December 29, 2007

The same shades of Orange?

TEMPE, Ariz. - Both schools are in rural parts of their states and use orange in large quantities.

But that's not why Indiana head coach Bill Lynch thinks Illinois and Oklahoma State are similar.

So what is the big similarity that the Hoosier leader sees in the Cowboys and Fightin' Illini?

Well, after IU's Friday practice at Desert Mountain High School, he threw out things that, in his opinion, were similar between the Pokes and Illini, a team IU lost to by a score of 27-14 on Sept. 22 in Bloomington, Ind. The Illini finished the season with a 9-3 mark and are facing off against USC in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

So what were his comparisons?

"Both of their tailbacks are similar," Lynch said. "Both Oklahoma State and Illinois have quarterbacks that can run. They combine running some power type football with option football. The combination of all those things with the personnel is very similar."

Let's break that down comment-by-comment:

"Both of their tailbacks are similar."
Without mentioning names, Lynch is likely referring to Dantrell Savage and Rashard Mendenhall. Both tailbacks had very good seasons for their teams, but are they really similar?

Mendenhall chimes in at 5-11 and 224 pounds. This season, he rushed for 1,526 and 16 touchdowns on 245 carries - a 6.2 yards per carry average. Savage checks in at 5-9 and 195 pounds. He ran for 1,172 yards and eight scores on 200 carries, or 5.9 ypc.

What's the biggest difference? Savage put up his numbers in only 10 games. Mendenhall played in all 12 games for the Illini this season. Against IU, Mendenhall ran all over the Hoosiers, putting up 214 yards rushing. He had one rushing score and a receiving one to boot. (Savage's biggest outing was for 212 yards and a score against Nebraska.)

For perspective, the Hoosier's rush defense finished the regular season ranked 61st, allowing 115 yards a contest.

"Both Oklahoma State and Illinois have quarterbacks that can run."
That is most certainly accurate. Everyone in Orange Country knows the damage that Zac Robinson has been able to do this season for the Cowboys on the ground. He finished the season with 777 yards and seven touchdowns on 125 carries (6.2 ypc). Meanwhile, Illinois' Juice Williams posted 774 yards and seven scores on 150 carries (5.2 ypc). So yes, both QBs can run, and they put up almost identical numbers over the course of the season. Against IU, Williams only put up 32 yards, but he didn't really need to run in that game with the day Mendenhall was having.

"They combine running some power type football with option football. The combination of all those things with the personnel is very similar."
That too is pretty accurate. Both OSU and Illinois had a feature running back and a QB able to put up nice numbers on the ground. And both quarterbacks were the No. 2 rushers in yardage for their teams.

And oh, this is also probably worth mentioning: When Ron Zook was hired at Illinois, he tabbed Larry Fedora to be his offensive coordinator. That didn't end up happening, but it's pretty obvious that Zook was interested in installing a similar offense in Champaign that Fedora ended up running in Stillwater. Judging from the stats above, that seems to have happened and Lynch's thoughts on the two orange schools are about right-on.

More than anything, though, Lynch says he's very impressed with the OSU offense.

"They're pretty scary if you ask me because they are so balanced," he said. "Those are always the toughest teams to play against. That's what they are. They can run it and they can throw it. So you have to do a great job with both versus a team that is heavily loaded one way or the other and then you can try to take that away from them. Anytime you play a team that runs the football as well as they do you got to be very conscience of that."

OSU fans can only hope the Insight Bowl goes as well for the Cowboys as the Illinois' win over IU earlier this season went for the Illini.

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