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.
With fall camp approaching and football right around the corner, let’s proceed with the first edition of #AskTCR in 2022.
Is anybody concerned about the kicking game?
Gut says no.
Let’s check out the first-year stats for place kicking.
Taylor Zelewski - 57 % 1XP, 100% 1XP
Chase McLaughlin - 70% FG, 100% 1XP
James McCourt - 68% FG, 97% 1XP
Caleb Griffin - 50% FG, 100% 1XP through 4 games.
McLaughlin and McCourt are both NFL kickers, so their legs are clearly better. Griffin is in his first year kicking so we can cut him some slack. It takes time to get the timing right between the long snapper, holder, and kicker. We will miss some kicks, but as long as the defense is playing like they are and in all honesty, the offense starts converting TDs in the redzone, Griffin will be used less on FGs and used more on extra points.
Illinois is punting almost 1.5 punts fewer in a game than before. Hugh Robertson may not be the same Aussie kicker as Blake Hayes, but Hayes averaged 41 yards a punt in his first season, and Robertson is averaging 39 yards a punt.
Time will tell if this matters, but am I worried? The simple answer is no. Illinois has two 5-star kickers coming in next year, so maybe visually, next year would be better.
Just to note, Illinois has yet to lose a game because of special teams mishaps. I’d be worried if that is the reason Illinois loses.
How realistic is a bowl game this year? Seems like that IU loss is going to come back to hit the Illini like UTSA, Purdue and Rutgers last year.
I’m bullish on this offense and Chase Brown is a stud. If Illinois gets past Chattanooga, they need 3 more wins. Northwestern, Nebraska, and one of Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa, or Minnesota are definitely winnable. Illinois is in a bowl this year no questions asked. I think 8-4 is a possible outcome.
Going to a bowl game is the floor. 9-3 is the ceiling.
How many years of solid play and recruiting before we get our next 5 star?
This is a tough one. If you count punters and place kickers, next year.
Position players, maybe 2? But only if they come out of Chicago or St. Louis. There are about 30 5-star players a year. Illinois just doesn't have the equity to land a 5-star player in football out of Texas, Florida, or California.
Also looking at coaching philosophy, Bret Bielema is a player developer, which is why it’s great that he is here to build the program. I’m happy if we go to a bowl game every year and compete for the Big Ten West title every couple years.
If we only get 18 3-star recruits and a handful of 4-stars every year, but they compete on the field and bring fans in the stands, me, you, Bielema, and Josh Whitman will be estatic.
What are we doing to lock Coach B down here?
Bielema doesn't carry the same name he did when leaving Wisconsin. He really doesn’t. Nebraska is a worse spot to land, and he has no connection to the state or the school. ASU and the PAC-12 don't suit his style of play. Auburn if Brian Harsin is canned is looking higher than Bret Bielema, especially after his failed experiment at Arkansas.
We have also seen Josh Whitman shell out money to help coaches at Illinois, if another school comes calling, Whitman will match that offer.
The only way he’s canned is if he loses to Big Ten West teams every year. Those are the teams we are competing against recruits for. The way Illinois is trending I don't see that happening.
Ryan Walters on the other hand. I doubt Illinois will be able to keep him for much longer. I don’t see him on the staff in 2024. Even 2023 is up in the air. He’ll be a head coach very soon.
What’s the biggest must-win Big Ten game on the schedule, in your opinion!?
63-0 is still fresh. Iowa is having a bad year. Iowa has a barely functioning offense.
Beat Iowa and recruits, especially on offense, from the Quad Cities reconsider playing for Kirk Ferentz.
Close Second: Nebraska and Northwestern
Personal Must Win: Wisconsin
When Josh McCray returns, what’s the plan to keep Chase Brown rolling while incorporating McCray back into the offense?
McCray and Brown play two different styles of running back.
Brown is great between the 20s. He is a shifty runner that wants to make people miss. One cut and Brown is off to the races.
When the field is shorter, that’s when a back like McCray is so valuable. I’m sure conversations are being had in the coach's office about what to do. Reggie Love III and Chase Hayden are not the physical and north-south backs that McCray is.
Teams know this. That’s why Illinois has stalled in the redzone in the last two games, I can pretty much guarantee it.
When McCray is back, Brown’s role doesn’t change. He still gets 150 yards a game. McCray probably vultures his TDs.