Tate: Scheelhaase not passing muster

Tate: Scheelhaase not passing muster

Citing Army's Black Knights as an exception — QB Trent Steelman completed just 24 passes in 2011 — most collegiate football teams place heavy emphasis on the overhead game.

The spread formation exploded in popularity as a way to deploy receivers across the width of the field while featuring quarterbacks in misdirection runs. Some consider this style an equalizer for an outmanned underdog.

Illinois has moved to this approach after decades — most of a century, really — in which the Illini attacked the game almost exclusively with a pro-style quarterback. The old plan was to protect the QB so he'd have a clear head and a healthy body for accurate passes.

Former athletic director Neale Stoner made a point of bringing in pass-minded head coaches with NFL backgrounds, Mike White (1980) and John Mackovic (1988). Those two raised havoc with the Illini record book. Nine UI passers threw for 1,000 yards prior to White, and only Tommy O'Connell (1952) topped 1,300. White's first QB, Dave Wilson, passed for 3,154. This pro-style trend continued with Lou Tepper's coordinator, Greg Landry, and former Bear Ron Turner. For better or worse, the UI had a distinct offensive style that operated under the multi-year direction of a string of dropback passers like Kurt Kittner, Jeff George, Jack Trudeau, Tony Eason, Mike Wells and Mike Taliaferro.

Then came Ron Zook, and the Illini ran a reverse. This third season with Nathan Scheelhaase will mark the seventh straight year of a run-first QB style that featured Juice Williams for four seasons. This will be the seventh year that the QB's legs appear as important as his arm.

Question is: What does that mean for first-year coach Tim Beckman? Accepting the fact that Beckman kept much of his offense under wraps Saturday, the overhead game was unimpressive. This is a concern because Illinois doesn't have the up-front muscle to punch out yardage against strong Big Ten foes, not without creating more of an aerial threat than was seen in the Blue team's 13-12 defeat of the Orange.

Air error

On that cloudy, misty day, Scheelhaase completed 11 of 26 passes for 65 yards. In formulating an excuse, it should be noted that wet and windy conditions were not ideal, blocking protection was poor, Scheelhaase's go-to guy (A.J. Jenkins) was gone, the best returning receiver (Darius Millines) was ailing, some incomplete passes could have been caught, and the defense was familiar with the vanilla plays that Beckman permitted. That said, Scheelhaase became a starter in 2010 despite questionable arm strength, and this outing did not show marked improvement.

The other quarterbacks, Reilly O'Toole (19 of 31 for 159 yards) and Miles Osei (8 of 12 for 115), appeared sharper, even as the rival squads were equally divided. But Scheelhaase has "won the position" according to Beckman, and his removal from the lineup would limit the UI running game and waste his experience and leadership qualities. To be good, Illinois needs Scheelhaase to step up.

To his credit, Scheelhaase has shown bursts of aerial effectiveness, completing 63 percent of his passes last season and throwing for 391 yards against Northwestern. That said, he threw just two touchdown passes during 2011's six-game losing streak, and was replaced by O'Toole in a 27-7 debacle at Minnesota that served as the final nail in Zook's coffin.

The Illini faltered at midseason when the passing game hit the wall, on three occasions failing to produce 100 yards in the air. They will falter again unless Beckman and co-coordinators Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty can fix it.

Football tidbits

— Getting through the spring football game without a significant injury is always a bonus, and that's what happened Saturday. On the negative side, the small attendance (generously estimated at 3,000) doesn't speak well for ticket sales, and doesn't help recruiting.

— Ohio State claims the national record for spring attendance with 95,000 in 2009. With weather a huge factor across the nation Saturday, no one came close. Alabama reported 80,000 and several other SEC schools topped 30,000. Nebraska, which drew 66,784 last year, had to call off its game. Illinois isn't in the ballpark with these football-crazy institutions.

— If you're overlooking the UI's Sept. 22 date with Louisiana Tech, don't! This projects as a tossup. The Bulldogs have quality returnees, including QB Colby Cameron and receiver Quinton Patton (1,202 yards) on a bowl team that suffered tossup losses to Kevin Sumlin's 13-1 Houston Cougars 35-34, Southern Mississippi 19-17, and Mississippi State 24-20 in overtime. They soundly whipped Fresno State 41-21 and Ole Miss 27-7 during a seven-game win streak, and led an 11-2 TCU club 24-17 in the fourth quarter of the Poinsettia Bowl before falling. Sept. 22 sounds scary to me.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports


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D0ubtingTh0mas wrote on April 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Sadly, Paul Petrino tried to bring back the pro style and it was a huge disaster. Well, predictably.

Illinois is outmanned compared to the top of the league. However, the state creates great RBs and great Athletes. Seems part of Illini Nation wish Illinois had the Wisconsin identity. Well, the Zook-Locksley method had the Illini out running the Badgers and everyone else in the conference by quite a bit. With downfield play action as constraint plays, the offense was humming even with an inaccurate QB. Then, Zook made a huge mistake with picking Schultz. Schultz never realized the Illini would use the threat of the vertical pass as constraints. He tried to put in 5 yard timing routes to the outside as constraints. Bad move. That just brings safeties and corners forward which crushed the Illini's misdirection and option running game. Ugh.

Then, Guenther made a mistake and forced Zook to go to a pro set offensive coordinator. With the Illini playing talent, they should have gone with a Locksley style guy.

As opposed to the Illini who want to go Wisconsin running, there are those of us who fell in love with the 80s passing Illini and want to see the ball thrown around. With the success of the 80s/early 90s Illini and Kurt Kittner dropping bombs deep, who's to say it cannot work in the blustery, cold midwest. This is especially true if you watch Rodgers, Brady, and Rothelsberger dominate November games outdoors.

Mike Thomas could have looked at a Mike Leach, who seemed like a no brainer fit with the Illini past, or Sonny Dykes. He didn't.

Thomas looked at Beckman. Beckman seems like a nice guy and all. But, he seems like trying the Zook attack all over (only without the Florida recruiting ties). To be honest, if Zook just had average special teams and would have gone for it on the five 4th and shorts in Ann Arbor in 2010, he'd still be here at Illinois and would likely have a few more years of safety. So, if Beckman can just bring what Zook brought and have avg special teams and fewer bonehead 4th down/timeout/clock management mistakes, The Illini can be the program we all know they are capable of being (5th or 6th in the B1G on a consistent basis with occassional title shots).

read the DI wrote on April 17, 2012 at 9:04 am

"Rodgers, Brady, and Rothelsberger dominate November games outdoors."



tunacommander wrote on April 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Lest you forget, MIKE LEACH the inventor of the AIR RAID offense, made it known that he had interest in the Illinois opening and WASN"T EVEN CONTACTED. Why, rookie AD doesn't want an elite coach over-shadowing him. He's out here in my neck of the woods now (So Cal) getting 3-4 star commits from kids who in the past, wouldn't even think about going to WSU.

D0ubtingTh0mas wrote on April 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Those of us not drinking kool-aid know Riley O'Toole still isn't ready for this level of play either.

SEMOIllini wrote on April 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Scheelhaase is not going to take the Illini anywhere.  He doesn't seem to make good decisions or read the defense very well and is too limited in his passing ability. Reilly O'Toole needs to take over and get the reps he needs to improve.  Coach Beckman will ultimately make this change.  

illini4fan wrote on April 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm

My hope is that Beckman unlike Zook will utilize the little talent we have in the best way. I love Nathan he is a great kid, a super great team mate and as hard of a worker there is out there. I know this not only because of what the coaches have said thru his time here but i have talked to friends of his family that have sit in his livingroom. So it pains me to say it but i think that maybe they need to start looking at Rielly as the starting QB. He just seems to be much more acurate of a passer and he is more mobile than what some people realize. I think as they are using Osea at different possitions they should do the same with Nate. Put him in at different packages in the slot , at runningback and or at reciever as a decoy or whatever, we need all the help we can get as we just dont have a lot of talent to go around, but our best QB looks to be O'Toole...

D0ubtingTh0mas wrote on April 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm

are people serious about O'Toole???

GMAB. He doesn't belong on the field at all. The old stereotype about the back-up being the most popular man on campus coming true.

Riley O'Toole = Jacob Charest

peterborich wrote on April 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Scheelhaase not passing muster?  More aptly describes the state of Loren's columns these days....

Nathan is a proven leader and a winner.  Loren is a negative aging dinosaur.   If anyone should know not to form any conclusions off of an Illini Spring Game it should be be Obi Wan Tate.  Instead, he uses It to trash a kid who has given his all for the program, has taken repeated poundings for his efforts and is 14-12 over two seasons.   Arizona and  Florida is beckoning for you Loren.. Please go.  And Go Nathan and Go Illini.






houstonillini84 wrote on April 17, 2012 at 9:04 am

last time I checked its a team game. If anyone deserves credit for the bowl win last season its the defense. Our offense was terrible, even against a pathetic UCLA team. Its not so much the spring game as the long trend before the spring game which the spring game just continued. If Nathan cant pass the ball better once the season starts, we will need to make a change.

OKOMIS wrote on April 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Houston, did you just acknowledge that “the trend” is the important thing??  Well for the 1st time, I couldn’t agree with you more…

houstonillini84 wrote on April 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm

just noting that the offense did a lot better two years ago when LeShoure was here, and we were better early last year before defenses realized it wasnt a good idea to let AJ Jenkins run free. After that, we were terrible on offense. It didnt help that the level of competition was much higher later in the year. Basically, I think we are in big trouble on offense - we will see 8 guys in the box a lot until we show we can throw the ball consistently. We sure couldnt do that for the last 7 or so games last year.

Illinigrad wrote on April 17, 2012 at 1:04 am

What was the name of the QB who guided the team to two straight bowl wins? That pretty much says it all.

houstonillini84 wrote on April 17, 2012 at 9:04 am

sorry but the QB on a team with a very good defense and a lousy offense isnt why we won those games. I really like Nathan but the offense was terrible the second half of last year, just awful, once defenses learned not to let AJ Jenkins run free. If Nathan cant pass the ball better, he will need to be replaced. Either perform or let the next guy have a chance.

bluehavana wrote on April 17, 2012 at 10:04 am

I can't agree with houston more. (we've finally found fan forum common ground houston!)  

Just as with Illini basketball, I advocate analyzing WHAT YOU'RE WATCHING, not over quoting statistics.  QB leading two bowl wins in a row says nothing, not everything.  Nathan is capable of throwing to a wide open receiver in one of three places 1)the sideline 2) short crossing route over the middle, or 3) the swing pass near the line of scrimmage....And nothing else.  Using similar scrutiny, Riley O'Toole's timing is painfully slow.  Kurt Kittner made a big point of this after the spring game Saturday.

We won two bowl games in a row, yes.  This fact is among the most underwhelming facts in Illini football history.  In all honesty, unless that upcoming basketball sophmore class shows develops quick, I feel the UIUC campus is terribly void of game changing football and basketball talent.

Illinigrad wrote on April 17, 2012 at 1:04 am

Zook was his own worse enemy.  With just a few play call changes and better clock usage he would have picked up 2-3 more wins and still be coaching. Picking Schultz was a disaster and set the program back. Zook pretty much Zooked himself.

zoom258sy wrote on April 17, 2012 at 1:04 am



Wow the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and the Texas Bowl. Awesome acheivements.Who was the coach of those teams? Yea that pretty much tells it all. Obviously going to crap bowl games and barely finishing .500 in college football isn't that great. If going to back to back bowl games and winning them meant so much the head coach wouldn't have been fired. If 6-6 is acceptable for you and you think Nate is the best thing ever for being the quarterback for those 2 games, that's sad. Will everybody still be defending Scheelhaase when he is benched for good this fall?  Nate is the most overrated Quarterback in the country and some of the die-hards cant even see it. 42% in the spring game? His numbers vs quality opponents is very bad. Below 50% passing, more INTS than TDs, a couple games under 100 total passing yards. He has no upside and has not improved. It's time for a change.  

Zook was a few play calls from still being the coach at Illinois? 99% of BCS Athletic Directors would have fired Zook, TWICE, before 2011-2012. 

Empire2Ed wrote on April 17, 2012 at 1:04 am

And what is the basis for your opinion that O'Toole isn't good enough to be on the field?


Dann001 wrote on April 17, 2012 at 4:04 am

Why? Because he's white? Rock On Farrakhan!!!

JimOATSfan wrote on April 17, 2012 at 5:04 am

Good observations Loren.  I believe that Scheelhaase's lack of an exceptional passing arm lead to the incremental dissolving of the 2011 offense.  It wasn't good enough in the BigTen(+2) to be a running threat with an average arm.  Blaming the 2011 offensive meltdown on the O-Line isn't accurate enough.

In MHO, Coach Beckman should use either O'Toole or Osei (can you see ...) as the starting QB (or co-QB's) and use Scheelhaase as a running back with a good possibility of passing succesfully as an option play | threat. This way we put our best players on the field: best passing arm; best running back with a threat to pass succesfully, best pure running back(s).  

If you can start Scheelhaase as a redshirt freshman, you can start O'Toole or Osei as sophomores.

Apparently Osei can be used the same way, as he ran the ball and caught passes on Saturday.

And, Scheelhaase can be a leader as a running back just as well as a QB.

I do like the evolution of the tight end in the offense the last 2 seasons. These guys have a chance to play on Sundays if they step up even more in 2012-2013.  Any ball you can touch ... you can catch. 

Go Illini


Jam wrote on April 17, 2012 at 6:04 am

Sheelhouse has been in the battle before and has shown success and he can do it again.  The point to be made is it is the Offensive Line that makes the difference.  Here is where the rubber meets the road.  The O line is the most important position on the field.  When it dominates the offense will look good.  The defense gets a rest, and the special teams (kickoff and field goal) keep busy.  Bad punts are not a concern because they will rarely happen.  Here is hoping that the O-line can be developed into a dominating unit and then everyone will be happy. 

Also deciding how the season will turn out before it even gets played leads to unnecessary negative speculation.  The only way that achievement can be accomplished is to approach the season with a good degree of hope.  Give these coaches the room to develop their program without the hyper negative comments---please.

blmillini wrote on April 17, 2012 at 8:04 am

Thanks for bringing some sanity to an otherwise insane thread.  I hate when buffoons that know little or nothing about football constantly call for the starting QB to be benched when often times he is not the source of the problem.  If you look at Scheelhaase's performance when he has gotten adequate protection, it is pretty good.  Is it shocking that his worst games may have been against the best opponents?  Not when you consider those are the teams applying the most pressure.  Even when Minnesota beat us last year, they were getting into our backfield consistenly.

I'm not saying Nate is a great QB by any means, however, I do think that our coaching staff is certainly much more in tune with the abilities of each of the QB's on our team.  And, are much more capable of choosing the best guy to lead the team than either Tate or any of the clowns on here.

houstonillini84 wrote on April 17, 2012 at 9:04 am

I agree our OL was weak, but that doesnt excuse Nathan's poor passing. He has trouble finding open receivers quickly and doesnt have a strong arm which is a bad combination for a QB. I think its becoming clear how important LeShoure was the first year, because without an NFL running back to carry us, Nathan just cant pass the ball well enough to move the chains. We will see 8 or 9 in the box until he shows he can do it, thats what B10 defenses were doing to us last year and it will only be worse this year without AJ Jenkins. You just cant have a QB completing 40% of his passes for low yardage and expect to win.

D0ubtingTh0mas wrote on April 17, 2012 at 10:04 am


The new OC will get it like Petrino didn't. He'll go vertical and stretch the defense. The Illini don't have the WRs or QBs to play a controlled, timing, medium route passing game. It will be a lot of feast or famine. And, it will work just as it did under Locksley.

houstonillini84 wrote on April 17, 2012 at 11:04 am

how the heck will he go vertical with a weak-armed QB and WRs that arent especially fast and cant get open? Also you need time to throw deeper routes and if anything our OL looks to be worse next year. Your idea would be fine, IF we had the talent for it which we do NOT. Nate's strength isnt the long ball, its the running game and shorter routes. You are advocating a scheme on offense which is the exact opposite fit with our talent on offense.

Moonpie wrote on April 17, 2012 at 9:04 am

Hail to peterborich--from now on I will drop Moses Tate in favor of Obi Wan Tate.

But for the first time in 900 years, Obi Wan Tate says something I actually agree with: Scheelhause ain't the guy. Or, at least needs to become more of the guy.

I'm not sure if O'Toole is the guy, but I think they better start giving him more reps and find out.

DaisyJ wrote on April 17, 2012 at 10:04 am

Tate is right, going with Sheel is a mistake. Move him to slot back, half back, but move him on.

Runs way too much from the QB position. Always has, always will. Do not need others when he


walker wrote on April 17, 2012 at 11:04 am

Need great RB and/or fast WR to disguise Sheelhauses's weaknesses and I don't believe that we have either.


Question :  who will have a better year upcoming, Beckman w/ the F BALL  team  or  Groce w/ the B BALL team ?

tunacommander wrote on April 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Forum survey answer:  Groce will have a better 1st season. Illinois has a hell of a lot more traction as a basketball destination then football. That's why they need a "name", to get some talent into school. Zook had that Maryland/DC pipeline that really helped. 

peterborich wrote on April 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm


I think with adequate offensive line play, Nathan is our best option. He has excelled when he had been constantly runing for his life.

The six-game losing streak last season was attributable to really bad line play coupled with an offensive coordinator who believed that Jason Ford should get 75% of the running back play.  Still scratching my head over that decision.   

As Obi Wan Tate, may the farce be with him . .  . .

houstonillini84 wrote on April 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm

well bad line play didnt help, but through the middle and end of last season, nate made a lot of bad throws and bad decisions. It wasnt just the O-line. Like Juice, he is limited in the throws he can make (albeit in a different way, Juice struggled with shorter passes and Nate struggled with longer passes). Without Mendenhall/LeShoure, each QB really struggled to move the chains throwing the ball. A lot of it is adjustments by the D, they learn what you can do well and force you to do the things you cant.

Yes the coaching wasnt the best under Zook but I think people greatly overestimate the influence of the OC and playcalling. Our offense looked bad last year because the talent wasnt good. We didnt have good blocking, or running, or throwing, or catching (once defenses learned not to let AJ run free). It would have limited any OC and we'll probably see that again this year. I guess we will just blame the new coaches then...

jimbo2009 wrote on April 17, 2012 at 10:04 pm

NS "excelled"?  Really?  Which games are you talking about?  I don't recall him ever "excelling".  Or perhaps we just differ in our definition of the word "excel" when it comes to a Div 1 QB.

JimOATSfan wrote on April 18, 2012 at 5:04 am

A QB that can get the ball out a half second or a full second faster, makes the job of the O-Line easier.  O-Line confidence picks up when they don't have to hold their blocks as long, and they incrementaly play better.  Natural & better passers O'Toole & Osei could make that happen with experience from starting.

Scheelhaase had a golden opportunity last year with the 7th ranked defense in the country and momentum from a 6-0 record going into the Big10(+2) season. The resulting total wipe-out is enough of an opportunity for NS.  Time for him to be a running back in Coach Beckman's offense.

Go Illini



butkus50 wrote on April 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm

No one can question we lack playmakers on offense. We need Scheelhaase and O'toole on the field at same time. Scheelhaase is better athlete & runner and should play all over field; running and catching. Let O'toole play QB and get experience as I think he is a winner too.