Illinois welcomes a MAC opponent to town on Saturday. But this isn't your typical MAC opponent.
As it showed against Northwestern, Western Michigan has what it takes to compete, perform, and win in high-leverage situations. The Broncos play with discipline, technique and demonstrate the required physicality to execute in all three phases. Here are some plays that shifted the momentum in their Week One victory over the Northwestern Wildcats.
WMU quarterback Zach Terrell displays an efficient skill-set. He plays well within their spread system, making good decisions by protecting and distributing the football. Terrell has enough athleticism to execute RPOs (run-pass options) but excels by navigating the pocket with good play extension. For example, on this 3rd-and-17, WMU aligned in 10/Spread personnel (1RB-0TEs-WRs) with trips alignment (three WRs to one side of the field). Northwestern countered with a three-man rush and five defenders underneath with a three-deep shell playing zone coverage.
With no receivers open, Terrell showed very high competitive toughness to scramble in the open field by making defenders miss with good football intelligence football knowing where the first down marker is located.
P,J. Fleck's offense displays balance and primarily functions out of 11/Diamond Personnel (1RB-1TE-3WRs). The Broncos will run the ball downhill with power blocking concepts. Whenever an offense is backed up deep in their own territory, the main goal is to re-establish field position with two first downs. The Illini will see this formation and power-running play Saturday afternoon. WMU will attempt to eliminate DEs Dawaune Smoot and Carrol Phillips and create running lanes by using tight end Donnie Ernsberger detached off the line of scrimmage.
On this play, Ernsberger down-blocks on DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, giving LT Chukwuma Okorafor a free release to the second level, allowing him to block ILB Anthony Walker. That created an explosion run (a run of 10 yards or more) for RB Jamauri Bogan to quickly accelerate up field.
All-MAC WR Corey Davis will move all over the field, aligning both inside/outside the numbers. Davis has the physical traits that will translate well in the NFL but his ability to diagnose coverages on the run, makes him elite. In 10/Spread formation, (1RB-0TE-4WRs) Davis aligns at the top of the numbers off the line of scrimmage.
With a delayed release due to the play-action pass, the slot WR runs off the CB and stresses the SS with a vertical route. This allows him the room to attack the voided areas vs zone coverage. Davis diagnoses the technique and leverage of the ILB Anthony Walker by avoiding him enough for Terrell to place the ball between the 2nd/3rd level defenders.
Defensively, the Broncos will blitz because of their inability to pressure QB Wes Lunt with four-down linemen. However, it's the type of blitz WMU executes vs Northwestern in short territory (WMUs 40 yard line) attempting to convert on fourth down. NU aligned in Flush/00 Personnel (0RBs-0TEs-5Wrs) with trips into the boundary. By alignment, the Wildcats created the match up with one on one coverage to the field with WR Austin Carr matched up with FS Davontae Ginwright.
The Broncos countered with a "zero blitz" with man coverage in the secondary. There are no safeties present in the middle of the field because the remaining DBs are left to cover the WRs. NU has five OL to block six rushers. The numbers mismatch allows one rusher to come free off the edge on a clear path to QB Clayton Thorson immediately locates Carr vs Ginwright, since Ginwright normally plays centerfield and rarely covers WRs. Though he's just a redshirt freshman, Ginwright, made a veteran move by allowing Thorson inside so he could execute the trail technique and break up the pass during a critical moment in the game.
Those are some of the little things I saw from WMU that can cause some problems for Illinois tomorrow afternoon.
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.