Sunday, October 30, 2011

In Need of a Bye Bye Bye - Post Smackin' 4 Chief!

Well, this will be quick post. Not much has gone well or right for the Chief over the past three weeks, dating back to that lousy home loss to Ohio State. Let me be clear, we should be 9-0 heading into this bye week. Instead, we find ourselves at 6-3 after three straight weeks of under-performance.

What I've seen and read over the past month hasn't been good. Most of the issues right now are on offense (not getting the rushing attack going) and in special teams. We have the worst punt-return game in the league. And, after watching two botched field-goal attempts yesterday in Happy Valley, our kicking game has turned into a liability instead of an asset. Kicking game is killing us right now in every facet. We probably need to hire a special teams coach. Wait, we have one. Ugh! Not getting any points before halftime against Penn State cost us the game in Happy Valley.

Let me also be clear. These issue are totally correctable, and not signs of a complete breakdown. Our defense remains one of the best in the BIG-10 if not the nation. We have more talent on both sides of the ball than most teams we have faced this year. With playmakers and schemes, it comes down to execution instead of excuses. Basically, what I'm saying is that our issues come down to fundamentals and the little things we should be working on in practice each and every day: snaps, holds, blocks, reads, catches, tackles, and playing mistake-free football.

When I look at the tape and into the final stats, we should be 9-0 at this point in the season. Case in point, Penn State fame final numbers:

1) Chief had more first downs than Penn State (16-14)
2) Chief out-rushed Penn State (192 to 111)
3) Chief had more total yards than Penn State (286 to 209)
4) Chief had more time of possession (33 to 27).

For the season, Chief is 26th in the nation in total rushing and 15th in the nation in total rush defense, giving up just 2.7 YPC. In terms of scoring defense, it's hard to complain since we're also 15th in the nation at a tick over 17 ppg (only 18 TD's allowed in 9 games). On offense, we're #23 in the nation with total scoring at 26 PPG on 400 total yards, on average.

So, where does he go from here? Chief needs to get back to basics with more discipline and better execution if we expect to beat Michigan, Wisky, and Minnesota. Starting 6-0 with the soft schedule and home-cooking, we need to get to 8 wins in my opinion for this to be a successful season. Anything less would mean losing 5 or 6 of our last conference games, and trouble for Zooker. That means one of those two wins will have to come against Michigan and/or SCONI. Of course, with 2 of the last 3 at home, we also have the schedule to get to 9 wins and a better bowl game. Going 6-6 this year might be it for Ron. But, first things first. Let's do this. Get the hell out of our own way on offense and play like a champion once again.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bucked in Champaign

Ugh, not a good showing today in front of the blue and orange stripes as the Buckeyes win their tenth in a row at our house. Oye - time to regroup.

What drives me nuts about this loss is the way it happened. We knew Ohio State would come into Zupke Field and force the ball down our throats with their ground game. Heck, Braxton only completed pass for a TD, nonetheless. Ugh!

The ILLINI defense really played well. We shut them down most of the day. However, the offense really laid an egg with three costly drive-killing turnovers that gave the Buckeyes exactly what they needed, short field possessions. And that really was the difference in the 17-7 home loss.

Don't get me wrong. This Buckeye team is getting better each week with more and more players coming off suspension. It's not the same team that last week blew a 21-point lead in Lincoln. And, it's not the same team that lost on the road to Miami a month ago. This team is one of the best in the nation on defense and in the run game. We knew it. And we under-performed in the loss.

AT times, the offense looked dazed and confused. Nate couldn't get his feet under his throws all afternoon. Jenkins looked average, getting shutdown by Roby (DB). And when they blew the final whistle, it was another tough Zooker-style loss that leaves more questions than answers.

Done. We led the nation in forcing at least one turnover on defense for 21-straight games. Over. They wont he turnover battle 3-0. Done. We averaged 35 points / game this year. Today, we posted 7. Over. Nate had gone 14 games w/o multiple turnovers. Today, he had two costly picks. Over.

So, where do we go from here? We get Purdue next on the road in West Lafayette. Boilers played the Lions tight today at University Park. So, that's not a gimmie for sure. We really need the offense to step up and out of each other's way. We need our play-makers to make plays and not turnovers. And while we still control our own destiny in the LEADERS division, we have a tough slate of games remaining on the back-loaded schedule with three of our last five on the road including a tough one in Happy Valley (Penn State). If I put on the forecasting hat, I see us going 8-4 this year, best 10-2. We'll get whacked by Wisky. And, I no longer think the Penn State game will be easy at their place. Michigan always plays us tough, especially inside Memorial Stadium. We better beat Purdue and Minnesota. But, this is ILLINI football we're chatting about. Going 0-6 is also a distinct possibility and might cost the Zooker more than an winning season.

Basketball season is under-way. And let's hope Weber's wonders are ready for another deep run into March.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Zooker Comeback against the Fighting Pat Fitzgerald's

In year's past, this would have been another tale of paper champions and tee-shirt all-Americans. If you told me before kick-off that we would have three turnovers, 8 penalties, and only 82 yards rushing today against the CATS with less time of possesion, I would have guaranteed a Northwestern victory. And, it would have been a story of letdown, under-achievement, another disappointment, heartache, and coming up short yet again. Not this year. Not this time. For the first time in what seems like forever (1951 our last national championship), the Fighting Zookers are now 5-0 heading into week #2 of conference play. Yes, this was truly a historic victory, winning our BIG-10 opener for the first time since 2k7, our Rose Bowl Season. Heck, it was just our 2nd BIG-10 victory in a conference opener in our last 18 games. Wow!

What else can I say? Twas our 3rd-straight 4th-quarter comeback this year for the cardiac kids. And every one of these you pull out makes you better now and going forward. Trailing late in the in the 3rd quarter 28-10, it was a gutty comeback at home on homecoming to pull of the victory. Jenkins and Scheelhaase led the way, both having career afternoons. The battery carried is to four late touchdowns and the 38-35 victory. Nate threw for 391 on 21 of 32 with 3 TD's, all to A.J. Jenkins. The senior stud wide-out from Jacksonville, FL totaled 268 receiving yards on 12 receptions, proving he is one of the best in the conference if not the nation.

It was an up and down afternoon. There were moments in the 2nd and 3rd quarters where I was thinking, as we all were, here we go again. Maybe it is time to end the Zooker experiment and start fresh in 2012? Just when you want to give up on the guy. Just when you think he's down and out. His team rises up and finds a way to get it done.

There are some serious issues we need to address on both sides of the ball if we plan to make a deep run in the LEADERS division. We are a flawed team that makes too many penalties and too many untimely turnovers. If we expect to beat the better teams in the division and conference, we'll have to clean those up. Starting with defense, we have to eliminate the stupid (Zooker) penalties like freak personal fouls and getting late off the field of play. Ugh! The secondary needs to get better fast. Persa had way too many easy big plays for touchdowns because of blown coverages and confusion in the secondary. At times it was keytone cops.

On offense, we need to asses our schemes. Are we a spread-option attack or not? I would argue the latter. For most of the game we fooled nobody with one botched delayed hand-off after another. Jason Ford may be a senior, but he shows me more and more that he is not a go-to back in this offense. We need to start giving the rock more and more to Donovan Young, freshmen from Houston. At times, the offense still plays out of sync. Our play-calling was suspect, especially when you have an all-American at wide-out in #8, A.J. Jenkins. The college game shouldn't be that complicated: get your ball to your play-makers in space and let the recruiting take over from there. We have athletes and it's OK to showcase their talents.

Going forward, maybe a win like this will lead to something special. We travel to Bloomington next weekend to take on an up-and-coming Hoosier squad who gave Penn State all they wanted today and then some. Still, I expect us to be significant favorites in that match-up. I think we have more athletes than they do at just about every position. But, in conference play, especially on the road, you can taking nothing for granted. Would it be nice to get to 6-0 in early October? Sure, we haven't done that in a while. And yes, the schedule is favorable this year with both Ohio State and Wisconsin at home in the friendly confines of venerable Memorial Stadium.

Onward young ILLINI! On know the coaching staff reads this blog on a regular basis, so here are my latest insights on how to improve. One game at at time. That November 19th showdown in Champaign is starting to look more and more important. Both teams have a decent shot at being un-defeated when Wisconsin comes to town.

1) Hey Petrino, the spread option shit isn't working. 2.2 YPC, really? Find out who we are. What is our identify? Are we a running team? A passing team? A spread attack? An option team? Or a pro-style set on offense? I think the answer is starting to emerge. Let's move away from the cloudy / muddy spread attack for a while. The passing game is too good to ignore right now.

2) Speed up the tempo on offense. The slow and predictable snap counts and play selections aren't getting us out in front. And we can't expect to comeback from 18 points in 2nd half every game this year.

3) Get the ball in the hands of our play-makers more often. On offense, that is Nate, Donovan, and A.J. Mr. Harris is also starting to emerge as another wide-out threat.

4) Stiffen - up on defense, especially in the secondary. We got burned several times today on deep balls against our backs who were out of position time and time again. Against the better QB's in the league and around the nation, we will get torched for big plays unless some scheme changes and/or improvements are made.

And,my updated TOP-10:

Who'd you play? Where did you play them? And, who'd you beat?

1) Alabama / LSU - two programs that are clearly above the rest.
2) LSU / ALABAMA - left hand and right hand of same body.
3) Wisconsin - perhaps the only team out there who can beat #1 or #2.
4) OKLAHOMA - good program for Stoops. But not his best.
5) Boise State - just keep winning and will just keep falling here and in BCS.
6) Stanford - Cardinal is all about one man, and he's really good.
7) Clemson - Anybody have three better wins this year than the TIGERS?
8) Oregon - Off week, but still mighty explosive.
9) Texas - Welcome back Longhorns after beating a really good Iowa State team in Ames.
10) Michigan - Yes, the Wolverines break into the Top-10 aftter this weekend's insanity.

web site counters
ISP unique hits since Aug. 2k6

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?