I don’t know about you all, but Illinois somehow lost the bye week.
With how bad the Big Ten West looked and how good Illinois looked on paper this year, the production has clearly lacked. And to top it all off, Illinois will probably be the only team NEVER to win the Big Ten West.
Apologies for the negative start to this column, but it had to be said.
Nonetheless, here is how Illinois stacks up to the Big Ten and the rest of the Power 5 conferences.
Somehow the Illinois Offense Looks Competent?
Yes. It’s true. On paper, the way Illinois is moving the ball, it should be turning into points. But it doesn’t. But you know, amongst its peers, Illinois isn't doing the worst.
If you draw a diagonal line between Illinois, Penn State, and Nebraska, a majority of the Big Ten is on the left of the list. This means that they have a worse overall offense. Which begs the question. How the hell did Maryland lose to Illinois and Northwestern?
At the same time, I am sure as hell Illinois wants the Wisconsin, Purdue, and Nebraska games back. Sure, Wisconsin is the better rushing team and Nebraska is the better passing team, but Illinois getting blown out by Purdue should be unacceptable.
So where does Illinois fall in the Big Ten?
Receiving and Rushing ranks given below.
Statistically, Michigan and Ohio State are miles better than anybody in the Big Ten in passing. For every pass attempt, Michigan is scoring 15 more points than Iowa and 3 points more than Illinois.
But after the last two decades of Illinois football, if you blindly showed me this chart at the mid-season mark, I would gladly buy season tickets. The teams that are ahead of Illinois have Taulia Tagovailoa and J.J. McCarthy as third-year quarterbacks. Ohio State has Marvin Harrison Jr. Nebraska apparently has a quarterback whisperer.
On the rushing side, Illinois isn't all that bad. Maryland, the best rushing attack in the Big Ten, is only scoring 2 more points per attempt than Illinois. Iowa on the other hand... Well, it makes sense why Brian Ferentz will no longer be with the team next season.
This defensive stat will make you rip your head out.
Remember, a negative PPA on defense means your opponent loses points per attempt. If you draw the line between Illinois, Nebraska and Michigan State, you see why Illinois is 3-5 this season. Illinois somehow has a better defense than Kansas and USC, but it is allowing points at an alarming rate.
Again, how the heck did Illinois beat Maryland and get smoked by Purdue? The world may never know.
So how does Illinois rank up against the rest of the Big Ten?
Again if you told me after last season Illinois was going to be in the bottom half, I would be surprised. But Illinois did lose its top defensive backs, so some regression is expected. Illinois also expected to be anchored by Matthew Bailey, who is surely being missed.
The next graph is what I am really scratching my head on.
How the hell is Illinois’ defense the worst rushing defense in the Big Ten?
You have a potential top-10 draft pick in Johnny Newton. You have a potential second-round pick in Kieth Randloph. You have a Freshman All-Big Ten player in Gabe Jacas. And You have an outside linebacker coach who has coached some of the best linebackers in the NFL.
We saw what happens without the Law Firm, but if you cannot stop the run, you cannot win games.
Without Newton in the first half against Minnesota, the D will be absolutely painful. While the Gophers’ passing attack is a non-starter, the run game is a middle-of-the-pack offense. Illinois' inability to contain the quarterback and stop a run down the middle will turn this game from bad to worse.
Personally, I cannot wait for the Iowa game. It will be the game of a run offense that goes backward against a run defense that will move the ball forward for you.
I guess I titled this chart mid-term grades, so here they are:
As it was for me going through engineering school 10 years ago, I’ll grade on a curve, with the average being a C.
Passing Offense: B+
Run Offense: C-
Passing Defense: D
Run Defense: F
It’s lovely to watch Illinois football this season.