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Illinois hires Barry Lunney Jr. as offensive coordinator

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If you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 UTSA at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Just one day after officially canning Tony Petersen, Bret Bielema has his next offensive coordinator.

The name may not be familiar, but Barry Lunney Jr. was the brains behind UT-San Antonio’s 37-30 win over Illinois last season. While that game left a sour taste in my mouth, there’s a lot to like about this guy.

“I’m so grateful to [UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor] for believing in me and giving me the chance to lead the UTSA offense for the last two years!” Lunney tweeted Saturday morning.

Lunney will lead Illinois’ offense and be its quarterbacks coach.

UTSA climbed up the rankings last year, topping out at 24th in the nation and a Conference-USA championship. A lot was due to Lunney’s high-powered offense. You can say all you want about G-5 talent and G-5 defenses, but the numbers the roadrunners put up last year were good for a top 15 scoring offense and top 50 total offense.

The Roadrunners rushed for 2,565 yards and 26 touchdowns, led by Sincere McCormick, and passed for 3,561 yards and 31 touchdowns, led by senior QB Frank Harris. To put that into perspective, Illinois had a total of 3,957 yards of offense all season and only 25 touchdowns. I can start to see why Bret Bielema was so eager to make the switch.

Another couple stats I would like to throw out Illinois only kicked 23 field goals, making 18, and UTSA made 25 field goals on the year. UTSA never scored less than 23 points and had 6 44+ point games, Illinois scored less than 23 points in 9 games last year and only broke 30 points 1 time.

Statistical Rankings

Stat UTSA Illinois
Stat UTSA Illinois
Total Offense 34 112
Passing Offense 45 121
Rushing Offense 43 55
Scoring Offense 11 116
Rush Yards 2565 2083
Passing Yards 3561 1874
Sacks Allowed 21 23
Time of Possession (minutes) 29 29
Scrimmage Plays 20+ 72 43

In almost every major statistical category, UTSA beat the Illini. A lot of that had to do with Lunney’s offense.

Scheme and Fit

Lunney ran a pro-style offense at UTSA and has coached on Bret Bielema’s staff at Arkansas as a tight ends coach. I believe that fundamentally, Illinois will continue to rely on its running identity, play Big Ten West football, and not distract from Bielema’s vision. Barry Lunney should be able to add the Illinois twist (as Ryan Walters did with the defense) and open up the Illini offense and get more touches to wide receivers and its tight ends. Looking at the tape of UTSA last year, Lunney ran the ball a lot, both out of the I and pistol formations, but was aggressive in the passing game, often taking shots down the field as a change of pace.

Isaiah Williams, Luke Ford, Brian Hightower, Chase Brown, and whomever the quarterback is next year should be very excited. Both Syracuse transfer Tommy Devito and Class of 2022 quarterback Donovan Leary are pro-style quarterbacks who should fit well into the system.

If there was any year for Bielema to make this change it would be now. Next year, Illinois will have an inexperienced offensive line, a new quarterback, and new receivers. Any scheme that is installed in spring and fall camp will be more or less new; due to the player turnover on offense. Bielema is getting a coach that is proven, is a great recruiter, and loves to get the ball into the end zone.

Final Points

Bielema had this to say about Lunney before the UTSA game:

Bielema has now surrounded himself with people that either could be, have been, or were interim head coaches. All I can say is that it's a good hire. Let’s see what happens.

Lunney’s contract is pending approval by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.