A lot of new arms and weapons for Barry Lunney.
There is no way that the Illini offense is worse this season than last year and the last couple of years in QB play. Bret Bielema made the changes he needed to make and brought in the staff and players he needed to make the offense work again.
New OC Barry Lunney has a style. He’s a players’ coach who started his career coaching high school ball, coaching under Bielema at Arkansas, and surging UTSA’s offense to the top of Conference USA in under a season.
Lunney was a quarterback and is a quarterback’s coach at heart, so I am expecting some QB whispering out of him on the sidelines. Lunney was also a TE coach at Arkansas, where he coached NFL vet Hunter Henry. Coupled with Bielema’s stout offensive line play, George McDonald’s improving wide receiver room, and two stellar running backs, this offense should be much better to watch in 2022.
I am very, very bullish on the offense this season and the Wyoming game can’t come soon enough so I can temper my expectations again.
It’s Tommy’s job to lose. I’m writing this before we know who the starting QB is for the Illini. But in Bret Bielema’s press conference on Monday, he sounded like he was clearly favoring DeVito. Art Sitkowski didn’t do much to wow the staff in 2021, except in practice, and really hasn’t shown much in his time at Rutgers either.
DeVito steps in and brings that oomph that Illinois needs at that position. Assuming DeVito stays healthy, he should be the best QB Illinois has had since Wes Lunt.
Passing: 265/470 for 3250 yards, 17 TDs, and 7 INTs
Rushing: 400 yards, 3 TDs
Passer rating: 123.5
Brown was the third-best running back in the Big Ten, behind Wisconsin freshman Braelon Allen and Michigan State junior Kenneth Walker III. I think that Allen is still a better back, behind a better line at Wisconsin, but Brown challenges him for the crown next year with Walker leaving for the NFL. With Illinois’ passing attack having more teeth, I think that Brown easily makes up for his numbers last year and has a monster season.
110 yards per game, 20 carries per game, 10 TDs
500 receiving yards and 2 TDs.
Bielema loves a two-running back setup, especially two backs who have different styles of play (see: Melvin Gordon and James White or Corey Clement). McCray showed what he could do in 2020 in limited time with the ball. Josh was the 14th-best back in the Big Ten and had 549 yards on 112 carries. With a faster play style and more plays per game, he has a chance to break 1000 with Chase Brown.
85 yards per game, 10 carries per game, 5 TDs
250 receiving yards
If you see where I’m going with this, I expect Illinois to have a monster offense, one that brings Illinois to the middle of the pack when it comes to total offense. Those 6 extra plays per game add up for Illinois in the box score.
Juice 2.0 has a break-out year. Illinois finally gets close to a 1,000-yard-back, putting Williams squarely between 2015 Geronimo Allison and pre-injury 2014 freshman Mikey Dudek. Williams is used on some trick plays and some end-arounds and is the most dynamic player on offense. Williams racks up some serious YAC and does what he can.
84 receptions for 950 yards and 6 TDs
5 for 10 for 70 yards and 1 TD
300 rushing yards, 3 TDs
The trio should split time at the wings as prime deep ball threats. Their length and athleticism make them easy targets for DeVito. Illinois’ biggest problem in 2021 was mistimed throws and drops. I’m crossing my fingers and knocking on wood that these three have improved in pass-catching abilities. If not, freshmen Shawn Miller and Hank Beatty and transfer seniors Jonah Morris and Kody Case will be nipping at the bud.
96 receptions for 1560 yards and 7 TDs
Ford and Reiman are finally used in the offense, replacing production by Daniel Barker combined. Bielema mentioned that the tight end room has been great in the offseason and we all know how much former 5-star TE Luke Ford wants to finally be a contributor to the offense.
260 yards and 3 TDs
Hopefully, the Illini stay healthy and, if they score 3 TDs a game on offense, I think we are in the money-making territory and an 8-5 season with a bowl win is doable.
I might be too bullish on this one, but I see Illinois having an easy 5,500 offensive yard season with over 40 touchdowns on offense alone. That’s good enough for a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten offense.