Bill Cubit arrives with solid credentials, a frank and upbeat personality and a proven aerial philosophy.
He gives the attacking unit an identity. But don’t expect miracles.
Last I heard, his most promising receiver, Darius Millines, was trying to enroll in a small school in Utah. When I checked, QB Nathan Scheelhaase showed just four TD passes in nine starts in 2011. Upon totaling the points, I found that Illinois averaged 11.4 points in the last 14 Big Ten games.
During that span of conference play, Illinois went nearly stone-dead on the attack, scoring more than 17 just once, and that was after Ohio State built a 38-6 lead last season.
This isn’t retooling, it is full-scale reloading. Starting over. They handed Cubit a weapon but did they provide any bullets?
The new Illini offensive coordinator has been in this position before, and the results weren’t always pleasant. This could be deja vu repeated all over again. Like I said, he’s good but he’s not Miracle Man.
Cubit arrived at Missouri in 2000, and had one season there before the head man, Larry Smith, was fired (and replaced by Gary Pinkel). Cubit’s unit completed 47 percent of passes in a 3-8 season, and he headed for Rutgers.
Under new coach Greg Schiano, the Scarlet Knights were outscored 111-0 in two early games against Miami and Virginia Tech, and Cubit’s unit (led by son Ryan Cubit at quarterback) was limited to seven points or less on six occasions. They were 2-9 that season and 1-11 the next, and some home games at the future Big Ten school drew around 13,000.
The 2003-04 seasons at Stanford were slightly better, Cubit directing the offense in consecutive 4-7 seasons.
So Cubit has known tough times. Like all coaches, he’s only as good as his talent. And he inherited a receiver, Greg Jennings, who helped him turn heads when he became head coach at Western Michigan. Jennings shook loose for 74 receptions in 2004, the year before Cubit arrived, and stepped up for 98 in 2005. This drew attention, and Cubit produced a stream of impressive pass catchers while his quarterbacks maintained plus-60 percent completion rates.
Jamarko Simmons caught 104 in 2008, including 11 against Illinois in a 23-17 Bronco victory in Detroit. Those Broncos finished 9-4.
In three meetings with Tim Beckman’s Toledo teams, Western Michigan won 59-26 in 2009 and lost the last two, 37-26 and 66-63, the later coming a week after Toledo fell 63-60 to Northern Illinois. In that 2011 Toledo-Western Michigan game, the teams combined for 69 first downs and each club gained nearly 1,200 yards in total offense.
Cubit’s 2011 team set numerous records with 58 TDs, 369 completions and 4,385 passing yards. Jordan White led the nation in receptions and yards. Based on his history, Cubit believes his system will allow a quality receiver to catch 70 balls. Best bet: Lankford. But he’ll have to double last year’s number (37) to do it.
Batting first: SIU
My take on those MAC scores is that defenses in that conference aren’t as aerial-proof as those in the Big Ten. Cubit, who’ll be 60 in October, faces a new challenge as he tries to crash this conference for the first time.
But the Big Ten can wait. That won’t become a problem until October. More pertinent to Illini fans today is whether Cubit can get the offense rolling at home against Southern Illinois and Cincinnati.
The talk around Carbondale has centered on offense, most significantly veteran quarterback Kory Faulkner and ball-carrying transfers like Oregon State’s Malcolm Agnew and 5-8 JC speedster Tay Willis.
Cubit’s offense will face a Saluki defense with five starters back including 5-foot-11 linebackers Cory Lee and co-captain Bryan Presume, and they just picked up a Minnesota transfer, junior linebacker Lamonte Edwards. Both the front four and secondary are looking for upgrades.
As for Cincinnati, the UI’s Tim Banks coached the Bearcat defense in 2011, and that unit developed to spearhead a 10-3 record in 2012, allowing 18.5 points and feasting on turnovers. Cornerback Deven Drane heads the Bearcats’ best secondary group in five years. A feature position for Cincy is linebacker where Greg Blair, granted a sixth year, is considered an NFL prospect, and Florida State transfer Jeff Luc was once rated No. 1 in the nation at his position.
A year from now, this matchup might pit Wes Lunt vs. Gunner Kiel, much-ballyhooed transfers. On Sept. 7, it’ll be Nathan Scheelhaase vs. Brendon Kay, the latter a sixth-year returnee who played somewhat less than teammate Munchie Leguaux last season but received the nod to start against Purdue Saturday by new coach Tommy Tuberville.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.