In what seemed like an alternative Plagues of Egypt, the Plagues of Space Coyote recently took place. First, there was the tornado of sorts that chased me into the basement. But not before the wild animal of the house - a street dog - decided she wasn't too concerned about joining me down there. This did not sit well, and so I was forced to wrangle an unwrangleable bedlamite. Now down in the cellar, the power decided to cease and the room fell into darkness. A bubbling noise arose from the floor, and like a biblical blood of mud and water and possibly tears, the basement of the house I've owned for less than two months began to flood. Of course, the previously acknowledged lunatic-dog seemed fascinated with the dirty concoction of impure H2O, and when I was finally able to get her upstairs, she had dirtied a new house that now had no means of allowing her to be cleaned.
Don't worry, all I lost were a few rugs and I need to have the furnace fixed, not a terrible outcome compared to some of the more unlucky ones in the surrounding neighborhood. But that did take time away from my plan: scouting Illinois. So sorry people that suffered a similar fate as me, I'm sure it was God laughing at me having a "plan" for that evening and the next, thus resulting in the dismalness of our current estate. Alas, here's a short look at Illinois's QB situation, which involves three players: Senior Reilly O'Toole, transfer Wes Lunt, and Dual-Threat Aaron Bailey.
The Illinois offense is mostly an offense that operates from the shotgun. While they did go under center at times - mostly with Bailey at the helm - it was few and far between. They appeared to do so to improve the downhill action of their zone run game, though they incorporated some Sweep G and reverse plays into their playbook from a similar look. But their QBs have work with their footwork, ball handling, and reading the defense from under center to make it more than a single dimensional group of formations.
They have some talent at RB, though no one that stands out. Their offensive line is hard to judge, as their units were split, but also because the defense did a poor job keeping the second and third level clean for the most part. They looked solid, though they didn't get great push consistently.
The WRs is an area where Illinois need to improve. If they are going to pass as often as former WMU head coach Bill Cubit likes to, they need to improve their understanding of the game. Right now, they fail to make proper adjustments to their routes. They round their routes and fail to get good separation. They don't sit well in voids against zone. And frankly, they just aren't outstanding athletes. Therefore, they need a QB that gets the ball to them on time and accurately so that they can get the ball to make plays. Otherwise, they'll need to depend on the run game to carry them more than it's probably capable of.
The Case for Reilly O'Toole
The Scariest Development
Back in 2012 there was a Bridgestone Tire Ad with Troy Aikman, where he throws a football made of the same rubber Bridgestone uses, and this purportedly allows it to make a crazy, curving trajectory.
Well, apparently Reilly O'Toole can now make that throw with a regular football.
Apparently the strong wind made it so both of O'Toole's spring game TDs were caught by receivers he wasn't intending the throw to...
Understanding the Offense
O'Toole clearly has the best grasp of the offense, both in terms of getting the offense to the LOS in a hurry and into the correct play, but also getting into the right protection and getting the ball out on time. As a Senior, it makes sense for him to have the best understanding of what is happening on the field, but it shows with his command of the offense.
O'Toole was pretty much stuck going against a strong wind all game. There is a reason for that. He has a decently strong arm to push the ball into the wind. While the spiral isn't always tight, he gets the ball out fairly quickly and with enough strength to push the field vertically, something both other QBs struggle with.
The Correct Reads
While O'Toole is a marginal athlete at most, he does make the correct reads most often. Knowing when to hand off, or when the run is wide open enough for him to pick up a few yards, this helps the team be a little more multidimensional.
O'Toole provides the best package of strengths for the Illinois offense going forward. His grasp of the offense isn't matched by the other QBs, and he has the arm strength to push the ball vertically, as well as to the sideline. Combined with making the right reads and getting the ball out quickly, he will really help the playmakers around him in the offense.
The Case for Aaron Bailey
Provides a Different Kind of Threat
Bailey is a good runner in the open field, and makes nice reads of his blocks with the ball in his hands. Combined with the fact that he is athletic enough to make defenders pay for taking a bad angle, he can provide another dimension to the Illini offense.
Can Make the Simple Reads
Bailey is successful enough in the passing game to make the simple reads. Knowing that he is going to be more of a run threat, the offense can likely get by with some simply concepts and reads for the QB. When throwing underneath he can get the ball to the receiver with decent accuracy.
At worst, Bailey should have a package of plays and get some drives when the offense stalls. He provides a different look for defenses to have to prepare for. He is a much more dangerous runner, sets up his blocks well, and can get into the second level when the defense doesn't account for him. But where he is hurting himself most is his ability to hit receivers over the top. He flashed some ability on short routes to get the ball into playmakers hands, but with defenses likely pressing the LOS when he's in, he needs to be able to push the ball deeper and with more air underneath it to get the ball over the defense. Likewise, he doesn't seem to have the arm strength to be a traditional passer when needed. This limits his game a bit. A lot of what he'll have to work on is over the top, to the sideline, and in the seam, because routes that require a bit more heat on them won't be his strength. He also needs to really work on his footwork and ball handling coming out from under center.
The Case for Wes Lunt
Occasionally as he drops back to pass you see the flashes that he showed as a young QB in his brief time at Oklahoma St. When his footwork is right and his timing is on, he can get the ball into the right place.
When asked to throw between levels, he can throw the football with nice touch and good accuracy. Receivers don't have to fight the ball in the air, but can instead focus on the run after the catch. This allows him to attack the seams and on rounded in routes and such. Furthermore, when he has a clean pocket to set his feet and step into throws, he can get the ball up and over top of the defense well. I still question the pure arm strength, as this example is with the wind, but the touch is what is evident. And what you see is the potential with the pass, with the nose turning over, the ball with good rotation, and dropping down nicely over top of the defender and into the receiver.
I think Lunt is still a year away as the Illinois QB. While he could make strides over the summer, he showed flashes of misreading coverage, drifting backward in the pocket unnecessarily, and missing on deeper throws. There is a reason Illinois only used him with the wind. He doesn't have the strongest arm, he tends to try to guide the football to his receivers at times, doesn't seem to rifle the football well, and isn't as much of a threat to put the ball over the top. But you do see the flashes, and as his understanding of the offense and how to read the defenses off of that improve, you could see him stepping in and making some throws. But he's a QB that needs playmakers to make plays, right now, Illinois isn't as strong in that regard.
To me, it appears obvious that O'Toole should be the guy this year, likely with Bailey having a package or a couple drives in some games to keep defenses on their toes. But the only guy that can really threaten the defense vertically and horizontally is O'Toole. This will require the OL to step up, but right now I think the run game is further along than the receivers. O'Toole, in this regard, will help the receivers appear better. Lunt is still a guy that needs some seasoning, and needs improvement from his surrounding cast.
At the end of the day though, it's the defense that will have to really step up their game. The DL did a poor job keeping the second level consistently clean, and the back seven was often out of position in coverage or not quick enough to react. Teams will look to attack the Illini through the air come Fall.
This play pretty much shows it all: the arm strength against the wind, the receivers running routes in the same area, the blown coverage.