USA Today // Mike Granse

Illini struggles to establish run game biggest concern during promising 2-0 start

Illini struggles to establish run game biggest concern during promising 2-0 start

There is a lot to like about the Fighting Illini football team following two convincing victories.  

Offensively, Illinois posted 96 points with quarterback Wes Lunt completing 67% of his passes while distributing the ball to six different wide receivers with five or more receptions.

The defense has forced several three-and-outs; accumulated 20 tackles for loss, five interceptions; and has yet to give up a touchdown.

Special teams continues to  dominate the field position battle, showing the ability to cover kicks while putting the opposing offense on a long field. Punt return yards have been stellar giving the Illinois offense a short field, and the unit recorded a block and scored their first touchdown last week in a rout of Western Illinois. Also, kicker Taylor Zalewski is a perfect 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, already surpassing his 3-for-6 total last season.

Even with the early success from all three phases, there is still room for improvement. In particular, the running game has yet to become a factor for Illinois against inferior opponents. Saturday's trip to North Carolina will be just the third time the offensive line has played together, but continuity has to develop quickly because there have been some concerning signs on the front line so far.

For example, the Western Illinois defense gave the Illini O-Line problems with movement from its two defensive tackles and the downhill play of the linebackers. Since WIU had the smaller defense, co-defensive coordinator Atiba Bradley assigned both DTs, Kris Harley and Gavin Ricketts, along with the LBs Brett Taylor and Adam Brott to "stunt." A stunt refers to when the DL and LBs exchange gaps or run fits. Line stunts are used to cause confusion for the OL in respect to blocking assignments.

The Illini offensive linemen seemed confused by the stunts. They missed some blocks and did not re-establish the line of scrimmage against WIU. 

Miscues

For example, In the first quarter,  the Illini offense lined up in Ace/12 Personal (1RB-2TE-2WR) while WIU countered with an under front with a seven-man box. The offense has seven blockers for the Fighting Leathernecks seve defenders. WIU's middle linebacker blitzes the opposite A-gap (between guard and center) to the weak side of the offensive formation, and Brott closes the strongside B-gap. (getween huard & tackle). Center Joe Spencer picked up MLB Schmidt, but he couldn't re-anchor at the point of attack which put him behind the line of scrimmage. That caused Ferguson to hesitate and shuffe his feet, giving Brott a clear path for a tackle for loss.

The Illini offensive line has to get more gash runs (five yards or more) versus six- or seven-man defensive fronts. At the beginning of the second quarter with the down and distance of 2nd & 9, the Illini used 10/Spread formation (1 RB-0TE-4WR) for adraw play. Draw plays are play-action run plays but in the form of a pass. Draws are designed to invite defensive lineman up the field to create running lanes for the running back that quickly allows him to get to the level LBs. Brott was to the 3 WR side and at the snap of the ball, he was occupied by the #3/Slot Receiver Marchie Murdock. With Brott's back turned to Ferguson for a split second, that drew him out of the tackle box. That gave the Illinois OL a favorable 5-on-5 match up with left guard Chris Boles leading up on the weakside linebacker, but Boles wasn't able to climb to the second level fast enough to set up a big gain for Ferguson.

Success

Interim head coach Bill Cubit is looking for his offense to have more balance. Establishing the running game will take pressure off of Lunt, open up one-on-one opportunities for wide receiver Geronimo Allison and some seam shots to tight end Tyler White. Ferguson is heavily involved in the passing game, and this past Saturday, he became the Illini's all-time leader in reception yards for an running back (passing Ty Douthard). But Ferguson is a running back and needs his touches in the form of hand-offs too.

During a first-half red zone appearance against WIU, the offense gave us a snap shot of clean blocking up front and a running lane for Ferguson to explode through -- leaving him with a favorable one-on-one match up with the safety.

Toughest test

Saturday's trip to Chapel Hill will provide a major test for the Fighting Illini offense. The Tar Heels will have a lot to prove under new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.

In 2014, UNC finished 117th in the nation in total defense, giving up close to 500 totalyards per game. Chizik's defenses are aggressive with cornerbacks rolled up into press coverage on the outside in an effort to take away some bubble screens, which the Illini like to execute. Chizik will blitz safties and linebackers to move Lunt off the launch point and try to force inaccurate throws.

UNC's defense is much bigger and athletic than Kent State and Western Illinois combined. Keep an eye on the Tar Heels defensive tackles, redshirt freshman Jeremiah Clarke (No. 49) and redshirt sophomore Nazir Jones (No. 90). Both tackles are 6-foot-5 and remind me a lot of St.Louis Rams DT Michael Brockers. Both Clarke and Jones possess height, girth and play with very good pad leverage. They both do a great job of striking OL and shedding blocks to make tackles (like this play below).

A lot depends on the Illini interior three (Spencer, Boles and right guard Ted Karras)Their success will determine how effective the run game -- and possibly the Illini team -- fares in Chapel Hill. 

Micheal Young is the football analyst for IlliniInquirer.com. Young was a four-year starter for Illinois football and a team captain. The St. Louis native also played for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals from 2001-04. He serves as a color analyst for several broadcast outlets and co-hosts an Illini podcast with former UI teammate Carey Davis on Huddlepass.com


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The Illini offensive line has to get more gash runs (five yards or more) versus six- or seven-man defensive fronts. At the beginning of the second quarter with the down and distance of 2nd & 9, the Illini used 10/Spread formation (1 RB-0TE-4WR) for adraw play. Draw plays are play-action run plays but in the form of a pass. Draws are designed to invite defensive lineman up the field to create running lanes for the running back that quickly allows him to get to the level LBs. Brott was to the 3 WR side and at the snap of the ball, he was occupied by the #3/Slot Receiver Marchie Murdock. With Brott's back turned to Ferguson for a split second, that drew him out of the tackle box. That gave the Illinois OL a favorable 5-on-5 match up with left guard Chris Boles leading up on the weakside linebacker, but Boles wasn't able to climb to the second level fast enough to set up a big gain for Ferguson.
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Success

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Interim head coach Bill Cubit is looking for his offense to have more balance. Establishing the running game will take pressure off of Lunt, open up one-on-one opportunities for wide receiver Geronimo Allison and some seam shots to tight end Tyler White. Ferguson is heavily involved in the passing game, and this past Saturday, he became the Illini's all-time leader in reception yards for an running back (passing Ty Douthard). But Ferguson is a running back and needs his touches in the form of hand-offs too.

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During a first-half red zone appearance against WIU, the offense gave us a snap shot of clean blocking up front and a running lane for Ferguson to explode through -- leaving him with a favorable one-on-one match up with the safety.

\n

\n

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Toughest test

\n

Saturday's trip to Chapel Hill will provide a major test for the Fighting Illini offense. The Tar Heels will have a lot to prove under new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.

\n

In 2014, UNC finished 117th in the nation in total defense, giving up close to 500 totalyards per game. Chizik's defenses are aggressive with cornerbacks rolled up into press coverage on the outside in an effort to take away some bubble screens, which the Illini like to execute. Chizik will blitz safties and linebackers to move Lunt off the launch point and try to force inaccurate throws.

\n

UNC's defense is much bigger and athletic than Kent State and Western Illinois combined. Keep an eye on the Tar Heels defensive tackles, redshirt freshman Jeremiah Clarke (No. 49) and redshirt sophomore Nazir Jones (No. 90). Both tackles are 6-foot-5 and remind me a lot of St.Louis Rams DT Michael Brockers. Both Clarke and Jones possess height, girth and play with very good pad leverage. They both do a great job of striking OL and shedding blocks to make tackles (like this play below).

\n

\n

A lot depends on the Illini interior three (Spencer, Boles and right guard Ted Karras)Their success will determine how effective the run game -- and possibly the Illini team -- fares in Chapel Hill. 

\n

\n

Micheal Young is the football analyst for IlliniInquirer.com. Young was a four-year starter for Illinois football and a team captain. The St. Louis native also played for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals from 2001-04. He serves as a color analyst for several broadcast outlets and co-hosts an Illini podcast with former UI teammate Carey Davis on Huddlepass.com

","mobileBody":"

There is a lot to like about the Fighting Illini football team following two convincing victories.

Offensively, Illinois posted 96 points with quarterback Wes Lunt completing 67% of his passes while distributing the ball to six different wide receivers with five or more receptions.

The defense has forced several three-and-outs; accumulated 20 tackles for loss, five interceptions; and has yet to give up a touchdown.

Special teams continues to dominate the field position battle, showing the ability to cover kicks while putting the opposing offense on a long field. Punt return yards have been stellar giving the Illinois offense a short field, and the unit recorded a block and scored their first touchdown last week in a rout of Western Illinois. Also, kicker Taylor Zalewski is a perfect 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, already surpassing his 3-for-6 total last season.

Even with the early success from all three phases, there is still room for improvement. In particular, the running game has yet to become a factor for Illinois against inferior opponents. Saturday's trip to North Carolina will be just the third time the offensive line has played together, but continuity has to develop quickly because there have been some concerning signs on the front line so far.

For example, the Western Illinois defense gave the Illini O-Line problems with movement from its two defensive tackles and the downhill play of the linebackers. Since WIU had the smaller defense, co-defensive coordinator Atiba Bradley assigned both DTs, Kris Harley and Gavin Ricketts, along with the LBs Brett Taylor and Adam Brott to \"stunt.\" A stunt refers to when the DL and LBs exchange gaps or run fits. Line stunts are used to cause confusion for the OL in respect to blocking assignments.

The Illini offensive linemen seemed confused by the stunts. They missed some blocks and did not re-establish the line of scrimmage against WIU.

Miscues

For example, In the first quarter, the Illini offense lined up in Ace/12 Personal (1RB-2TE-2WR) while WIU countered with an under front with a seven-man box. The offense has seven blockers for the Fighting Leathernecks seve defenders. WIU's middle linebacker blitzes the opposite A-gap (between guard and center) to the weak side of the offensive formation, and Brott closes the strongside B-gap. (getween huard & tackle). Center Joe Spencer picked up MLB Schmidt, but he couldn't re-anchor at the point of attack which put him behind the line of scrimmage. That caused Ferguson to hesitate and shuffe his feet, giving Brott a clear path for a tackle for loss.

The Illini offensive line has to get more gash runs (five yards or more) versus six- or seven-man defensive fronts. At the beginning of the second quarter with the down and distance of 2nd & 9, the Illini used 10/Spread formation (1 RB-0TE-4WR) for adraw play. Draw plays are play-action run plays but in the form of a pass. Draws are designed to invite defensive lineman up the field to create running lanes for the running back that quickly allows him to get to the level LBs. Brott was to the 3 WR side and at the snap of the ball, he was occupied by the #3/Slot Receiver Marchie Murdock. With Brott's back turned to Ferguson for a split second, that drew him out of the tackle box. That gave the Illinois OL a favorable 5-on-5 match up with left guard Chris Boles leading up on the weakside linebacker, but Boles wasn't able to climb to the second level fast enough to set up a big gain for Ferguson.

Success

Interim head coach Bill Cubit is looking for his offense to have more balance. Establishing the running game will take pressure off of Lunt, open up one-on-one opportunities for wide receiver Geronimo Allison and some seam shots to tight end Tyler White. Ferguson is heavily involved in the passing game, and this past Saturday, he became the Illini's all-time leader in reception yards for an running back (passing Ty Douthard). But Ferguson is a running back and needs his touches in the form of hand-offs too.

During a first-half red zone appearance against WIU, the offense gave us a snap shot of clean blocking up front and a running lane for Ferguson to explode through -- leaving him with a favorable one-on-one match up with the safety.

Toughest test

Saturday's trip to Chapel Hill will provide a major test for the Fighting Illini offense. The Tar Heels will have a lot to prove under new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.

In 2014, UNC finished 117th in the nation in total defense, giving up close to 500 totalyards per game. Chizik's defenses are aggressive with cornerbacks rolled up into press coverage on the outside in an effort to take away some bubble screens, which the Illini like to execute. Chizik will blitz safties and linebackers to move Lunt off the launch point and try to force inaccurate throws.

UNC's defense is much bigger and athletic than Kent State and Western Illinois combined. Keep an eye on the Tar Heels defensive tackles, redshirt freshman Jeremiah Clarke (No. 49) and redshirt sophomore Nazir Jones (No. 90). Both tackles are 6-foot-5 and remind me a lot of St.Louis Rams DT Michael Brockers. Both Clarke and Jones possess height, girth and play with very good pad leverage. They both do a great job of striking OL and shedding blocks to make tackles (like this play below).

A lot depends on the Illini interior three (Spencer, Boles and right guard Ted Karras). Their success will determine how effective the run game -- and possibly the Illini team -- fares in Chapel Hill.

Micheal Young is the football analyst for IlliniInquirer.com. Young was a four-year starter for Illinois football and a team captain. The St. Louis native also played for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals from 2001-04. He serves as a color analyst for several broadcast outlets and co-hosts an Illini podcast with former UI teammate Carey Davis on Huddlepass.com.

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