Check The Tape - Maryland 2021

Sep 24, 2021

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Finally, we check the tape. And I have to say - it wasn't as bad as it felt on Friday night. There's some good stuff in here. 50-some minutes of good stuff followed by five minutes of total and complete nuclear meltdown. This was that gutpunch basketball game you lose in regulation after having a 12 point lead with 2 minutes and 11 seconds remaining.

Right to it.

Horseshoes And Hand Grenades

Tony Petersen mentioned on Monday that there were several plays where they were "close" to breaking a big play. And when you watch the game again, you do see some of that. There were several plays that just needed one good block to spring the play wide open.

Like this one on the opening drive. One block here (well, one-and-a-half blocks) and it's 7-0 Illinois. Instead, it was 0-0 because the ensuing field goal was blocked.

Here's what's going to happen. Both right tackle Alex Palczewski and right guard Julian Pearl will be pulling:

As they pull, with left tackle Vederian Lowe turned in to seal, Pearl gets the OLB and Palcho will go around the edge to pick up the linebacker.

But Pearl spots him too late. He reaches for him...

...but the OLB is already around him and grabbing Jakari Norwood's hip. Look at the room in front of Norwood, though. DL is sealed, Lowe has chipped and gone for the middle linebacker, so with one block from Pearl, Norwood is likely one-on-one with the safety (currently on the goal line) to get to the endzone.

It's worth noting that the other linebacker slid under Palcho's block here. Probably wouldn't have been enough to get a hand on Norwood had he gone through free and clear, but still, "under" is one way around a block.

Here it looks like the guy Pearl missed has one of Norwood's feet and the guy Palcho missed has the other:

And so Norwood goes down with only a two yard gain. If the Pearl block was there? Norwood is at the five at this point, trying to beat one guy to the endzone.

Here's the gif. First watch Pearl a few times, then watch Palcho a few times, then think of all the open space with Norwood heading for the pylon had the first block been there.

This play was well designed against what Maryland had been showing. Interior OL does its job and everyone is sealed off. Kick kick and it's a touchdown. But "very close" doesn't really work in football.

Turnover Fairy

I don't think I've had many people yell at me lately for tweeting something about turnover luck. Either I really need to step up my game or there's a growing understanding of what I mean by "luck". Probably the first.

Maybe I should take this opportunity to talk about turnover luck again. It's really simple. Some turnovers are skill and some are luck. This interception in the Oklahoma/Nebraska game was 0% luck and 100% skill:

(Although, it's worth noting, that was fourth down and catching it cost them 20 yards. But in that situation, I'm not mad about the INT. The #1 goal is to keep Nebraska from completing the pass.)

That's skill. A tipped interception? That's mostly luck. There's skill involved in tipping it, but then it's 100% luck where it goes. Same with an overthrow. An overthrow is a bad pass by a quarterback and it brings the interception into play. But it's still luck whether a guy is standing there or not.

Which is why there's some luck involved in an interception like this:

Brandon Peters is 100% in control of preventing that interception. If he doesn't overthrow Luke Ford, there's nothing to worry about. But still, it's pretty rare that a DB is sitting directly behind a route like that. When watching it live, that was my initial reaction. "That guy is so far out of position that he just grabbed an INT". He got caught between the receiver in the corner of the endzone and Ford and kind of just sat there. And then the ball came directly to him.

So yes, I see some luck there. Peters made a bad pass, but you get away with a bad pass 80% of the time on that route. Just like the Sydney Brown interceptions in the Michigan State comeback in 2019, sometimes the QB sails the ball and you're just standing right there.

Other times, you get 1000% lucky.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a fumble that's higher on the luck scale. This is an all-timer.

  • The linebacker punches the ball out with his right hand but it bounces off Reggie Love's knee and then glances off another Maryland defender and bounces in the opposite direction that it was punched out. 85% of the time that's a fumble that bounces out of bounds.
  • The safety beats Casey Washington on the play and dives for Love. In doing so, the ball glances off of him AND leaves Casey Washington free and clear to pick it up.
  • The oblong ball bouncing along the ground hits Casey Washington in stride. Watch the gif again and just watch Washington. Once the safety dives past him he's already running that way and then the ball bounces right to him.

As Turnover Fairy as a single turnover can get. The ballcarrier in a fumble like rarely recovers the ball. So it was 3 Maryland guys and 1 Illinois guy who had a chance to recover it (with three other Maryland players closing in). And the fumble hit the Illinois guy in stride, he turns it upfield, and the Illini take a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

It's Up And It's... Good?

From the pressbox, I sometimes watch the net on a field goal attempt in the horseshoe. I watch where the ball hits the net and then I feel like I know whether it's good or not 0.58 before the officials signal good or miss. And on the first Maryland field goal, I swear that hit pretty far on the outside of the net.

Here's the FG attempt:

I know that the official is standing right under the pole looking up. So if anyone on the planet knows whether it was good or not, it's him. I'm sure it just snuck in there. But man does that look close.

Watch the very end of the gif where the ball starts to fall out of the net. Here's a freeze frame:

That's pretty far out there. That net isn't very far behind the goalposts. So I figured I'd look at it from another angle.

Here's the 3D image from Google Earth. The goalposts were very hard to see so I put a yellow dot on both. And then I drew a line from where the ball was kicked to where the ball hit the net.

I mean, that was very close. Very very very close to missing.

Also, I need a hobby other than Illinois football.

It Was There

I was down on the field for the Maryland touchdown to tie it, so for the final two-minute drill, I went down to the south endzone. Wanted to be standing there when McCourt's FG went through. So it was from that endzone that I watched our catastrophic sack-sack-intentional grounding-punt drive.

While there, on the first down play that resulted in a sack, man, I swear I saw Reggie Love come WIIIDE open on a wheel route. Mikel Leshoure at Michigan in 2010 wide open. There weren't many good replays (the replays focused on Vederian getting bull-rushed and pushed into BP), but here's the play. Watch Love come out of the backfield on the wheel.

Now watch the Maryland safety on the near side. He and the corner both turn and take the receiver. Now watch the linebacker trailing Love. He gets caught in traffic and decides to just sit down in front of Donny. I really do think Love was gone here.

Now watch BP. Yes, Lowe got beat, but BP started to bail out of the pocket. At the moment he bails, man, I really want him releasing that ball to Love.

I should note that my memory could be wrong here. It's possible that the safety and corner don't both take the receiver and that one peeled off deep and would have been sitting there to intercept the wheel to Lovie. But from what I remember on the field, the safety turned and Reggie was open with nothing but green turf between him and me.

I think the coaches upstairs saw this because they came back with nearly the same play on second down.

This time the linebacker was picked by the near side receiver (Casey Washington?). And there goes the tailback free and clear on the wheel again.

This time, though, Maryland had a single high safety (out of the frame). And I think he had his eyes on this route. On the replay, as Peters is getting sacked, you can see on the far right side of the frame that the safety was headed over to pick up the wheel route:

Still - could have been a completed pass on both plays. Instead, sack and sack.

Zone Read

Let's do a little "what does that term mean?" here. Maryland used a simple zone read early in the second half to break a big play. Let's look at it.

Here's how the play will go. Owen Carney breaks inside. So Taulia Tagovailoa keeps it and heads to the spot he vacated.

I agree with the Fox broadcasters. This was likely a pull all the way (meaning it wasn't really a "read" - the fake was called when the play was called). The idea behind a zone read is that the QB reads the defensive end. If the DE stays outside on the edge, he hands it off to the tailback. If the DE cuts inside, he pulls it out of the tailbacks belly and keeps it for himself. But sometimes there's no read. The DE has been crashing, so the coaches tell the QB that it's going to be a pull-and-go.

On the snap, the OT across from Owen Carney heads out to pick up LB Alec McEachern. That leaves Carney unblocked, and he heads right for the tailback. Jake Hansen is on the hash (skinny orange arrow), and he's watching the exchange, but his duties here are mostly to flow with the tailback because it's going to be his tackle to make over on that edge.

So Carney crashes inside, Hansen (orange arrow) takes two steps mirroring the tailback and my goodness look at all that turf in front of Tagovailoa:

Just a wide open alley right in the middle of the field.

Kind of crazy. The football is snapped right there on that hash. And then everyone moves out of the way. And then the quarterback runs right up that hash for 30 yards:

Football is easy!

Two And A Half Blocks

Bret Bielema noted that Tip Reiman blocked three guys on the Josh McCray TD. So I had to CTT it.

Here's the formation. Reiman is right here (with Luke Ford off his shoulder):

Right after the snap - before McCray even has the ball - here's the first block:

And it's a great one because he holds it until McCray comes through the hole and decides to use the block to head for the open field:

After that, as McCray is breaking out of his first arm-tackle, Reiman heads over to pick up the Maryland defender coming across from the other side of the field:

And then, you know, Josh McCray breaks a bunch of tackles...

...and as he gets to the endzone, there's Reiman again, shielding off a Maryland defensive back.

I don't think we can call that third one a block. He just blocked two guys, kept up with the play with his fast-for-a-tight-end speed, and shielded the guy at the goal line. As you can see at the end, he doesn't really block him (but he did hustle and get in front of a third guy after already making two blocks).

I think we'll call that two-and-a-half blocks. Oh, and also Josh McCray broke tackle after tackle and sent out the go-go-gadget arm to stiff-arm a guy behind him. Yes, the white arm is the tape on the back of McCray's arm. The defender's arm is underneath it.

A lot of potential, that Josh McCray. (And Tip Reiman, too.)

If You Can Dodge A Wrench, You Can Dodge A 215 lb. Running Back

McCray wasn't the only Large Man Athleticism shown on the field on Friday night. After the game-tying touchdown, I showed off my tremendous vision and quick-twitch athleticism by... casually getting out of the way so I wouldn't get leveled by a Maryland tailback who was looking back to see if the official signaled touchdown.

It's a European carryall!


jono426 on September 24, 2021 @ 06:16 AM

Football is a game of inches.

That quick turn out of the way was all you needed right there. Elusive in a phone booth.

ItsTBaggins on September 25, 2021 @ 12:53 PM

First time I’ve heard that one. Made me chuckle

Douglascountyillinifan on September 24, 2021 @ 08:52 AM

Great stuff, Robert. We are <> close to doing some things....hopefully Purdon't is where we put it together.

ditkanate on September 24, 2021 @ 09:31 AM

BlockquoteAlso, I need a hobby other than Illinois football.

This line, placed where it is in the article, is absolute perfection and cracked me the hell UP. I remember having a glimmer of "wait did he miss?" hope as that kick went up too.

thumpasaurus on September 24, 2021 @ 10:29 AM

Sure wish our schedule could have been played in reverse.

Looking for improvement in blocking assignments later in the year…when our schedule gets tougher.

IlliniJoe81 on September 24, 2021 @ 03:16 PM

This is a really good article.

ktal on September 24, 2021 @ 06:34 PM

I feel like Love would have gone for 6 if BP had thrown when he cocked his arm. He just doesn't see the open man until the man is already open.

ItsTBaggins on September 25, 2021 @ 12:55 PM

Can’t believe nobody’s mentioned this yet, but you said “Lovie” instead of “Love” right before you switched to the second wheel route. I encourage you to keep it though, because it made me laugh and I doubt many people will see it now.

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