Happy Sunday, Illinois Land!
What in the blue hell did we watch yesterday in Champaign?
As two seemingly mediocre Big Ten teams with pedestrian offenses took the field in Week 11, HBC Bret Bielema and Illinois fans knew that anything could happen.
Confidence in unknown outcomes remains a place of solace for Illinois fans, of any sport.
This particular confidence comes from the fact that not only is anything possible, it often comes to fruition. For Illinois, it’s usually in the worst way possible.
No one expected 662 yards of offense and a thrilling OT victory. Or, the most passing yards by an Illinois quarterback in the history of Memorial Stadium at 507.
Both things happened, and it was glorious.
John Paddock wears the jersey number 4 because Bielema wanted to highlight that he is a fourth-generation Illini.
Paddock recorded his first Illini start against Indiana, and not even HE could have predicted potentially the most unlikely football performance for the university in decades.
Here are the details from TCR’s boots on the ground at Memorial Stadium.
(Photo shout out: most of the pics in this piece are from Brad Repplinger (@TCRBrad), arguably the best photog in the state.)
Let’s break down the enormity of the statistical day that Paddock and his receiving core produced. Don’t forget about the backs, either. Great balance from OC Barry Lunney, Jr. in the win.
I’ll lay out the statline in a succinct fashion, for all to see.
- 24-36 (66.7%)
- 507 yards (21.1 yards per completion)
- 4 touchdowns (20, 13, 42, 21)
- 1 interception
- 1 sack, eight yards lost
Five Illini receivers caught a pass of more than 20 yards, including freshman running back Kadin Feagin.
Isaiah Williams lead the way with nine catches for 200 yards, and two TDs, including the walk-off winner in overtime on third down.
Williams is firmly cementing himself as a clear First Team All-Big Ten performer, after being voted that in the preseason. It took a minute — and a quarterback change — to realize the unbridled potential of Williams at this level.
The last two weeks for Williams: 22 catches for 331 yards (15.0 YPC) and four touchdowns.
Here’s some more. I have yet to mention Ashton Hollins. This is Week 11. That says something on its own.
- Pat Bryant: 5 catches for 131 and 1 TD
- Casey Washington: 5 catches for 99 yards and 1 TD
- (Freshman) Ashton Hollins: 3 catches for 46 yards
Reggie Love III led the way on the ground for the Illini. Love had 24 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns during his return from injury. His longest run was a 37-yard TD in the second half.
Feagin added 20 yards on just six carries, before leaving with an injury, then returned. Feagin fumbled at the goal line late in the fourth quarter before leaving the game once again with what appeared to be a shoulder injury suffered earlier in the contest.
In a final act of context, let’s compare the game against Indiana with season averages (through nine games, before Indiana), to highlight variance and lead into the final discussion of, essentially, what took this long.
- Yards per game: 662 (366.1) - Increase in 80.9%
- Passing yards: 507 (255.9) - Increase in 98.1%
- Rushing yards: 155 (132.2) - Increase in 17.2%
- Points: 48 (21.1) - Increase in 127.5%
After 10 games, with this 662-yard juggernaut included, Illinois’ new Big Ten team rankings:
- 6th in scoring
- 4th in total yards
- 9th in rushing
- 3rd in passing
- 5th in first downs (last in Big Ten on defensive first downs allowed...woof)
Bielema’s DC Aaron Henry better be buying OC Barry Lunney, Jr. whatever he wants after the team still got a win despite the defense stopping no one with any consistency over any length of time. We can address this in another column.
Now, for the feature presentation. Let’s discuss if the new quarterback is making Lunney look good, or if the new quarterback looks good because of Lunney.
As you may have guessed, there is some gray area.
For all intents and purposes, Luke Altmyer has played one bad game, in Week 3 against Penn State at home. Altmyer had four picks and was replaced by Paddock. When Paddock came into the game, it looked like he had never played a meaningful snap.
Most were all resigned to the fact that Altmyer was “all we had and we’ll give it a go with him” type of mentality. Altmyer steadily improved.
Paddock was inserted into an impossible situation (after Altmyer was hurt) against Minnesota, and he delivered three completions for 85 yards and a win on the road. It seemed like lightning in a bottle.
Either it’s one enormous bottle at the Paddock house, or there’s more to it than that. I subscribe to the latter, and not the former. A series here and/or there, and a good drive or two does not a pattern make.
Paddock looked elite the entire game, both in the pocket and throwing on the run. It felt like it didn’t matter the down distance, Paddock was going to find a way.
Lunney didn’t go scorched earth, either.
Paddock only threw 36 times. Lunney also ran the ball 37 times. Superb balance in play calling, and it would have been easy to go “Mike Martz 2003 with 66 passes and four rushing attempts” in this game. (Yes, that really happened.)
The concept of balance in offense typically is limited to what we just discussed: run/pass play percentages.
There’s more to it than that.
No one receiver was intentionally targeted to get him the ball. Illinois didn’t run a bunch of screens that were successful due to lack of defensive execution.
Lunney and Paddock spread the ball around, in terms of primary receiver play calls and getting the ball to the open man. Freshman wideout Ashton Hollins benefited from this game plan and execution - as did the entirety of the team.
The offensive line has drastically improved as well. I cannot overstate this. It would be impossible to do. Bart Miller and Bielema deserve credit for finding the formula.
Paddock should remain the starter the rest of the season. It looks like he should have been all along. Things shouldn’t get interesting, but they likely will.
This is Illinois after all.
Football is the lone sport where practicing well makes a huge impact on who plays on game days, particularly at quarterback. It is possible that Paddock is atrocious on the practice field.
Maybe getting inserted into the Minnesota game with a “screw it attitude” waas what he needed to take the top of of his potential.
We know for sure he is taking the top off of the other defense.
Please take my scientific poll.
How will John Paddock be named the starting quarterback for Illinois the remainder of 2023?
This poll is closed
One more week of Altmyer injury
He won’t be. Bielema will go back to Altmyer.
Bielema will name him the outright starter.
Bielema will announce a rotation for now.
Paddock will win the Heisman.
This is 5-5. This is 507 yards. This is what offense looks like.
This is Illinois football.