Football is a team sport and you don’t get a 2-4 record if just one area of your squad is struggling. However, for the Illinois Fighting Illini, saying their offense has been less than spectacular would be a major understatement. They have only managed to score 21 points combined over their past two games. And if they don’t turn it around quick, they could be looking at a fourth straight loss on Saturday when they head into Ann Arbor to face the Michigan Wolverines.
So far in 2012 the biggest issue facing the Illini offense is that of the offensive line. The engine of any offense, the Illini line has simply not been able to get on track yet this season. Illinois ranks 109th in the country in sacks allowed (3.33 per game), 102nd in scoring (21.2 points per game), 96th in rushing (126.5 yards per game), and 101st in total offense (338.3 yards per game).
Now giving up sacks and not being able to run the football is usually a direct sign that an offensive line is struggling. For the Illini though, injuries are certainly playing a factor in the lack of consistency. Illinois has lost two key players from their line due to knee issues in recent weeks. Graham Pocic, a senior center, missed two games earlier this year, and tackle Hugh Thornton missed a crucial showdown against the Penn State Nittany Lions. Add in an injury that sidelined starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase for two games as well, and the Illini offense has never really been able to get on track.
Compounding the problem may be first-year head coach Tim Beckman’s spread offense that seems to be taking a while to learn. The Illini are used to pounding the football and evidence of that would be the over 2200 rushing yards they racked up in 2011. Spread offenses don’t typically lend themselves to a solid rushing attack, at least not until much later when players have mastered the system.
There are a few positive signs though that show Illinois is starting to adapt. For instance, running backs Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson have rushed for a mediocre 408 yards combined, but they have recorded a solid 43 catches for nearly 300 yards. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter where the yards are coming from, as long as you get them.
If the Illini can focus on their strengths and better figure out how to distribute the ball, their offense has a much greater chance to succeed. And if they hope to beat Michigan, who is averaging over 30 points game, or at least keep pace, they better figure things out quickly.
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