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#AskTCR: Does Illinois need MORE weapons?

Answering the fans’ biggest questions.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 15 Minnesota at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’m bringing back an old segment here at TCR, where you ask us questions, and I give you my thoughts and opinions on whatever topic you want me to discuss.

The week of, we’ll post on all socials, but if you can’t wait till then, drop your questions in the comment section, tag us in a tweet with the hashtag #AskTCR or DM me directly.

Before we start, I want to address a few points from my last #AskTCR:

The Kicking Game

I’m not as much concerned about our kickers (shout out Fabrizio Pinton) as I am worried about the coverage.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 15 Minnesota at Illinois

Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota all broke through special teams coverages at least once. Against Wisconsin and Iowa, it didn't lead to many points, but against Minnesota, it led to 7. But we got a bye week coming up.

The following questions can be answered with the same sentiment:

Has McCray’s return been announced?

Clip at 5:42 if my embed didn't work. But Bielema did say Josh McCray should be back for Nebraska.


But at the same time, McCray coming back from injury should help with that.

How will McCray’s return impact both the team’s offensive strategy, as well as Brown’s potential Heisman chase?

McCray is a big-bodied back: anytime you need Chase Brown to get a rest, McCray can step in.

It doesn't turn into an automatic passing down as it does with Chase Hayden and Reggie Love III. If anything, this turns into a more dynamic offense. You not only have one back you have to worry about, but two.

McCray’s blocking and pass-catching abilities aren’t where you want them, but the RPO that this offense runs will keep defenses like Purdue, Nebraska, and Michigan State on edge.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 27 Wyoming at Illinois

Let’s be honest here—unless Illinois beats Ohio State in Indy, CJ Stroud will always have the edge on being the Heisman representative from the Big Ten. Derrick Henry was the last running back to win the Heisman, rushing for 2,219 yards, 28 TDs on 27 rush/game.

Chase Brown doesn't have the TDs to win the Heisman. Honestly, only Stroud and Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker are the Heisman candidates for the year.

Realistic awards for Brown are the Doak Walker, Walter Camp, and the Big Ten OPOY.

How do we improve our red zone offense? Will need to have a plan for the last 5 games.

It’s like with the whole winning thing. This team has never been here before.

They know how to play but get the yips in the red zone.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of that, I think part of this is because Illinois has been playing some of the best red-zone defenses in the B1G. Wisconsin and Iowa are 2nd and 3rd in red zone conversion percentage, while Minnesota is tied with Illinois in opponent red zone attempts.

I think that the bigger question is, How does Illinois score more? Illinois has 20 TDs on offense and 14 FGs—with 13 TDs and 13 FGs coming in the Red Zone. That is marginally better than the entire 2021 season, and better than 2020, 2017, 2016, and 2012 and is tracking to be a better offensive season than 2015, 2018, and 2019.

A better question is. Does Illinois NEED to score more?

No. Tracking my predictions for the offense, Illinois is basically already there. I expected the passing game to be better, but so what? TD-wise, Illinois is basically hitting all my predicted marks. With the defense playing the way it is, my mantra has been 3 TDs and 1 FG a game. Illinois is beating that by scoring 26 PPG.

Robert Rosenthal (@alioneye) usually tracks this with our friends at, but Illinois’ post-game win expectancy has been 90%+ for all games except for Wisconsin. It was 100% against Wyoming, Virginia, Chattanooga, and Minnesota. Illinois is doing everything right here and at least 9 times out of 10, playing the same schedule, the Illini would still be 6-1 still this year.

TLDR: Does it need to be better? No. Could it be better? Yes. Should it be better? Yes. Can it be better? Yes. Barry Lunney has 2 weeks to figure it out.

Chase Brown is a monster but what other offensive weapons are due for a huge game? The team is going to need to diversify to keep winning. Go Illini.

Minnesota v Illinois Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

I’d say we’re pretty diverse. There are three receivers on track for 700-yard seasons and a running back that is on his way to 2,000 yards.

Historically, looking at Bielema’s stats, that was the recipe for success. McCray coming back will ease the pressure of DeVito and Chase Brown. The TEs are all blocking tight ends and are playing at their best.

I love that this is what we are talking about in mid-October. This is fun.

The next player to pop off is going to be Tommy DeVito. Iowa and Minnesota are some of the better passing defenses in the conference, if not the nation. Nebraska is dead last and Michigan State and Purdue are in the bottom 5.

DeVito had a game for the ages against at least one of these teams. If he can go 25 for 32, 250 yards, and 1 TD against Minnesota, the 3rd-best passing defense in the Big Ten, imagine what he can do against Nebraska.

I’d like to discuss long term options at QB, WR, and TE. DeVito is awesome but I think this is his only year and we need wideouts and tight ends that can catch balls in the red zone.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Iowa at Illinois


I’d like to see how Donovan Leary is being developed. I love what his brother is doing at NC State and you see how important Devin Leary is in that offense. If Donovan has the same skillset, I don’t see a lot of questions there.


The staff wants Hank Beatty to be the next Isaiah Williams. I am also high on Eian Pugh, Ashton Hollins, and top 2022 recruit Shawn Miller. If I read the charts correctly, we should return our core WR from this year.

With the way George McDonald is developing his WR room, I’d say we are in a good spot for next year. Keep this success and Cincinnatti commit Malik Elzy, a Chicago native at Simeon, could switch over. You know Bielema and McDonald will be paying him a visit this week.


We get Tip Reiman back, which is good. Again, this is going to be a high developmental area and honestly, our staff is amazing on that (more on that later this week). Henry Boyer, Owen Anderson, and Griffin Moore are underclassmen I would have my eye on.