Illini Football 2008: Pentagram Postmortem

5 wins, 7 losses. If you’d told the Orange & Blue faithful back in August we’d be looking at a 5-7 season, most would scoff or malign you as a negativo.  We were all thinking 7-5, 8-4, even 9-3…  5-7?  Surely not!  The Zooker surely has the beginnings of a bald spot from the continuous head-scratching he’s subjected himself to this year.  Like most of us, he was left wondering why the 2008 Illini Football team just wasn’t good enough.

On the heels of a great year in 2007, a Rose Bowl year, the disappointment seems even more bitter.  The team was painful to watch at times; not because they were bad, but because you saw the potential.  So now the Beemsville Pentagram brings you five points to ponder at the close of the season…

-The athletes are there. Gone are the days of Turner and Tepper, when we didn’t even have the horses to run.  Even against Top 10 teams like Penn State, OSU, and Missouri, you never had the sense Illinois simply couldn’t compete physically.  Illinois was in fact in striking distance at various points in all three of those games but did not execute (see below).  This is testament to the Zooker’s recruiting prowess and cause for continued optimism.  We may not get Top 5 national recruiting classes, but if continue to land Top 20 classes and fill key needs, 5-7 should continue to be unacceptable.

-The execution is/was not. Third downs?  Red zone?  Special-F*$@ing-Teams?  Lack of execution was the most consistent aspect of the team’s inconsistency.  Whereas last year the Illini found ways to win in some close games, this year was the opposite.  Turnovers at the most vital times.  Stupid penalties.  Special Teams meltdowns.  In most every game, the team gifted the opponent a touchdown or more on plays like this.  Against Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Western Michigan(!), the lack of execution led directly to losses against teams with less talent.  Against Penn State, Ohio State, and Northwester, they allowed the opponent to separate enough to put the games out of reach.  And why the lack of execution?

-Coaching staff problems. The Zooker is here for awhile, so let’s forego too much criticism there.  He’s an idea man, an energy guy, our recruitnik-in-chief.  (Beemsville would like to recommend he take a long hard look at retaining the Special Teams coaching duties.)  But what Ron Guenther must insisit upon in the off-season is a new (single) Defensive Coordinator.  The dual-hat role assigned to Mallory and Disch has not worked, will not work, could not work.  The Defensive schemes and play-calling have been terrible.  We need new blood and now.  One guy, accountable for the D — and he needs to be a detail-oriented guy.  Most would agree that while the staff is good at recruiting, we could really use a tactician/execution guy.  As for the much-maligned Lox, let’s hope someone hires him away.  He’s rumored to be a hot commodity.  Yet as an Offensive Coordinator, he’s exhibited a lack of creativity and flexibility, and an inbability to adapt to shifting gameplans.  At the end of the year we were still running the same 15-20 plays, and every other team knew them as well as we did.  We had no short passing game and no plan to address blitzing schemes.  Our philosophy of spread-to-run was inherently flawed.  With the WR talent on this team (a position of strength next year as well), we should’ve been a pass-first team.  In fact, at points during the year when the Illini were in pass-first or pass-only positions, they looked very good…  And let’s not even get into the play-calling that would invetibably follow a turnover, or the ultra-conervative first quarter strategy.  Let’s just hope, Locksley gets his head-coaching gig.  Sure we’d lose the D.C. area recruiting connection, but if we brought in a dynamic play caller (and another detail-type guy) with a good spread resume, the Illini could be one of those teams that consistently puts 40 to 50 points on the board.  And if the D was just a little stingier…

-The Juice factor. Of course the QB is the lightning rod for both acclaim and criticism.  Juice Williams had a very good season according to the stats.  He was 58%, with 22 TDs, and rushed for nearly 1,000 yards.  He’s moving up the Illinois team record books.  He also threw 16 interceptions, and many of these were back breakers.  And anytime Juice turned it over, you could see his confidence waver (no doubt made worse by the inevitable ultra butt-clench follow up play-calling by Locksley).  You got the sense the game wasn’t really slowing down for Juice the way we’d all hoped it would.  He still seemed to have trouble checking down.  He actually looked less effective at the end of the year.  Part of this was a banged-up and disappointing Offensive Line, part of it was the aforementioned crap offensive gameplan and same 15-20 plays…  So where does that leave us?  Well, Juice is the man next year.  No way he doesn’t start every game unless he gets hurt, so let’s just hope he can eliminate some of the bad throws and continue to improve.  Some new plays and a better offensive strategy might work wonders here.

-Prospects for 2009. Another good recruiting class, headlined by WR Terry Hawthorne of East St. Louis and D linemen Craig Drummond and Lendell Buckner of Chicago.  Florida transfer WR Jarrod Fayson will be eligible.  Miami Thomas should be back at corner, so even with the inevitable loss of Vontae Davis to the NFL, and the possibility of Rejus Benn leaving early, the Illini will be strong at the skill and speed positions.  The biggest player questions will reside on the Offensive Line and at Linebacker.  Much of this will be moot without some shakeups on the Coaching staff, however.  Illinois has a rough schedule next year, with non-conference games against Missouri, Fresno State, and Cincinatti.  Illinois State is the lone cupcake.  Purdue and Michigan State move onto the Big10 schedule, Wisconsin and Iowa are off.  So where does that leave us?  Much depends on the Zooker and his staff – can they really “continue to get better”, as he likes to say so often?  Can the coaches address their own shortfalls and make the needed improvements to their overall strategy and attention to detail?  The talent is there; a run at the Big10 title is not out of the question.  A more realistic goal, however, would be a winning season and a non-joke bowl bid.  We shall see.

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    5 thoughts on “Illini Football 2008: Pentagram Postmortem

    1. Nice assessment, way to not pin it all on Juice like so many others. Agree with most if not all of what you’ve said. Next year’s schedule is…BRUTAL! DETHKLOK DETHKLOK DETHKLOK!!

    2. So Juice needed 5 TD passes this year to tie Kurt Kitner for the most in a season. He’ll need something like 27 or 28 next year to be the most prolific pill passer for points in Illini history. He’ll also break the record for most yardage in a career sometime late in the Missori game next year provided he doesn’t get hurt.

      Locksley sucks and I hope he goes to Syracuse! Not since the offensive juggernaught and brilliant game planning of the Lou Tepper regime have we seen such predictable play calling. Juice can’t read a blitz. Or at least doesn’t have a hot route to call or something as we were basically blitzed almost every play most of the season after about out second Big Ten game. I’m more likely to believe that we didn’t have anything in the play book to go against a blitz other than “Juice, run like you stold somthing.”

      RB’s next year should be better and if Benn doesn’t go pro we could have one of the best group of WR and pass catchers in Illini history. Fayson is a Benn type differnce maker and Michael HOO-MAN-NOM-WA-NEWY (correct pronuciation) is an NFL TE, at least in theory. If Jebby Cumberland gan get his head out of his arse and play an entire season instead of just the last two games we could and should score 40-50 ppg as suggested above. That mixed in with Ford having a year of experience, Dufrene relegated to pass catching and Leshoure having a healed jaw and of course Juice, should make for a good running game.

      My biggest questions are the O-Line, Donsay Hardeman’s neck and his health, Linebacker and figgin’ KICKING!!!! Eller is money outside of 40 yards! Problem is he can’t make a kick inside the 30 if he isn’t in the middle of the field. Santella couldn’t out punt my mom and Eller is too inconsistant on kickoffs. What the hell happen to Yelton?!?! Who cares!!!

    3. I can’t believe all this football knowledge being thrown around.

      The line and linebackers are the biggest concern. I didn’t know that Benn was considering leaving, I knew Vonte was. I see Benn leaving after next year if things go well.

      Michael HOO-MAN-NOM-WA-NEWY (correct pronuciation) (thx mike) needs to be a bigger part of the game plan. He needed to be in the middle of the field about 5 yards or more on all those blitzs ready for the quick hitter.

      Locksley has done a nice job getting us to this point but I agree it is time to move on. First and goal on our 1 yard line vs Minn and we don’t score is shameful. He is much to predictable with this lineup.

      I for one and at least happy that teams are afraid of us now instead of being every teams homecoming game. We have to realize that not long ago we were lucky to beat 2 cupcakes a year and that was all…..

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