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Illinois has to start getting its wide receivers open

A deep dive into Illinois offensive woes.

TCR // Brad Repplinger

If one thing is lacking in Illinois’ offense, it is the inability to get the ball into open space. This is an issue in the run game and a big, big, big issue in the passing game.

In the run game, open lanes are created when the RB has the vision to find the lanes or when the offensive line can manhandle the defense and create that open space in the middle and get to the second level. This is incredibly difficult to run with a young running back room and a young offensive line.

That is why you see most of the big runs come on broken plays when Luke Altmyer makes a play with his feet. But this, unfortunately, isn't sustainable.

Against a run-first team like Illinois, opposing defenses crowd the box, making this even more difficult. They stay close to the line of scrimmages, limiting the opportunity to break it to the outside.

But despite its youth, Illinois is fairly successful at generating positive plays — see the predicted points chart below:

Breaking the plays down by play type, Illinois was, across the board, more successful in generating these plays — except one area: the passing game.

With 100 yards passing, Illinois failed to create point-creating opportunities through the air. But why then is the offensive player of the game in the below chart from the receiving room? And why is a tight end ranked at the top of the chart?

I had the same question and added the number of plays to the graphic.

I think that we can see a couple of trends emerging:

  • When in space, Illinois receivers create extremely positive plays.
  • Illinois tight ends are used in positive plays exclusively and have three studs that can be used in 12 personnel plays to run the ball or at least make it look like a run play and turn into a quick passing play for the the TE.
  • Lastly, the lack of plays to the receivers is concerning. If the players can’t get open, they can’t make their plays. The lack of these receptions leads me to believe that the plays are not schemed to get the player open.

Let’s expand on that last trend.

Even though the receivers create the most positive plays, they don’t get enough plays.

Why is this happening?

Illinois receivers are not the fastest (let’s be honest here) and thus don't have the breakaway speed to get open. The receivers are also not schemed to get open. We know this due to the amount of broken play runs that Altmyer is forced to do — 16 runs for 88 yards (100 yards - 12 sack yards). We also know this with the amount of successful plays ran for tight ends.

Why is this an issue?

If the opposing team knows the Illinois offense cannot scheme to get the receivers open, they can focus heavily on the run game.

Why is a one-dimensional offense an issue for Illinois?

Illinois has youth on the offensive line. Youth in the running back room. Youth in its quarterback. This leads to sloppy play and an inefficient offense.

Why is sloppy play bad for an offense?

Sloppy play leads to miss communications with the receivers, underthrown balls, excess pressure on the offensive line that leads to offensive penalties, and most importantly, keeps the offense from scoring points.

Why can’t Illinois score points?

That's the million-dollar question Barry Lunney Jr. NEEDS to answer.

His offense, while mightily successful in gaining yards (fifth in Big Ten in passing offense, seventh in rushing offense), can't be efficient in scoring points due to sloppy play. The sloppy play is caused by excess pressure on his young offensive line. The young offensive line creates pressure on the Illinois quarterback who has less time to go through his reads and is forced to run the ball or take a sack. A quarterback who can’t find his targets means that his receivers aren't getting open. The receivers aren’t getting open due to Illinois's offensive scheme.

It really is the perfect storm of a young offense that doesn’t have the talent to allow just raw talent to break through the faulty scheme.

I'm not saying scheme is why we are losing, but it is one of the many root causes.

I think that in these two weeks, the offensive staff needs to find a way through this. Because, as we know, in the last 20 games that Barry Lunney has coached, defense can only get you so far. You need to score points on offense to win games.

You have to play to win. Being just good enough is no longer an option.

And on the defense:

That’s what we expected all season.

Unfortunately, Illinois DBs were getting eaten up by Wisconsin’s second-string QB, but Johnny Newton’s presence was the sole reason Illinois was in the game for 45 minutes.

Case in point.

Win the bye week.

Scheme the receivers to get open.