawless 2-0. I was searching through the internet while eating the main course of my breakfast — Cinnamon Toast Crunch — looking for more analysis of the game. That’s when I saw a retweet that contained exactly what I was looking for.
Here was a video that broke down every single play of the game before. Let me clarify: It was a video that broke down every single play of the Illini game. Someone was willing to devote their time to examining an Illini team that was already projected to miss out on bowl eligibility. To be honest, I never thought I’d see it but, boy, was I glad it existed.
The creator was known as Illinois Football Breakdown and he made two videos for every game — one for the offense, one for the defense.
As the season went on, IFB kept it up. Video after video, it helped further embellish the details of the basic play. Every player on the Illini was up for review and IFB didn’t sugarcoat it. If a player missed an assignment or lost his coverage, you’d know it.
This was something I went back to nearly every week of the season. I truly appreciated the effort that went into these breakdowns and I figure most football-crazed Illinois fans would as well. So I wanted to share this guy’s story and let you all know about his work. I reached out through email for a short round of questions.
First off, what is your name and what area do you live in? Are you an Illinois alum?
Name’s Josh, and I live in Chicago. I am an Illinois alum (x2).
What got you into video editing?
I remember looking on Twitter, and seeing some short GIFs of key plays during Saturdays. Thought that was interesting, and then I saw some of the breakdown pieces on sites like Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders. I also felt like I wasn’t seeing the whole game because when you watch live, you naturally follow the football. But from the time I’ve spent doing this, plays are mostly won or lost away from the football. So I started recording some video and seeing if I could figure out what was going on.
The video editing is the easy part, frankly. I mean, if I really wanted to commit, I’d add chyrons and soundtrack these things, but only so much time in the day.
How long does one of these videos take you?
They used to take pretty much an entire day. But I’ve fine tuned my workflow such that I can usually get both offense & defense out within 3-4 hours after the game. It requires a lot more attention to details during the game (I have to tag clips like “ILL Corbin Run, cutback left, big play”), so unfortunately my Twitter activity typically plummets.
You obviously have enough football understanding to put together these breakdowns. Where did you get that knowledge?
Well, not from a coach. I’ve never played a down of organized football. My high school didn’t even have a team. I think the interest in breaking down the video came first, and then I would start tracing plays back to where things would go wrong for one side. And if no one lost a battle, or looked lost, or missed an assignment, then you have to question the strategy on the play.
So I read up a lot on schemes and trends as well. And frankly, the fanbase has some really educated football fans (it really is a dedicated fanbase, given how the program has fared historically) that will offer some thoughts. That goes a long way, too. I’ve always come at this from the mindset that I’m teaching myself football.
What made you want to spend your free time on documenting every play of the Fighting Illini?
Well, I’m a fan for one. And there has not been a lot to cheer about, lately. The way I see it, there are three options.
The first, and one too many unfortunately take (though understandable), is to just give up. Stop watching more than one or two games a season, unplug from recruiting or positional battles in the spring.
Second, I could just take a STANCE, become a TEAMLOVIE or a FIRELOVIE, or a PROMOTEROD message board warrior. Stake out turf and fight those battles with illini696969. If my team can’t win on Saturday, at least I can win on Monday.
Or, third, I can try and understand why this is happening. Are there good reasons? Is there a plan? Are we headed for better days? I think if most fans pick option 3, it maximizes the chances we’ll get something better.
Where do you see this going? What are you hoping to get out of it?
I assume James Pitaro (president of ESPN) is drawing up my multi-million dollar contract as I type this. I dunno, right now it’s still fun for me, people reach out to me and tell me they enjoy it. I’m not kidding myself that IFB is going to turn into mgoblog tomorrow—even if I do get good at this, we’re still talking about a team that dreams about trips to Detroit in December. I’ll wait until I get at least a few thousand subs before I think about turning on the ads in YouTube. I’m not making you guys sit through someone’s WEIGHT LOSS FAST program pitch before getting the insights of how we let Iowa rack up 400 yards on the ground so you can earn me 12 cents.
Do you keep stats on this stuff? Like how well the linemen are doing on each play?
I don’t, and wish I had the time to. By the end of the year, I feel like I have a good handle on the linemen well enough to grade them, but it would not shock me if those subjective impressions did not match up with measured performance.
Favorite Illini player of all-time? Of this past year?
Guys like Butkus and even Simeon Rice are before my time, really. I remembered Rice in the NFL, but I wasn’t an Illini fan growing up. And although he was never the best player on the team, I loved Nate Bussey. A pretty mediocre safety, bulks up and moves to LB, and really took off there. He was all over the field in 2010.
This past year, I mean it’s Bobby Roundtree and now I’m sad. Get well, 97. (Aaron’s Note: I agree.)
Let’s say that I’m completely lost at comprehending what’s happening during a standard football play, what should I be watching for so that I can better understand it all?
Well, one of the things that’s underrated is the ability to apply pressure on the quarterback with just the defensive line (or in a 3-4, a LB as well). You have 5 OL and a QB. That leaves another 5 players for the offense to either send into the pattern or help block. The DL will have 4 guys trying to beat 5 OL, and to add to that they have to read whether it’s going to be a run or a pass. I won’t say it’s easy, by any means. A big DT that can occupy two OL is very valuable for that reason, he puts the other guys into 1-on-1 battles.
The end result is that the defense can have 7 guys defending 3-5 receivers. You have the luxury of playing safeties deep to keep big plays away. Corners can gamble. Linebackers can stare into the backfield and spy on a mobile QB. So much opens defensively with up front pressure. If you don’t have that, then the defense has to start blitzing and the numbers begin to break down. Now you need to borrow a safety to put in man coverage. The other safety left can’t cover the whole field, and a good QB can look him off. LBs are trying to chase around RBs, and in man coverage everyone has their back to the QB and can’t see when he tucks and runs.
If the defense can’t get pressure, it’s very hard for them to keep points off the board.