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The Brotherhood: Wrapping up the Illini

Game two is in the books. I'm sure you're all dying to know what we think.

Goin' somewhere, Davis?
Goin' somewhere, Davis?
Jonathan Daniel
Brad frets:

It isn’t clear to me, or not as clear as I wish it was, how Austin Sefarian-Jenkins fits in this offense. There’s no doubt he’s a weapon, but I’m not really sure how he gets featured, short of designing plays specifically for him. And that’s fine to a point, but it changes the context of the offense. I might be reading too much into a single game with a mostly not-game-ready player, but when you look at what makes this offense really hum, no part of it is built around a big guy that isn’t a lateral player.

Darin responds:

In the end, you take a ten-point win on the road against a good opponent.

Were you as surprised as I was at how ineffective Seferian-Jenkins was? Was he really that game-un-ready? Let's not mince words: he played poorly. I did not expect that.

It seemed reasonably clear to me how he'd fit in the offense, based on what we saw against Boise State. Imagine two wideouts to one side, with a tight end. Now imagine you're the outside linebacker. Stop whimpering, this sport is for men. Your job is to jam this huge tight end and then cover him in case he runs a stick route. Then be ready to take on the outside zone. And, oh, by the way, if there's a wide receiver screen you've got to bust ass to make the tackle on a guy who runs a 4.4 and changes direction faster than that Mighty Mouse ride at the Puyallup Fair. The glory of the Fighting Illini is resting on your shoulders, young man! Ha ha ha! Good luck with that. Why didn't that happen? Why did the Dawgs run so few of those outside screens? I didn't detect any differences in the way Illinois chose to defend it. I did notice that the other outside linebacker (not no. 45) was slower than smoke off manure, so it seemed like a good play. I don't get it.

Can we talk defense? I thought the pass rush was effective. We got pressure without sacrificing contain on a QB who was a threat to run. By the way, Scheelhaase means "fast bunny" in German. I was pretty unimpressed with Illinois's passing game generally. They didn't help themselves by missing a couple of sure touchdowns, of course, but I felt like the Dawgs kept that pretty well bottled up. Nine of 25. I'll take that every week. They did, however, have success running the ball. Scan your eye down the play-by-play on ESPN. Especially in the second half you'll see that Illinois had consistent success on the ground. I think this is partly because we went "small" (by choice or necessity), partly because Timu was out, and partly because these Big "10" teams are good at running downhill. I wonder if Illinois got caught up wanting to be a Certified High-Octane Offense instead of doing what worked.

What did you think of the Huskies' offensive line?



I was definitely surprised by Sefarian-Jenkins. He just looked disjointed out there, like a freshman. 3 penalties? Eesh. The last holding call was pretty poor, but still….

I get what you’re saying about how he can fit, and one game is a poor sample size, but it just didn’t look good Saturday. I’m sure I’m overreacting a bit, but I would’ve thought that an All-American candidate would’ve been able to integrate himself a little faster and a little better. Missing a substantial amount of fall camp – at least the team stuff – with the pinkie certainly didn’t help, but I also think that Saturday makes his spring suspension look a little less cosmetic than people made it out to be at the time.

Illinois’ cornerbacks weren’t big. I was shocked that the Dawgs used that bubble screen so little. One thing I did notice was that Kevin Smith and Williams (Williams in particular) didn’t seem like they held their blocks as long as they did against Boise State. Maybe the Illini corners were a little bit stronger, and maybe they had the play scouted better. But it also seemed a little like the timing wasn’t quite as sharp on Saturday as it was the opening weekend. A half-beat slower.

I thought the Dawgs did a pretty good job getting pressure in the first half without sacrificing the run contain, but I’m not really a fan of the 4 defensive end front line. In the second half, Illinois was able to open up the middle of the defense and make that running lane for Fast Bunny to exploit. With the linebackers so spread out, that meant Thomas Tutogi had to track down the QB in open space. He’s just not as quick laterally as John Timu, and it showed. Hopefully, he’ll get better with a little more playing time, but you could see how a team with a legit running attack would’ve really gashed that defense. It shows how important having Shelton eat up the middle of the line is, too. You could tell some of those ends weren’t really comfortable playing inside. Did you notice how high they played?

The tackling wasn’t very good. Missed tackles, and too many bad angles causing them to rodeo guys to the ground. As mediocre as Fast Bunny’s numbers were, think how much different he, and that game, look if those first two egregious drops were caught…

When I watched the game live, I didn’t think the line was all that great in pass protection. I was surprised to hear Sarkisian say it was the best they’ve played in several years. When I watched the replay, it looked a lot better. With a 4 or 5 wide look, it’s the QB’s responsibility to make that blitzer miss; that’s “his” man to pick up. So, I feel a little better about it now. One of the sacks was Price’s fault. One was mostly a pretty good play by Illinois. When you rush for over 270 yards, it’s tough to complain too much about the run blocking. But it could be better. There are still too many times where one guy missed his assignment just enough to allow too much traffic in the backfield for Sankey to hit the crease with momentum. One of the things about running the zone read as the running staple is that you’re going to have a fair number of zero and one yard gains when the defense simply makes the right read; you aren’t going to overpower teams like you could if you were following a fullback through a designated hole. It’s a lot about pecking away until you hit the big one, which the Dawgs did often enough.

Pretty amazing to me how quietly Keith Price is off to such a great start. Completing 77.3% of his passes, with a QB rating of 179. Over 10 yards per attempt. His first two games this season are his second and third best passing days (by yards) in his career.

Darin wraps it up:

Bad or missed tackles didn't really jump out at me, but watching again I agree that there's room for improvement. I also agree that the "Jetsons" front (no widebodies allowed) is an interesting gimmick and might have application in certain circumstances, but a team with a good rushing attack, e.g., Oregon, would make the Dawgs pay. Illinois did.... My working hypothesis is that having Timu out in the second half was a non-trivial factor. When you take out Timu and Danny Shelton, you take out two very good players. Sure, it might be nice to get an extra pass-rusher out there, but at what cost?

I thought Sarkisian was blowing smoke just a bit about the line play. They were better than they've been in years, but that's like being the tallest person in Japan. They were solid, I don't have major criticisms, but this is not yet a dominant line.

We're all still cringing about the near-misses on deep passes, but I'm still of the mind that our defensive backs, including the corners, are playing pretty well. Admittedly, we haven't gotten into the Pac-12 yet. Maybe the perception will be different after we do. But meanwhile I'm counting my blessings. I was worried that the loss of Desmond Trufant would have major implications, but it's been okay so far. That's a relief.

The thing I like about this offense is asymmetry. You don't line up and try to push their big uglies back with your big uglies. You go at an angle, you cut the corner, you nip at the edge. Whatever metaphor sounds good to you. Price throws 30 passes, they're almost all completed, and the pressure is on the defense to tackle guys like Kasen Williams and Jaydon Mickens. It's the zone blocking idea writ large - to the scale of an entire offense. So, yes, Price has been quietly great. This is the right kind of offense for him.

I hate to bore everybody by bringing up Bishop Sankey. Unreal.