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1. Well that didn't go as planned…
Being a head coach is pretty hard. You are required to figure out ways to move the ball (and stop opponents from doing so) with personnel that might not fit your preferred scheme. You are required to sell your vision of the program to recruits. And you are required to recruit (and develop talent) well enough to be ready for The Turn in years three and four. (This is, of course, a rather massive generalization.)
Winning in the first year is not an outright requirement, especially if you're coming aboard at a school that dumped its last coach for not winning enough. It is assumed that you'll need a little bit of time to rebuild; sometimes you get lucky and strike gold early, but that's a nice bonus. It isn't mandatory. Really, all you are truly required to accomplish in year one is hope. Give fans and administrators some glimpses of what your team will look like when it finds third or fourth gear.
Basically, accomplish anything other than what Tim Beckman pulled off in Champaign in his first season as Illinois head coach.
He was perhaps a little bit too enthusiastic in his post-sanctions recruitment of Penn State players, his team laid some road eggs early in the season, and then his team completely and totally fell apart late in the year. The damage: a 2-10 season that was, according to College Football Reference's SRS ratings system, the third-worst in Illinois' long football history. A bad offense figured out how to get worse, and the defense plummeted from good to below average.
This was a bad, bad year. Granted, it probably had more to do with what Beckman inherited rather than what Beckman and his staff actually attempted to do -- there was not a play-maker to be found on offense, for starters -- but in the perceptions game, Beckman had the worst first year of any 2012 hire at the BCS level, worse than Mike Leach, worse than Charlie Weis. And he probably didn't win back any faith with an uninspiring first recruiting class.
I liked the Beckman hire; I liked what he did at Toledo, and I thought his ties to the region made this a sensible hire all around. And by no means has his entire tenure been doomed by a single, bad year. (Insert common "Lou Holtz went 0-11 in his first year at South Carolina" reference here.) But instead of hope, Beckman finds pressure to succeed in his second year. Does he have the play-makers to do it? And can a hopeless offense improve enough to offset massive losses on the defensive side of the ball?
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 108|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||Western Michigan||24-7||W||14.1 - 12.0||W|
|8-Sep||at Arizona State||14-45||L||24.6 - 43.5||L|
|15-Sep||Charleston Southern||44-0||W||24.5 - 8.2||W|
|22-Sep||Louisiana Tech||24-52||L||18.8 - 25.9||L|
|29-Sep||Penn State||7-35||L||28.5 - 30.7||L|
|6-Oct||at Wisconsin||14-31||L||25.6 - 34.5||L|
|13-Oct||at Michigan||0-45||L||9.5 - 41.3||L|
|27-Oct||Indiana||17-31||L||22.8 - 19.5||W|
|3-Nov||at Ohio State||22-52||L||15.9 - 38.6||L|
|10-Nov||Minnesota||3-17||L||23.6 - 30.9||L|
|17-Nov||Purdue||17-20||L||23.1 - 33.7||L|
|24-Nov||at Northwestern||14-50||L||31.0 - 36.0||L|
|Points Per Game||16.7||122||32.1||94|
|Adj. Points Per Game||21.8||114||29.6||79|
2. A bad
The offense never had a chance in 2012. The national average for points in 2012 was right around 28.0 in a game, so in terms of Adj. Points, Illinois played at an above-average level on offense just twice all year, against Penn State and Northwestern. And even in those two games, Illinois averaged better than 5.0 yards per play but still only scored 21 total points, doomed by turnovers (six combined) and awful field position.
Still, the defense made the Illini an interesting team for part of the year. Only once in their first five home games were the Illini worse than average on that side of the ball. But the bad offense still led to blowout home losses (by 28 to Louisiana Tech and Penn State, by 14 to Indiana), and the defense really didn't take its show on the road very well. And as mentioned up top, the whole thing fell apart in November.
Adj. Points Per Game (September-October at home, 5 games): Illinois 21.7, Opponent 19.3 (plus-2.4)
Adj. Points Per Game (September-October on the road, 3 games): Opponent 39.8, Illinois 19.9 (minus-19.9)
Adj. Points Per Game (November, 4 games): Opponent 34.8, Illinois 23.3 (minus-11.5)
You want to see late-season growth in your first season, even if the wins don't come with it. Instead, Illinois crumbled. And now it has to rebuild its defense.
|Q1 Rk||93||1st Down Rk||88|
|Q2 Rk||82||2nd Down Rk||107|
|Q3 Rk||114||3rd Down Rk||117|
3. The system actually kind of worked…
The 2011 Toledo offense, captained by Beckman and offensive coordinator Matt Campbell, was predicated on extreme efficiency, especially on early downs. Toledo ranked 18th in Success Rate+, both overall and on standard downs, relying on steady, medium-sized gains to wear defenses down before occasionally breaking a tackle and turning a seven-yard gain into a 40-yard gain. That offense had three good running backs, one of the country's best possession receivers (Eric Page), and a lovely big-play receiver (Bernard Reedy and his 19 yards per catch).
Despite the fact that Campbell stayed in Toledo to take the head coaching job, you could see that Beckman and co-coordinators Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty intended for the same approach. Like Toledo in 2011, Illinois ran slightly more frequently than the national average in 2012 and gave its quarterback as many easy throws as possible. With a line reasonably functional at creating opportunities for its backs, Illinois was respectable from an efficiency standpoint, ranking 46th in Standard Downs Success Rate+.
4. …until it came time for somebody, anybody, to make a play
The problem, of course, was that a seven-yard gain almost never turned into a 40-yard gain. No Illinois running back averaged better than 4.5 yards per carry. Only one Illinois wideout averaged better than 12.0 yards per catch (and he averaged only 12.7). Frequent dump-offs to running backs went absolutely nowhere.
Beckman inherited zero play-makers, and while the system clearly didn't adhere to the talent on hand ... was there any talent on hand?
Sharing a backfield with Mikel Leshoure in 2010, Nathan Scheelhaase rushed for 1,061 pre-sack yards and threw 17 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions. With A.J. Jenkins to help him out in 2011, Scheelhaase completed 63 percent of his passes and rushed for another 896 pre-sack yards. He was still quite clearly limited as a passer, and he took too many sacks (as so many mobile quarterbacks do), but he at least proved capable of moving the ball with interesting pieces around him.
But in 2012, there were no interesting pieces. There was no explosiveness at running back, nobody to make his job easier (especially on passing downs, where Jenkins thrived) in the receiving corps. Accordingly, Scheelhaase was just awful. He completed 61 percent of his passes, which seems reasonably healthy until you realize that he was averaging just 9.1 yards per completion, still taking a ton of sacks, and throwing twice as many picks as touchdowns. And his non-sack rushing yards were cut in half.
It's hard to pin too much of this on the coaching staff, but perhaps feeling pressure to make some changes, Beckman did just that. Gonzales and Beatty are both gone. So is OL coach Luke Butkus, for that matter. The major addition, meanwhile, is former Western Michigan head coach (and offensive coordinator at Stanford, Rutgers, and Missouri) Bill Cubit. Cubit was an early adopter of the spread offense, and his is certainly a logical, interesting hire. But he still can't create play-makers where none exist; plus, his offenses usually throw quite a bit. That doesn't exactly suit Scheelhaase's strengths (assuming Scheelhaase keeps the job).
Of course, if there's one thing Scheelhaase is used to, it's change. Cubit will be his fourth offensive coordinator in four years.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Nathan Scheelhasse||6'3, 195||Sr.||**** (5.8)||149||246||1,361||60.6%||4||8||22||8.2%||4.5|
|Reilly O'Toole||6'4, 220||Jr.||*** (5.7)||65||87||564||74.7%||6||4||14||13.9%||5.0|
|Miles Osei||6'0, 200||Sr.||*** (5.5)||8||18||79||44.4%||0||2||3||14.3%||3.2|
|Chase Haslett||6'1, 195||So.||NR|
|Aaron Bailey||6'2, 215||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
|Donovonn Young||RB||6'0, 220||Jr.||*** (5.5)||131||571||4.4||3.9||3||-9.4|
|Nathan Scheelhaase||QB||6'3, 195||Sr.||**** (5.8)||103||461||4.5||3.0||4||-7.7|
|Josh Ferguson||RB||5'10, 185||So.||*** (5.5)||75||312||4.2||4.4||0||-8.9|
|Reilly O'Toole||QB||6'4, 220||Jr.||*** (5.7)||32||136||4.3||1.8||2||-4.6|
|Dami Ayoola||RB||5'10, 205||So.||*** (5.7)||26||117||4.5||4.8||2||-0.5|
|Jon Davis||TE||6'3, 240||Jr.||*** (5.7)||21||102||4.9||3.6||1||+1.1|
|Miles Osei||QB||6'0, 200||Sr.||*** (5.5)||9||59||6.6||5.4||0||+0.2|
|Ryan Lankford||WR-X||6'0, 175||Sr.||*** (5.5)||5||7||1.4||2.4||0||-1.9|
|LaKeith Walls||RB||6'2, 195||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Ryan Lankford||WR-X||6'0, 175||Sr.||*** (5.5)||63||37||469||58.7%||7.4||18.9%||55.6%||7.6||60.0|
|Donovonn Young||RB||6'0, 220||Jr.||*** (5.5)||42||38||172||90.5%||4.1||12.6%||57.1%||4.1||22.0|
|Josh Ferguson||RB||5'10, 185||So.||*** (5.5)||38||29||251||76.3%||6.6||11.4%||60.5%||6.6||32.1|
|Spencer Harris||WR-Z||6'3, 195||Sr.||** (5.4)||29||21||252||72.4%||8.7||8.7%||51.7%||8.8||32.2|
|Justin Hardee||WR-X||6'1, 190||So.||** (5.4)||24||17||192||70.8%||8.0||7.2%||58.3%||8.1||24.5|
|Jon Davis||TE||6'3, 240||Jr.||*** (5.7)||18||9||88||50.0%||4.9||5.4%||44.4%||4.5||11.3|
|Dami Ayoola||RB||5'10, 205||So.||*** (5.7)||15||10||11||66.7%||0.7||4.5%||60.0%||0.7||1.4|
|Miles Osei||WR-H||6'0, 200||Sr.||*** (5.5)||10||6||50||60.0%||5.0||3.0%||70.0%||4.7||6.4|
|Fritz Rock||WR-Z||6'1, 200||Jr.||*** (5.6)||8||5||50||62.5%||6.3||2.4%||50.0%||6.8||6.4|
|Kenny Knight||WR-X||6'4, 210||So.||*** (5.6)||7||5||52||71.4%||7.4||2.1%||100.0%||4.5||6.6|
|Steve Hull||WR-X||6'2, 200||Sr.||*** (5.5)|
|Devin Church||WR-H||5'8, 190||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Martize Barr||WR-H||6'0, 190||Jr.||*** (5.4)|
|Dionte Taylor||WR||6'0, 165||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Hugh Thornton||LT||35 career starts; 2012 2nd All-Big Ten|
|Graham Pocic||C||36 career starts|
|Michael Heitz||LG||6'5, 305||Jr.||*** (5.6)||21 career starts|
|Simon Cvijanovic||LT||6'5, 295||Jr.||** (5.3)||15 career starts|
|Ted Karras||RG||6'4, 300||So.||*** (5.5)||12 career starts|
|Jake Feldmeyer||C||6'4, 295||Sr.||** (5.4)||4 career starts|
|Alex Hill||C||6'3, 325||Jr.||*** (5.6)||3 career starts|
|Tyler Sands||RG||2 career starts|
|Corey Lewis||RT||6'6, 310||Sr.||*** (5.5)|
|Chris O'Connor||RG||6'5, 275||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Scott McDowell||RT||6'5, 290||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Pat Flavin||RT||6'7, 280||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Joe Spencer||LG||6'4, 290||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Dallas Hinkhouse||OL||6'5, 265||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Austin Schmidt||LT||6'6, 275||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Jesse Chadwell||RG||6'5, 260||Fr.||** (5.4)|
5. While we wait for play-makers…
...can the line hold steady or improve without a couple of (relatively speaking) stars? Make no mistake: the Illinois offensive line wasn't great in 2012. It allowed far too many defenders into the backfield and didn't create creases for short-yardage conversions. When you have an offense that completely lacks in explosiveness, you have to be able to find a push on third-and-1 or -2 to move the chains. Illinois didn't.
Still, by default, this was probably the best unit on the offense. It produced a second-team all-conference tackle in Hugh Thornton, and former star recruit Graham Pocic was at least better than competent at center. Pocic was a four-star recruit, and Thornton had the highest three-star designation (5.7). In 2013, new line coach A.J. Ricker inherits a line that features five players with starting experience (55 career starts), but how much talent just walked out of the door, and how much remains to take Thornton's and Pocic's place? Losing two starters isn't typically a big deal, and under Cubit Ricker showed that he can coach up a line pretty well (WMU was 64th in Adj. Line Yards, 30th in Adj. Sack Rate); but losing your two best players in a unit is always cause for concern.
|Q1 Rk||48||1st Down Rk||92|
|Q2 Rk||80||2nd Down Rk||105|
|Q3 Rk||91||3rd Down Rk||15|
6. The safety valves weren't
It may have been a bit surprising that the Illinois offense figured out how to get worse in 2012 (from 107th in Off. F/+ in 2011 to 117th in 2012), but we kind of knew in advance that the Illini weren't going to move the ball that well. That was certainly the case in 2011, but a defense that ranked eighth in Def. F/+ made sure that the Illini still reached seven wins overall. As mentioned, the defense had its moments early on, but in terms of full-season production, the D was barely better than the dreadful O, falling to 71st in Def. F/+.
In 2011, Illinois could rely on two things: a stout run front and quality big-play prevention in the secondary. In 2012, Illinois got neither. An experienced front four rushed the passer pretty well but got pushed around on the ground, and while Illinois remained relatively efficient in pass defense (36th in Passing Success Rate+), it leaked big plays as bad as almost anybody. Returning starting safeties Steve Hull and Supo Sanni each missed about half of the season, corners Terry Hawthorne and Justin Green were solid but inconsistent, and ... everything was a big mess, basically.
Tim Banks remains as defensive coordinator in 2013, but wow, does he have some rebuilding to do. It's difficult to get too worked up about replacing so much on the defensive line and in the secondary considering how much those units underachieved. Still total rebuilds are not particularly fun.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tim Kynard||DE||6'3, 260||Sr.||** (5.2)||11||12.5||1.9%||3||1||0||1||0||2|
|Houston Bates||DE||6'3, 240||Jr.||*** (5.6)||10||12.5||1.9%||0||0||0||0||1||1|
|Austin Teitsma||DT||6'2, 280||Jr.||** (5.4)||12||8.5||1.3%||2||0.5||0||0||1||0|
|Teko Powell||DT||6'3, 295||So.||*** (5.6)||6||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kenny Nelson||DE||6'6, 245||So.||** (5.4)||4||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jake Howe||NT||6'3, 295||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|DeJazz Woods||DE||6'3, 255||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Vontrell Williams||NT||6'4, 300||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Robbie Bain||NT||6'3, 290||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Abe Cajuste||DE||6'3, 290||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Jarrod Clements||DE||6'2, 275||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Paul James||DE||6'4, 245||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Dawuane Smoot||DE||6'3, 225||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
7. A total reset up front
Akeem Spence, Michael Buchanan, and Glenn Foster combined for 23 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in 2011 while complementing the great Whitney Mercilus up front; in 2012, they produced 19.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks without Mercilus. The play-for-play consistency regressed a decent amount, but there was still play-making potential here, especially against the pass. Now, all three are gone, as are ends Justin Staples and Darrius Caldwell (currently a grades-related casualty). No returnee had even 13.0 tackles last year, and only Tim Kynard has at least five career tackles for loss. This is a terribly green unit, one with almost no proven play-making ability whatsoever.
Linebackers Mason Monheim and Jonathan Brown are still around to make some disruptive plays, but if the line can't at least hold up to blocking, their opportunities will be minimal.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Mason Monheim||MLB||6'1, 230||So.||*** (5.5)||12||59.5||9.0%||6||1.5||1||1||2||1|
|Jonathan Brown||WLB||6'1, 235||Sr.||*** (5.6)||9||43.5||6.6%||9.5||2.5||0||1||1||1|
|Mike Svetina||WLB||6'2, 230||So.||*** (5.5)||12||28.5||4.3%||2.5||0||0||1||0||0|
|Ralph Cooper||WLB||6'1, 230||Jr.||*** (5.5)||12||13.5||2.0%||3||0||0||0||0||0|
|Zepheniah Grimes||WLB||5'11, 220||So.||*** (5.6)||8||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Henry Dickinson (2011)||MLB||6'4, 215||So.||*** (5.5)||11||2.0||0.3%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jeremey Whitlow||STAR||6'2, 200||So.||*** (5.5)|
|T.J. Neal||MLB||6'1, 230||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|B.J. Bello||STAR||6'3, 205||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Eric Finney||STAR||6'1, 205||So.||** (5.4)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Earnest Thomas||SS||6'2, 210||Jr.||*** (5.7)||12||58.0||8.8%||2||1||1||0||3||0|
|Eaton Spence||CB||6'0, 180||So.||** (5.3)||12||12.0||1.8%||1||1||0||1||0||0|
|V'Angelo Bentley||CB||5'10, 180||So.||*** (5.6)||12||9.5||1.4%||0||0||0||3||1||0|
|Nick North||FS||6'1, 195||So.||** (5.4)|
|Jevaris Little||CB||6'1, 180||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Taylor Barton||FS||6'1, 210||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Zane Petty||DB||6'1, 175||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Caleb Day||DB||6'0, 188||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Darius Mosely||CB||5'11, 185||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Dillan Cazley||CB||5'10, 175||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
8. An almost total reset in the back
Earnest Thomas, who got quite a bit of playing time as a sophomore with Sanni and Hull out, is back. This is noteworthy because, of the five defensive backs who logged at least 15.0 tackles, he's the only one still in uniform. (Hull also returns, but he's playing receiver this year.)
Meanwhile, three of four corners are gone, leaving Eaton Spence, V'Angelo Bentley, and newbies to fill out the two-deep. Both Spence and Bentley had solid ratios of passes defensed (four) to total tackles (21.5), so perhaps there's hope here for what is potentially the four starters.
But the second string could potentially be filled entirely with players who have never seen the field before. That's terrifying. Nobody get hurt.
|Justin DuVernois||6'1, 190||Jr.||73||41.9||2||16||19||47.9%|
|Taylor Zalewski||6'3, 200||So.||43||63||23||53.5%|
|Taylor Zalewski||6'3, 200||So.||12-12||2-3||66.7%||2-4||50.0%|
|Josh Ferguson||KR||5'10, 185||So.||19||18.1||0|
|Donovonn Young||KR||6'0, 220||Jr.||7||10.3||0|
|Special Teams F/+||113|
|Field Goal Pct||75|
|Kick Returns Avg||110|
|Punt Returns Avg||123|
9. Special teams probably won't get worse, anyway
As in 2011 (106th in Special Teams F/+), the Illinois special teams unit mostly stunk in 2012 (113th). Taylor Zalewski was a strong kickoffs guy, and Justin DuVernois wasn't bad in the punting game, but the return game almost literally could not have been worse. Surely somebody on the roster can return a punt more than two yards, right? Right?
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|2-Nov||at Penn State||24|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||65|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||61|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-12 / -1.7|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (9, 3)|
10. Not the right year for a challenging home slate
If Illinois were capable of producing a top-40 (or so) team, this schedule would be phenomenal. Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Northwestern all visit Champaign, and Washington visits Soldier Field in Chicago, as well. All of those games are winnable for a top-40 team, as are road games versus Indiana and Purdue. But Illinois has been top-40 only once in the last four years, and there is almost no way this team can meet the challenge of this schedule.
There are old and new faces in all the wrong places for this team. The offense needed new blood and didn't really get it (aside from the coaching staff, anyway). The defense needed to regroup and instead has to reset.
I would never predict that a coach will get fired after two seasons, and I won't do it with Beckman here. He inherited a roster bereft of play-making ability and should get quite a bit of leeway for that. But it's difficult to see this team winning more than about three games, and if nothing else, a 5-19 record after two years will put Beckman square at the top of the Hot Seat lists in 2014.