July 16, 2009
I agree that Arrelious Benn has lived up to his recruiting pub, earned the All-America hype and probably deserves the distinction of best player in the Big Ten going into the season. But like everyone who's written about his exceptional talents since the end of last season, I've wondered: Why so few touchdowns?
Benn had three scores on 67 catches last year, after hauling in just two on 54 grabs as a freshman, both tied for third on the team behind players with far, far fewer opportunities; the only comparable catch:touchdown ratio in the Big Ten belonged to Northwestern's Ross Lane, who averaged five fewer yards per catch than Benn and had only four catches longer than 25 yards to Benn's fourteen. His absence from the end zone, it is the mystery.
It's such a blind spot amid Benn's overall brilliance that ESPN's Adam Rittenberg put the question to the man himself for a little clarity:
Has the touchdowns thing been a little annoying for you? You've got a ton of catches, a ton of yards and only five touchdowns in two years. Is that a number that needs to go up?
AB: Without a doubt. I'm not going to lie to you. As far as my concern about it, I'm not concerned. I'm just out here to do everything I need to do for the team so we can win. My individual success means nothing. ... Yeah, it's been puzzling. I catch the ball and I have to fight off half the defenders. It's going to be tough to get in the end zone when all the eyes are on you.
So touchdowns are definitely on your mind. Do the other guys give you grief about that?
AB: You know what's so weird about that? No one gives me grief about that because my big plays make up for it. If I wasn't making big plays and catching the ball and getting the team down the field, I'm pretty sure they'll give me grief about it. But as far as me making the big plays and doing what I'm going to do, they don't give me grief for it.
My end, I uphold
My success, it means nothing
Playas rightly shamed
Like most Illini fans, Benn is hoping for some relief via Jarred Fayson, the ex-five-star recruit who sat out last year after transferring from Florida and theoretically adds the one element to the offense that was so clearly missing last year: A consistent playmaker aside from Benn. No other wide receiver caught more than 21 passes, and that guy (Will Judson) graduated; quarterback Juice Williams handled the majority of carries and led the team in rushing. (And still, of 96 third down passing attempts, only 14 wound up in Benn's hands.) If Fayson or somebody doesn't divert a little more attention from the big man, Rejus is still going to be shaking nickel backs out of his goatee when he shows up at next year's NFL Combine.