Column: Bullet-point frenzy

By Darren Bailey

I’ve noticed in recent weeks that I am the King of the Rant. Offense and defense. Fans and administration. Parties and tailgates. You name it, I’ll rant on it. But who really enjoys reading lines and lines of the Darren Bailey stream of consciousness? Okay, so all of you really do. I don’t care. Today marks the first ever “Darren Bailey’s Bullet-Point Frenzy!”

Did anyone watch the Illini defense last Saturday? By far the best effort of the season. What a game plan from defensive coordinator Mike Mallory. The leading rusher of the game was Ohio State’s Antonio Pittman, but he had only 96 yards. Not bad for the Big Ten’s worst defense against the run. Outside of a handful of big plays through the air, Illinois’ defense was right on.

So earlier in the year I wrote a column all about “White Lightning,” Kyle Hudson from Mattoon. Well don’t look now Illini fans, but the best two linebackers on the team right now are two more local boys – Brit Miller from Decatur and townie J Leman from Champaign Central. Miller had an especially impressive game in Columbus. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an Illini linebacker play with his speed, intensity and ability to shed blockers and avoid getting caught in the trash. The best news is that he’s a.) a freshman, and b.) very raw – he can only get better. And then J Leman. You always know what you get from Leman, the Streaking Mullet.

What do you look for in a top quarterback? 6-foot-4? Cannon for an arm? Missile-like accuracy? 4.4 speed? Tom Brady’s chin? All of those things are nice (Eh, maybe not the chin), but also give me confidence. Confidence in your arm, confidence in your team’s ability to win and confidence in your ability to make the play. C’mon Timmy-B, you can do it. Step up in the pocket and make it happen.

So, I think my challenges have done pretty well this year. Time for a new one. This year’s offensive line features some of the most highly regarded big nasties in Illinois history…but where’s the production? Not that they’ve been horrible by any means, but a few more seconds to throw the ball would be nice.

Along that same line (no pun intended… okay, yes it was…), let’s talk about the running game. I know, I know. What running game? I’m just like most of you out there – I’d love to see more touches for Pierre Thomas, EB Halsey, and Rashard Mendenhall, but let’s think about why they may not be getting those chances. Well, like I mentioned above, there hasn’t been a great push from the offensive line. The running holes often don’t materialize and at least one defender is in the backfield on almost every play. It’s hard to get much production from the backs with that happening. You also have to consider the fact that Illinois has been playing from behind most of the season. Running the ball isn’t a quick way to make a comeback.

Questions about the defense can be explained in a similar manner. First, the defensive line: For all of its improvement and, honestly, solid production, it’s not a group that naturally gets a great pass rush. “Well then,” you say, “blitz!” I’m sure they would but, when they’ve blitzed in the the past, the linebackers haven’t really been successful getting to the quarterback. But the bigger reason is the secondary.

The most productive defensive backs this season have been safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison, but they aren’t really cover guys. Corners Charles Bailey and Alan Ball can run for days, but have struggled with the mental part of the game. Blitzing puts your secondary on islands, meaning they’re locked up one-on-one with opposing receivers. So far this season, the secondary hasn’t been up to that task. That’s also the reason that you see them play 8-10 yards off the ball at times, which gives them a little more time to react, keeps the receivers from running right by them.

That said, I think Alan Ball had his best game of the year against a tough Ohio State receiving corps. I don’t have stats (because they might be ugly), but if you watched him on Saturday you saw a much better player. The kid has skills – but he’s even better when he doesn’t think that he does.

Alright, the exciting conclusion of the first “Bullet-Point Frenzy!” I’m guaranteeing a victory this Saturday in West Lafayette. Yes, someone will win the game.

Darren Bailey is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]