Writing this gives me no pleasure. Watching Illinois play Nebraska on Saturday will give me less. I fully expect to see Nebraska cover a 14.5 point spread, and as boasted by the architect himself on this week's coaching availability, 100% of that blame lies at the feet of Lovie Smith.
If you haven’t listened to me speak on the House Edge Podcast yet, I’m a University of Illinois alum, and I’m officially so far off the Lovie Smith as Head Coach bandwagon that I was torn about last week's win against Rutgers. So worried that someone in the administration is looking for thinly veiled excuses to keep a very expensive coach who has done very little in his current position, I received no joy from the win.
And Nebraska under Scott Frost, is the perfect professor to point out all the reasons.
Lovie Smith and Illinois actually don’t have a defensive coordinator on staff. Apart from how that hurts recruiting, he’s fully responsible for being CEO of the program, as well as calling the defensive assignments. And if you’ve watched the past handful of years, you would swear he thinks he still has Tommie Harris and Alex Brown, Peanut Tillman, Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs, all in their prime, and it’s 2006.
Even though he hasn’t experienced the traditional expectations of success Cornhusker faithful might still be clinging to, Scott Frost is the quintessential offensive innovator that makes dinosaurs like Lovie awful coaches. Behind Luke McCaffery, Frost is going to use weapons like Wan’Dale Robinson and Zavier Betts to spread out Illinois back 7, and then also destroy them in the seams, where Urlacher no longer exists.
While McCaffery is still in his quarterback infancy, Lovie’s defense has been hilariously bad against quarterbacks. Opposing quarterbacks, and I’ll preface this by saying Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes aren’t playing in the Big Ten, are 87-for-117 on the year passing, for a completion percentage of 74.4%. It’s really hard to keep proficient offenses under 30 ppg these days, imagine trying to accomplish this when quarterbacks know 3-of-every-4 passes are going to be complete.
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To combat that, Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith (unrelated, even though nepotism is no stranger to Champaign) guides a veteran group that has a hard time moving the ball and scoring points. Throw in that I almost guarantee they go back to Brandon Peters after his COVID-19 absence instead of the freshman quarterback that just broke the Illinois record for rushing yards by a QB, and you’re looking at front row seats to a good ol’ coaching tirefire.
Right now Dimers is predicting a 38-20 game, easily covering the 14.5 spread - but I’m going a few yards further and thinking Nebraska gets close to 50 and you won’t have to sweat out a 4th quarter backdoor spread.