Worth a double up if you followed this guy's plays in the past. Good stuff from our smart money in Vegas. Enjoy.--Trips
THE GAME : Illinois VS Missouri (Semi-neutral site --Edward Jones Dome AKA "THE ED")
THE PLAY : Illinois -4.5 (I would play at 6/6.5 or less )
LAST YEAR : Missouri 52 Illinois 42
LAST YEAR INVOLVEMENT : None (Thought I remembered having Tigers but I guess not looking back )
-First thing to note is that Missouri has won and covered this game each of the last two years. I had Missouri in the first of those games, so I feel confident that I don’t have any bias towards Illinois in this one.
-Illinois has a new offensive coordinator in Mike Schultz who had been the offensive coordinator at TCU for the last 8 years. But the thing that should be noted here is that Schultz was not brought in to institute a new offense, he was brought in to run the current offense now that Locksley moved on to the head coaching job at New Mexico (where he has had a horrid off-season I might add but that may come in a TAMU writeup down the line ). Here is a quote from the new OC:
"In this case, the scheme has stayed the same. Coach Zook brought me in with the understanding that I'd learn this offense. That way, all of the players didn't have have to learn something new. This offense is certainly familiar to me...we did a lot of the same things when I was at TCU."
So I don’t have a ton of fear of the offensive coordinator change at Illinois this year having a negative effect on the team early in the season like you will see happen in a lot of these instances.
-obviously a major revenge game.
-while the site is considered neutral I think it would be an error to not give Missouri 1 or 2 points for playing in St Louis.
-Missouri loses both coordinators from last year and has promoted from within with the line backing coach becoming the defensive coordinator and the qb coach becoming the offensive coordinator. The schemes should be basically the same here so like the Illinois offensive coordinator change the only major issue I have here is that they lose the play calling of Dave Christensen. New qb , two new coordinators and a below average head coach is not a good week 1 recipe though.
Illinois O-line vs. Missouri D-line
-The good news for the Illini is that they return some good players with experience on the offensive line. The bad news is that a lot of these guys will be playing at different positions along the line and the losses on the offensive line were at the two key positions of LT (though Juice blindside as a lefthanded qb will be protected by the RT making the LT spot less significant than for most teams) and Center. Because of how early Steele has to put out his publication he is often off the mark through little fault of his own as teams adjust their starters. While this could occur between now and kickoff lets look at what the actual starting front is likely to look like for the Illini .. It is different than our preseason bible.
LT-- Jeff Allen -- sliding him over from LG where he started most of last year
LG--Randall Hunt --Big Fatty 6 foot 5 inch 320 pounder , new face to starting group
C--Eric Block --last years starting left guard moves into the vacated center position
RG--Jon Asamoah--returning quality starter.
RT--Ryan Palmer --another fatty , 6 foot 7 , 311 pounds .. Started 3 at this position
So I really like this group for Illinois from a size and experience standpoint. They average over 309 pounds as a unit. Also this team also has a capable blocking tight end in Mike Hoomanawanui (if mentioned again I am calling him "Hoo" ). They are going to be a formidable unit considering the balance they have on offense. They may be a tad thin on the line but Lewis can replace most injuries that might occur In this game (If they lose E. Block then we have some problems as Asamoah will slide into center spot most likely and has apparently been having a problem with snaps--ugh ). The team has apparently been using some two tight end sets. While the size of the unit is promising to me as a handicapper who supports teams who can power run , I do have concerns that they might be too big (not quick enough ) for some of the spread attack plays that utilize Juice Williams skills the best. What is impressive about the Illini offense this year is that this looks like an above average offensive line to me and it is the clear question mark of this offense heading into the season. I also like that this offensive line rates to be far better coached than they have been the last couple of seasons. But they sure look like they have the edge against this Missouri defensive line at a minimum. So lets look at the Mizzou D-line that will be in charge of stopping the rungame and getting pressure on juice Williams……… the tigers will be playing a 4-3 defensive alignment with Jacquies Smith and Brian Coulter. The two DT will be Terrell Resonno and Jaron Baston. The tigers lose over 40 starts (2 starters to the NFL) and over 160 tackles from last years team on this defensive line. Resonno is the only guy with any real experience as well. A further concern to me if I were a Tiger backer is the relative size of the defensive ends …they average 247 pounds and that is a HUGE weight differential for them to deal with. They may be tough on the tackles for Illinois in obvious passing downs because of their quickness but they might get mashed on 1st and 10. I think this is a pretty big downgrade year over year atleast to start the season… maybe they round into form later in the year as there is some talent there but having 1 returning start to 3 defensive line positions against a decent offensive line in week one is a tough spot in my opinion. And this is very important to me because as I mentioned before the oline for Illinois is my only question mark with this offense (besides turnovers which I will get to later) and given the weapons on the outside for the Illini , I am not sure that Missouri has the secondary to commit too many to the line of scrimmage.
Illinois RB VS Missouri Linebackers
Start by looking at the linebackers for Mizzou. They play a 4-3 , and should be starting sean weather spoon , Andrew Gachkar and Luke Lambert. I like this group of linebackers with Weatherspoon being the best defender on the entire team this year. He has a great ability at diagnosing plays and making a tackle. As a group they have a nice combination of size and speed. Illinois is extremely deep at rb but not sure they are much more than average at the position. Daniel Dufrene ( small ankle sprain the other day in practice , not a huge dropoff if any to ford if he cant go ) is a pretty explosive ball carrier at times but he is not just capable of making the big play for the offense , he is also capable of fumbling the football and creating a big play for the defense. Jason Ford will also get carries and he is the back of the future at Illinois. Fan favorite Troy Pollard is a nice fullback. You also have to consider juice Williams as another running option for the Illini. The key to this particular matchup will be in how Missouri tries to defend Illinois. If they play soft to avoid getting torched in the passing game , then there should be lanes for these running backs and they do have some explosiveness. If Missouri’s plan is to crowd the line of scrimmage in an attempt to slow down the rushing game , get pressure on the qb and force juice Williams to make quick reads and accurate throws then I could see them having at least some success stopping this running attack. I think they would be grossly punished for it if they attempt that strategy however. I actually give a slight edge to the line backing of Missouri here …. Again mostly based on Weatherspoon who I really like.
Illinois QB/WR/TE vs. Missouri Secondary
Obviously there is a huge edge for Illinois here this year. They have possibly the best receiving unit in college football in my opinion and lets take a look at it. Much like the CAL writeup where I did not spend a ton of time on RB BEST , I don’t want to waste too much time talking about Arrelious Benn as most all of us know what he is about. What makes this receiving unit so great is the diversity they have when you get beyond Benn. The other two wideouts are Jarred Fayson and Jeff Cumberland. Cumberland is one of those physical specimen type receivers at 6 foot 5 and 255 pounds. A brutal cover for most secondaries and the fact that Missouri does not have a single starting player in the secondary over 6 feet tall should not be lost on us ( btw Benn is 6 ‘2 himself and Te Hoomanawanui is 6 ’5 270 ). Then you have Fayson who was a transfer in from Florida. Because he is from Florida he gets compared to Harvin a lot as a player but I can’t really think of who else to compare him to off the top of my head. He is a speedy, shifty, quick and explosive. Florida was utilizing him as a freshman with end around runs a lot when he saw action. The new offensive coordinator for Illinois is Schultz from TCU and those of you that followed TCU football probably know how much he liked to run the wr screen or bubble screen. With Benn and Fayson as options , look for that quite a bit in this game and going forward. The TE is going to the nfl. I will call him "Hoo" for short , he Is a big dude capable of catching the ball and is an excellent run blocker. Illinois actually used a lot more of two TE sets in the spring and fall camps at camp Rantoul so don’t be surprised if Hubie Graham is on the field at the same time once in awhile. As for the Missouri secondary they lose their safeties ( though ricks has some starting experience ) and the only CB they have you can count on for anything at this point is Carl Gettis. They don’t appear to have great depth either to account for the times when all three Illinois wide receivers are on the field. Their pass defense was ranked 118th in the nation last year and gave up 286.4 yards per game. Brutal and does not rate to improve for several reasons. 1. They lost a ton of talent on the defensive side of the football 2. The offense ( which will still be a decent offense ) can not possibly be as efficient as it was with Maclin, Daniel, Coffman etc etc etc etc and this means that Missouri’s defense will be on the field that much more this season. This wr vs. secondary matchup is absolutely atrocious for Missouri and in order to avoid giving up big chunks with frequency I think they have to play somewhat soft and hope they can either defend the run without committing guys and hope for juice to make a mistake or take their punishment. I sort of glossed over Juice Williams as I figure most know what they need to about him. Should expect improvement from him, especially with a better Offensive coordinator.
How it plays out
Illinois has weapons and balance all over the field vs. a defense that was 118th vs. the pass last year while having considerably more talent on that side of the ball than this year. I have a hard time seeing Missouri taking the pass away from Missouri with aggressive play and that means keeping safeties back. With the weaker defensive line this year , that should mean good push and opportunities in the running game for Illinois. And at the same time, I just don’t think Missouri has the horses to defend these receivers no matter what they do. The key with this Illinois team is the turnovers … Dufrene fumbles and Juice Williams interceptions can’t be considered flukes anymore and if they lose the turnover battle here covering gets tougher … hell they were 1-6 ATS last year in games where they lost the turnover battle. The good news is they have a much better coordinator now as Locksley left for the unm job and they get schultz to replace. The offense will be better coached and more disciplined. I would be extremely shocked if this offense did not produce big in this game and going forward this season.
Missouri offensive line vs. Illinois defensive line
It’s hard not to like the Missouri oline this year. As of this writing the offensive line should look like this
LT Elvis Fisher --one of many fatties on this line at 300 pounds. Just a sophomore but started all the games for them already. Good looking player.
LG Austin Wuebbels--another 300 pounder, little experience. Looks like he beat out some challengers.
C Tim Barnes --over 300 pounds at center !! And 6 foot 4 !!! Really big for a center. Good player with experience
RG kurtis Gregory--6’5 305 likely a first team all big12 player this year in an offensive line conference. Impressive.
RT--Dan Hoch ( possible injury here ) --6 7 315 fatty … see a trend of size and height ? … don’t know much about him.
The line is really really tall which in the case of Missouri I think is an ok benefit because of the nature of their running back and qb. The QB is a big kid so he should be able to see over the top no problem and Washington at rb is just 5 11 and may get lost behind those big trees up front. The line looks really good to me but they will also be asked to do more this year than last. One of the big advantages for the oline last year was having Chase Daniel at qb … who was able to make the quick reads and get rid of the ball quickly. The offensive line did not need to hold their blocks as long. With Gabbert (by all accounts he is decent ) back there the reads wont come as fast and they will need to hold their blocks longer. To me the front seven for Illinois ( and their defense as a whole ) is the big improvement by either team year over year. The strength of the defensive line is clearly the tackles. They will rotate a lot due to their depth. The 3 guys that should get the most work are Corey Liguet ( seems to be getting a lot of love from Illini folks ) , Sirod Williams and Josh Brent. All of those guys are big and have looked GREAT in the spring and fall. Some concern that could be bad offensive line play of course. The ends are both tall which should help in knocking down those short passes that Missouri likes to use in the passing game. However they arent particularly big. Pilcher and Antonio James are 265 and 255 respectively and facing the whales on the Missouri line blocking for a talented running back could present some problems. They had a freshman that was showing pass rush promise that we might see on the field in this particular matchup but his name escapes me right now. I have to give the edge to Missouri here but this is a much better defensive line than what Illinois has brought into this game the last couple of years.
Missouri RB vs. Illinois Linebackers
I am a Washington fan …. I disagree with some people that he is superior to Temple but that is neither here nor there. He rushed for 5.9 carry and over a thousand yards last year and I would expect similar numbers this season. Decent vision , good burst and capable of the big play. However , again you have to think that he benefited from teams focusing on Maclin , Coffman, Saunders and Daniel last year. Teams this year may be more interested in stopping Washington first. And in games last year where the tigers were held to under 5 yards a carry they were 1-5 ATS. Since I mentioned juice Williams running ability above , I should mention that Gabbert is much more mobile than you might think given his size. The linebackers for Illinois are again improved …Martez Wilson is the best defender on the Illini team and they get some addition by subtraction at this unit as well. Ellington and Thomas are serviceable from what I have read but I really don’t know a ton about either guy. I do know that the team speed at the linebacking spot is much better …. I know that this front seven is vastly superior to the middle of the pack rushing defense they had last year. I still give a slight edge to Washington and the mizzou running game here but it is not significant at all and if I have underestimated how much of an impact the passing game losses are on the running game , the illini may have a good shot of actually having the edge here themselves. This front seven for Illinois is one of the year over year changes that made this game appealing to me.
Missouri qb/wr/te vs. Illinois secondary
I can’t say that I have seen much of Gabbert other than film from scrimmages this year. However , people seem to be high on him. But this is Missouri and they have lost all of their playmakers in the passing game… all of them …. Daniel gone , saunders gone, maclin gone, Coffman gone …… there is no way in hell that this team can be as productive in the passing game. Those players cannot be replaced by wr Jared Perry, wr Wes Kemp , te Andrew jones and qb Gabbert (at least not in game one with Gabbert). This is a HUGE dropoff … perhaps the largest dropoff of any unit in the nation year over year … I certainly cannot think of another one that is this apparent. The other factor in this particular matchup is that I think a lot of folks might put too much emphasis on the loss of Vontae Davis. The reality is that Davis was a huge disappointment to this team. He took plays off , he dogged it in practices at times , he used bad techniques at times , he did not deliver on assignments at times ……. He was a bad teammate on the field. Period. All the talent in the world and unfortunately he knew it. Certainly that kind of skill will be missed in the secondary but his departure is not all bad , especially where leadership is concerned. Miami Thomas got hurt to another acl (the other knee this time I think) and will be out for the year so Illinois loses some depth there. The thing is , Illinois is fairly solid at the cb position. Hicks is a quality player and Wilson and Bellamy have looked good enough .. Two quality safeties in Hardeman and Flowers complete a pretty good unit. Not a great unit by any stretch of the imagination but far better than most will think with the davis loss. They matchup just fine here and the speed at linebacker should help against the wr of Missouri given the way they run their offense as well. It’s hard for me to give Illinois an edge here without seeing it first hand given what this Missouri offense has done against them in this area … in fact, I won’t … but it is pretty close to a wash and that is a HUGE difference between this game this year and this game last year.
How it plays out
Well, I would expect Missouri to be fairly effective offensively but not even close to as effective as they have been the last couple of years. They should try to rely on Washington more this time around. Gabbert will be a pretty damn good qb by the end of his time at Missouri but expecting him to show up and go toe to toe with a senior qb on the other side who simply has more experience and more weapons at his disposal is problematic in my opinion, especially with a new playcaller. I was reading on one of the illini message boards that Zook got criticized heavily for the passive way in which he attempted to defend against the Missouri attack last year. So look for the illini to try and get more pressure on the qb this year … and I am not sure that gabbert will be able to handle it this early in the year with a bunch of unproven receiving options to bail him out. While the offensive line and their scheme rates to allow them some opportunities, the combination of offensive losses and defensive improvements along with a more aggressive defensive scheme should mean far less points for Missouri in this one. Also … again have to point out that this defensive secondary is defending great receievers every single day in practice.
I just want to point out the huge losses for Missouri in this regard. Wolfert was a money kicker for this team .. Automatic almost and now he is gone …. Maclin was a dynamic return man and now he is gone … another significant difference year over year for this game.
Look …. No one realizes zook ineptness more than me but they get the benefit of losing Locksley and getting Schultz here and they also get the benefit of facing a team that has pinkel as a head coach , loses their great play caller in Christensen and has a new defensive coordinator. Again , even if you can’t give Illinois a coaching edge the gap year over year has definitely been reduced at a minimum.
-Illinois has the senior qb going against a first time starter
-Illinois returns all the great pass catching options and Missouri loses all three of theirs.
-Missouri looks weakish in the defensive trenches making it difficult for them to not commit bodies to stop the run …but if they do they become way to vulnerable in the passing game where weapons abound for illinois
-Missouri looks down in special teams
There was not a ton of separation between these two clubs the last two years when one of the best Missouri teams in history was on the field with nfl talent all over the place. Enough has changed here to expect Illinois to get the double revenge they should be motivated for.
Offensive line -- missouri
qb -- illinois
wr --illinois BIG
defensive line - illinois
linebacking -wash/slight edge mizz
special teams -- illinois