Feeling the Pressure

The Illinois staff is looking for ways to generate more pass rush as opposing quarterbacks have been too comfortable in the first three games.

CHAMPAIGN – Whether a product of facing quick-throwing offenses, the lack of signature pass rushers or both, Illinois coach Tim Beckman says his defense isn't doing enough to make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.

The second-year coach didn't need the bye week to evaluate the pass rush after the first three games to come to that conclusion.

The stats tell the story.

As far as Big Ten teams rank, only Iowa has fewer sacks than the Illini's four and the team is allowing a conference worst 330.3 yards passing per game.

"It's not to where it needs to be at by any means," Beckman said of the rush earlier this week.

With the linebacker position an absolute clear strength, the spots that cause hesitation are the secondary and the defensive line. Youth and/or inexperience in both areas have created a puzzle for the staff. It would help the young secondary if the quarterback had to get rid of the ball quickly. It would benefit the defensive line if an extra defender could blitz. But that would put corners and safeties in mostly man-to-man coverages.

What to do, what to do…

"Got to pick your poison, absolutely," defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. "We're mixing it up on third down, and second and long situations we're trying to balance it up to give enough pressure. It's a fine line. I mean, it really is. We've definitely got to speed the clock up. The best way to protect the secondary is if the ball is coming out quickly."

Beckman doesn't see it as a lose-lose scenario. He says just the opposite.

"I think there's win-wins in both situations," he says of blitzing or rushing only the line.

"We've played good teams. They're good on offense. All three offenses are extremely good. We've been challenged no question."

Both Banks and Beckman agree – the playcalling is as aggressive as it was last season, when the defense was more experienced in the secondary and on the line. There were less blitzes, Beckman says, versus Washington than against Cincinnati. That was due to the Huskies fast-paced offense.

"We weren't as good as we wanted to be, but we also recognize we played an extremely athletic quarterback who played extremely well," Banks said of the 34-24 loss in Chicago. "Is there some work to be done? Absolutely, but I think the kids are working to get that way and to get better week in and week out."

None of these issues have taken the staff by surprise, especially not d-line coach Greg Colby. He says he knew coming into the season the interior of the line potentially could stop the run, but that generating a pass rush would be a tough task.

According to Colby, tackles Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe have held their own on rushing plays, but adds that in future games the staff is going to be creative with personnel and schemes to help aid the pass rush.

"We knew we were going to struggle in the middle with the pass rush," Colby said. "That's why a lot of times you'll see us put Teko Powell in for pass rushing situations. You'll start seeing Jarrod Clemons in for pass rushing situations because he's got some natural pass rushing ability. Even though he's not up to speed in the run game yet, we'll try to spot play some guys to help that. You'll see some defensive schemes that you probably haven't seen yet to help us in the future."

During the bye week, every single aspect of the program was evaluated and inspected. Banks wasn't on the road recruiting as often as some others on staff. He opted to stay in Champaign and focus on the current issues facing the team. Coming up with new ways to generate a pass-rush is frequently in his mind.

"Yeah every week we try to talk about how we can affect the quarterback and what are some of the ways we can do that," he said. "We're trying to take advantage of our best pass rushers and to try to make sure we've got them in the right positions, whether it's to bring an extra guy to help free someone up or it really just depends."


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