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Illinois Snap Counts: Mixing It Up on Defense

An easy win means plenty of playing time for everyone. But how did we get there?

Take care to leave a Trace of a man.
Take care to leave a Trace of a man.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

This game may have contained the most garbage time of any of the games so far this season, so we've got a lengthy and strange chart of football playing ahead. Come join in the fun!


Pos. No. Class Offense Snaps %Snap
LT 73 Junior Paris Palmer 67 92%
C 55 RS Junior Wendy Laurent 67 92%
RT 70 RS Sophomore Brendan Mahon 67 92%
QB 14 Junior Christian Hackenberg 59 81%
LG 66 RS Senior Angelo Mangiro 59 81%
RB 26 Freshman Saquon Barkley 51 70%
WR 12 Sophomore Chris Godwin 51 70%
RG 72 RS Junior Brian Gaia 49 67%
TE 11 RS Junior Brent Wilkerson 44 60%
WR 5 RS Sophomore DaeSean Hamilton 42 58%
WR 7 RS Junior Geno Lewis 34 47%
TE 87 RS Senior Kyle Carter 29 40%
RG/LG 53 RS Junior Derek Dowrey 28 38%
WR 13 Sophomore Saeed Blacknall 23 32%
TE 88 Sophomore Mike Gesicki 20 27%
WR 10 Freshman Brandon Polk 15 21%
QB 9 RS Freshman Trace McSorley 14 19%
WR 3 RS Freshman DeAndre Thompkins 13 18%
RB 24 RS Freshman Nick Scott 6 8%
TE 89 RS Sophomore Tom Pancoast 6 8%
LT 58 RS Freshman Chance Sorrell 6 8%
C 68 RS Senior Kevin Reihner 6 8%
RG 71 RS Junior Albert Hall 6 8%
RT 60 RS Freshman Noah Beh 6 8%
LG 75 RS Freshman Brendan Brosnan 6 8%
RB 22 RS Junior Akeel Lynch 5 7%
RB 8 RS Freshman Mark Allen 5 7%
TE 34 RS Junior Dominic Salomone 4 5%
RB 20 RS Freshman Johnathan Thomas 3 4%
RB 27 Senior Brandon Johnson 3 4%
WR 80 RS Senior Matt Zanellato 3 4%
WR 2 RS Junior Jake Kiley 3 4%
WR 19 Junior Gregg Garrity 2 3%
WR 89 RS Sophomore Gordon Bentley 1 1%

The first thing that jumped out for this game is that Akeel Lynch has really been phased out of the offense. The starter and feature back is Saquon Barkley, and his main backup in this game was Nick Scott. Lynch only played two snaps before garbage time, and split garbage time snaps with Mark Allen and walk-on Brandon Johnson. It's not necessarily a knock on Lynch that the team is flush with great, young running backs, but he did not help his cause for snaps with his big dropped pass last week against Maryland.

With right tackle Andrew Nelson out of the lineup, Brendan Mahon stepped in. Brian Gaia started at right guard and played most of the pre-garbage time snaps there, though Derek Dowrey did replace him for two or three series before Trace McSorley entered the game for Christian Hackenberg. Angelo Mangiro was the only starter pulled out of the game on the first McSorley series (which resulted in a touchdown), with Dowrey switching to left guard and Gaia returning to right guard. Chasz Wright was injured last week and did not play in this game on special teams units or in garbage time.

At wide receiver, Chris Godwin led in snaps, which is slightly unique since pretty much every week had seen he and DaeSean Hamilton pretty even in snaps. Geno Lewis saw an increase in his playing time for the first time all season, rewarding the coaching staff with an early touchdown catch similar to his catch against Maryland in Baltimore. We saw end-of-the-game appearances by four non-regulars: Matt Zanellato, Jake Kiley, and walk-ons Gregg Garrity and Gordon Bentley. Bentley entered the game for one snap and got the season's funniest penalty: he was on the field at the same time as walk-on tight end Tom Pancoast, who also wears number 89. That is illegal numbering, and caused Penn State to have to run one extra play to run the clock out.

At tight end, Brent Wilkerson led in snaps for the second week in a row, and it was not particularly close.


Pos. No. Class Defense Snaps %Snap
MLB 40 Sophomore Jason Cabinda 61 84%
S/CB 9 Senior Jordan Lucas 58 79%
CB 10 Senior Trevor Williams 50 69%
DE 95 Senior Carl Nassib 48 66%
CB 29 Freshman John Reid 46 63%
S 2 Sophomore Marcus Allen 46 63%
DT 99 RS Junior Austin Johnson 44 60%
CB 15 Sophomore Grant Haley 42 58%
S 6 RS Junior Malik Golden 42 58%
DE 90 RS Sophomore Garrett Sickels 37 51%
OLB 11 Junior Brandon Bell 35 48%
DT 98 Senior Anthony Zettel 32 44%
S 28 Sophomore Troy Apke 32 44%
OLB 42 RS Freshman Troy Reeder 28 38%
DT 41 RS Sophomore Parker Cothren 23 32%
DE 19 RS Freshman Torrence Brown 22 30%
DE 52 RS Sophomore Curtis Cothran 22 30%
DT 91 Senior Tarow Barney 21 29%
DT 93 RS Freshman Antoine White 21 29%
OLB 43 Freshman Manny Bowen 18 25%
DE 94 RS Junior Evan Schwan 17 23%
OLB 33 Freshman Jake Cooper 14 19%
MLB 8 RS Junior Gary Wooten Jr. 11 15%
CB 21 RS Freshman Amani Oruwariye 11 15%
CB 12 Junior Jordan Smith 11 15%
S 7 RS Freshman Koa Farmer 11 15%

This was easily the weirdest game I've seen from defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, and it was a highly effective strategy he employed. Last week he used quite a bit of nickel, but for a totally different reason. He was attempting to get more athletic players like safety Marcus Allen up in the box to try to contain running quarterback Perry Hills. Illinois did not present that problem in quarterback Wes Lunt, but they do pass the ball a ton. So Shoop stayed in nickel essentially as the team's base defense, with a healthy amount of dime packages as well.

For the linebackers, this obviously meant less time for outside linebackers Brandon Bell and Troy Reeder. It also meant some three-man defensive fronts were utilized, which was a particular favorite of Shoop's on 2nd-and-long plays where he believed Illinois tended to go for screen passes.

But that's not what made this a weird game. What was weird was the usage of the secondary. Their nickel gameplan this year has been very consistent: Jordan Lucas moves to the slot and either Malik Golden or Troy Apke enters the game. For dime packages, a defensive tackle comes off the field and they go 3-3-5 with both Golden and Apke playing back and Marcus Allen playing up in the box. But in this game, we saw three cornerbacks on the field for the first time. Instead of bringing Apke onto the field and moving Allen into the box, Allen would stay back and the team would roll with two corners on each side. Reid and Williams played outside, with Lucas down in one slot and Haley down in the other. It was a new twist that may have been unique for an Illinois team that simply doesn't run the ball, and it was incredibly effective.

Freshman defensive tackle Antoine White played in this game in regular snaps after not seeing the field at all in the last two weeks. It is unknown if they didn't feel comfortable playing him or if he was injured, but he is back and adds one more lineman that the team can rotate in. Cornerback Christian Campbell did not appear at all in this game, which is the first game he has missed this season. He too may be dealing with an injury. Defensive tackle Anthony Zettel missed some second quarter snaps after being shaken up in a collision with Allen.