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Penn State v Illinois
Altmyer gets crushed in the third quarter of a putrid offensive performance by Illinos.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

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Illinois’ offense can’t keep going like this

Where have all the touchdowns goooooo-ooooone?

Happy Sunday, Illinois Land!

After the first two games of the 2023 football season for Illinois, practically everyone and their brother had something to say about the defense (or lack thereof) in a close win against Toledo and a fake close-ish loss to Kansas on the road.

The first two games were by no means a picnic, or low-hanging fruit.

If you looked closely enough at the Kansas loss in Week 2, it was patently obvious, even for Illinois football, that there were glaring needs that required attention, and that the NFL Draft-depleted secondary was going to be a continual problem throughout the season.

The aggressive non-conference schedule was likely a series of unfortunate events, rather than a carefully crafted football test.

Nevertheless, it was the reality of team that had an abundance of validation to produce.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Illinois
Bret Bielema daps up James Franklin of Penn State before the Week 3 tilt. This was the first meeting since the gimmicked 9 OT game in Happy Valley in 2021, a 20-18 Illinois victory.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It didn’t get any easier in Week 3, with mighty Penn State coming to town for an orange out, with the Illini desperately needing a win.

The blatant issue at this point is the offense. I DO NOT want the defensive excellence in Week 3 be completely eclipsed by the offensive ineptitude, ineffectiveness and inefficiency.

Johnny Newton is a bad man. B-A-D. He was easily the best player on the field Saturday.

It wasn’t particularly close either.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 Penn State at Illinois
Johnny Newton (4) dominated the field on Saturday. Despite his best efforts and arguably his best individual game of his career, the visiting Penn State Nittany Lions rolled to an easy victory.
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Besides living in the Penn State backfield, Newton also decided to go ahead an block a kick for good measure. Penn State had no answer, because there isn’t one. It’s hard to get help on an interior lineman.

Newton was at least All-American level yesterday. Elite is a good start to describe him.

Gabe Jacas sacked Penn State QB Drew Allar (with an assist to Newton). Jacas showed why he was highly-touted coming into the game.

Penn State had 40 carries for 164 yards (4.1 YPC). I would guess this will be their lowest YPC of the season. Illinois played the run defense to near perfection.

Allar (5-star freshman) looked very average against the Illinois secondary. He was 16-33 (48.4%) for a mere 208 yards. Allar had no touchdowns.

The Illinois defense did “give up” 30 points, with 20 of those being a direct result of short fields with the Illini offense turning the ball over FIVE TIMES, including FOUR INTERCEPTIONS by Luke Altmyer.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 Penn State at Illinois
Seth Coleman with a nice play in the backfield. The defense showed up, no doubt.
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I wanted to make sure that Newton and the defense were rightfully called out as exceptional before we get to the bad part of this game and the season through three weeks...the offense.

Let’s ask some rhetorical questions, shall we? The inspiration is weird. The outcome is delightful.

This is going to seem like its coming out of left field. Before you making any harsh judgments on my writing and logic, take it literally for what it’s worth. I’ll explain.

I always do. Anyway, here it goes.

Paula Cole had a smash hit in 1996 with “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”

A smash hit around rhetoric and asking rhetorical questions? I’m all the way in.

Some of you haven’t heard this monster cut. Here it is, in all its glory.

I have joined the bandwagon of potential naysayers to begin to ask rhetorical questions: (Editorial Note: these questions have been worded so they are suitable for print)

  • Did anyone not notice that Illinois couldn’t score points last year?
  • Why are no Illinois receivers ever open?
  • How come Illinois never throws the ball down the field?
  • Literally, what is the plan on offense? (Asked this one verbatim on the TCR Chat)
Penn State v Illinois
Reggie Love III celebrates the lone meaningful touchdown on the day for Illinois. After that, not notta from the offense.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Identifying problems is a fool’s errand without illuminating the solutions connected to these issues. I’m not sure if I have the capability to provide comprehensive solutions to all of the above interrogatives, so we’ll have to settle for context.

Context is king.

Other than a 34-point outburst against Wisconsin last year, Illinois rarely, if ever, broke the 30-point barrier. Wisconsin fired its coach. Barry Lunney and the offense mustered a grand total of 26 points at Nebraska in a 17-point win in 2022. Nebraska fired their coach.

See a pattern, here? Lunney can score some points against coaches that get fired a few months later.

The lack of ability of Illinois to get into the end zone likely cost Chase Brown any shot whatsoever at even being considered for the Heisman (or any other major award) last season.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Northwestern
Most of the Illinois offensive production was due to Chase Brown carrying the ball 30+ times on a routine basis. He’s on the Cincinnati Bengals. Illinois is having major issues getting the ball into the endzone.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

In 2022, offensive production against Power Five teams that have the same coach in 2023:

  • Indiana, 20 points
  • Virginia, 24 points
  • Iowa, 9
  • Minnesota, 26 (WOW!)
  • Michigan State, 15
  • Michigan, 17
  • Mississippi State (Bowl Game), 10

Average PPG: 17.2

*Purdue is excluded with Ryan Walters taking over for the departed Jeff Brohm (Louisville).

The 30-point threshold should be a normal production measure, not an outlier and statistical anomaly. In today’s college football, it’s not that hard to do. It just isn’t.

If Bielema and the Illini really want to turn the corner and be a truly respectable program, the offense needs to catch up to the times.

One of these things have become very clear: Either Illinois has virtually no talent at wide receiver, or the offensive coordinator has a scheme that allows no one to get open.

Isaiah Williams has largely not been a factor this season. I’m not saying he hasn’t been the best contributor of all the wide receivers.

Williams was selected to the First Team in the Big Ten pre-season. That’s an unbelievable feat, but means nothing on the field of play.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 Penn State at Illinois
Williams is tacked by Jaylen Reed of Penn State. Five catches for 63 yards, no touchdowns.
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It seems like he is never open.

It looks like he is always within five yards of the line of scrimmage.

It feels like Illinois has no intent whatsoever to throw the ball down the field. It’s not difficult to cover receivers when they’re all within five yards of the line of scrimmage and the defense keeps “the top on” all game.

Williams is neither a productive focal point of the offense, nor is he an effective decoy.

One thing I want to make crystal clear: this is NOT on WIlliams. This is on Bielema and Lunney not being able to scheme him open, or invent a new way to get the ball into his hands. This is a weekly occurrence.

Here are the raw numbers against Penn State. Some of this is misleading, due to the 4th quarter being a glorified scrimmage.

  • 354 Total yards (73 total plays) for 4.8 yards per play
  • 292 passing yards (44 attempts) for 6.6 YPA
  • 62 rushing yards (29 attempts) for 2.1 YPC
  • Five Turnovers (4 INTs, 1 Fumble by RB Josh McCray)
  • 13 Points

I’m not sure if I’ve seen a high major team have 2.1 YPC in an offense that runs the ball as much as Illinois does, and has.

Please take my scientific poll.


What is the biggest concern for the Illinois offense in 2023?

  • 11%
    Lack of an identity
    (32 votes)
  • 19%
    Offensive Line
    (52 votes)
  • 47%
    Barry Lunney, Jr. (Offensive Coordinator)
    (131 votes)
  • 15%
    Game planning/Slow Starts
    (42 votes)
  • 5%
    Lack of adjustments
    (16 votes)
273 votes total Vote Now

This offense has no identity. This offense has nobody open. This offense is going nowhere, in a hurry.

This is Illinois football.