CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- When asked Monday if the move of Tony Adams from nickel to cornerback was a permanent one, Illinois coach Lovie Smith didn’t waver.
“We don't really tinker,” the Illini fourth-year head coach said. “If we make a move, we feel like that's what we need to do going forward."
So, yes - you can expect to see Adams on the perimeter at cornerback in the future of this transforming Illinois defense. However, the fact that Adams has been used at free safety, nickel cornerback and now at cornerback (which he was originally recruited to play by this Illini coaching staff) is a testament to his ability to understand the principles of all three positions.
“I think the fact that he’s been asked and played all three of those positions really shows his football intelligence that he knows where he needs to be but also knows the job of everybody else in the secondary,” Illinois linebacker Jake Hansen said. “You could see on film that played was made by a great athlete but a really smart football player at the same time.”
This is where we start our film review this week as most people when they look at Adams’ interception to set up Illinois’ game-winning field goal Saturday, saw an amazing athletic move and leap.
“I think there is a component to playing the game, and if you do that and it’s a different score (but) they also made some plays,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “You know that was a heck of a pick. Obviously, you would like to have that one back. We didn’t make enough of those plays in different areas to win the game.”
And while it was all of those things, it was also perfect eye fundamentals by the junior defensive back.
This screenshot above shows the play as Adams begins to pick up Wisconsin fullback Garrett Groshek in the flat after he punches tight end Jake Ferguson at the line-of-scrimmage. However, you’ll also see in this screenshot how Badgers quarterback Jack Coan’s eye never leaves the target of Ferguson. Why would they? Ferguson had already caught five passes for 77 yards including an 18-yard touchdown on the first drive of the game. However, on all five completions from Coan to Ferguson, the quarterback was able to move Illinois defenders in the second and third level (linebackers and safeties) with his eye movement as Coan went through all of the progressions. Adams said Saturday that he was beaten on this exact play earlier in the game where Ferguson went untouched down the seam.
“I don’t know, my confidence was kind of down because I wasn’t playing pretty good, I wasn’t playing good, right before that (Illinois defensive back) Nate (Hobbs) talked to me and told me he believed in me, the coaches kept coming back out there and telling me they believed in me.”
In this next screenshot, you’ll see Adams read Coan’s eyes and immediately understand that Groshek couldn’t be the target for two reasons. One, Groshek was still two to three yards from the first-down marker on this third and five play. Second, from the moment of the snap, Adams immediately saw Coan’s eyes never attempted to disguise the defense with any other target.
“I don’t know, they kept running the same play on me and it was about time for me to play on the ball,” Adams said Saturday.
The only reason Adams was in the position to make this play was his football sense to read Coan’s eyes and let them lead him to where he needed to sit down in this zone coverage. From there, it was about the Belleville native making a great athletic play on the ball for the Badgers’ third and final turnover of the afternoon.
Corbin’s impressive blitz pick-up keys TD to Imatorbhebhe
Running backs coaches are always consistent in saying the last aspect of the game that their players will get down is blocking and the ability to pick up blitzers. Reggie Corbin is a senior and signifies his experience of this concept on the 29-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Peters to Josh Imatorbhebhe.
Admittedly this block went unnoticed in real-time but these screenshots the Illini’s leading rusher was able to give Peters a chance to slide toward his left to avoid an unblocked Wisconsin linebacker coming through the middle of the offensive line. While Corbin didn’t stand up the much-bigger pass rusher, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound tailback was able to positionally move the rusher to allow the second-down play to have a chance.
“Brandon had to scramble a bit and he made a great move to buy himself some time,” Imatorbhebhe said. “What was really impressive was Brandon’s ability to collect himself and throw the perfect ball because it was low and to the inside instead of being led toward the goal post because that’s the only way it gets caught. It was the perfect pass.”
Corbin’s block, along with his 43-yard touchdown run in the second half, will likely be noticed by the professional scouts in attendance Saturday and Corbin, who is fourth in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (79.83 ypg) would be smart to pass this tape of this play onto professional scouting departments to prove he can be a three-down tailback at the next level.