Tate: It has to get better

Tate: It has to get better

Illinois has lost too many football games to frown on a “W.”

But with next foe Cincinnati devouring Purdue 42-7, not even a modern Leonardo da Vinci could paint a happy face on Saturday’s nerve-racking 42-34 defeat of Southern Illinois.

Disbelievers have grown to outnumber believers, and a brilliant aerial performance by Nathan Scheelhaase couldn’t quite alter that perception.

With temperatures in the 90s, the Memorial Stadium crowd didn’t match the announced 42,175, and those hardy souls disappeared by the thousands as the game progressed. The north student section had barely enough to perform Block I duties at halftime, and they, too, withered away as the second half progressed.

Scheelhaase’s numbers through three quarters — 26 of 31 for 402 yards — are probably unmatched in UI history for those 45 minutes. When Illinois carried a 42-24 lead into the last 12 minutes, it was hard to imagine that the UI would have to stop SIU on the 3-yard line in the final minute for a 42-34 victory.


Air in judgment

First, a problem we had reason to suspect:

There were no sacks by the pass rushers, leaving the youthful Illini secondary vulnerable to Kory Faulkner’s 341-yard aerial assault. Said Tim Beckman:

“We made some bad reads, lost leverage on the screen and got beat on the throwback. We made a lot of freshman mistakes.”

Second, a problem we didn’t expect:

Illinois couldn’t run the football. Deft maneuvers behind the line allowed Josh Ferguson to break free for a 34-yard jaunt in the third quarter, but the UI’s other 29 rushes netted 15 yards. On average, that’s a half-yard per carry. Even on off-tackle power slants, Ferguson and Donovonn Young usually were interrupted behind the line of scrimmage.

Figuring into these numbers were 27 yards in losses taken by Scheelhaase, most of them on intended pass plays. The senior, who rushed for 868 yards as a freshman, showed no inclination to run as he hit big strikes of 52, 26, 30, 53, 28, 55 and 33 yards.


Ground to a halt

The problem with a weak-kneed ground game became apparent in the closing minutes.

Normally a team carrying a 42-24 lead with 12 minutes left is in good shape.

But the Illini couldn’t muster the clock-eating running game to tuck it safely away. And when sub QB Reilly O’Toole, who came in late, fumbled on his second pass attempt, the Salukis quickly covered 31 yards to make it 42-34 with 4:14 showing.

This forced UI coordinator Bill Cubit to make a difficult decision. Even if you run the ball, that’s too much time if you don’t make first downs. And if you pass, any incompletions stop the clock.

Scheelhaase was sacked on third and 5 and suddenly the Salukis had momentum coupled with chants of “SIU, SIU” in the near-empty stadium. They reached the 3-yard line in short order, but Faulkner overthrew his last two passes in the end zone. Whew!


Falling apart

Explaining his strategy, Cubit said:

“We decided early in the game to take what SIU was giving us.

“But when we are faced with those situations late (trying to protect a lead), we need to get into two tight ends and two backs and just run it at them. I thought we were OK (after a Salukis field goal made it 42-27) when we made good yardage on first down, but Reilly took that delay penalty and that changed it.

“At this point, everything is new to these guys. I think we’ll have more of a comfort level as we go ahead.”

Cubit was most pleased with the 94-yard drive before halftime. The Illini covered the distance in 1:15 as Scheelhaase hit seven consecutive completions, including a 55-yarder deep over the middle to Steve Hull. The last two in the drive went to tight end Jon Davis, who like Jonathan Brown and Corey Lewis displayed no lingering problems from the injuries that slowed those three last season.


Leader of the pack

Cubit said further:

“You need a quarterback that you can trust, and Nate was outstanding. He was 28 for 36 with a couple of drops. Not bad for a guy who (some say) can’t throw. He can throw. He is totally dedicated to his team, and he understands defenses. He ends up having to check the play 35 or 40 percent of the time.

“We gave him drills to help fix his throwing motion, and he works at them, even when we’re not with him. He enjoyed the fruits (Saturday).”


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


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azfan wrote on September 01, 2013 at 1:09 am

Tate can't write anything. Stupid News Gazoo. Tate is an old man.Little Nathan cannot play. Blah, blah, blah,blah, blah. That should take care of it now you don't need to write anything Cowpie.

Jam wrote on September 01, 2013 at 6:09 am

An offensive line with a starter out was not mentioned.  This offensive line will get better.  SIU put up a good game and their passer was no slouch.  The question for this team, this year is can it compete.  As all the freshman who played get better this team will improve.  This really is not a surprising development.  As for me and my family we enjoyed the game and the whole entertainment experience with the new scoreboard being effectively used in keeping the fans from having to endure long tve timeouts.  We also saw a lot of young children at this game as well. 

AZ intererst wrote on September 01, 2013 at 10:09 am

The sidelines are STILL chaos.  I just don't get it.  Why is it so hard for Tim Beckman to instruct players and coaches as to what their behavior should be on the sidelines.Get it together!  Last year at Arizona State it was a joke, with all kinds of delay of game penalties because the coaches could not get the plays called in on time, running around yelling and screaming like they didn't know what players to put in the game.  And then there was the little chewing tobacco incident for coach Beckman.  Now, in this game, a coach gets called for a penalty for game interference because he was out on the field?  I think we need coaches to coach the coaches.

Moonpie wrote on September 01, 2013 at 11:09 am

Azfan--did you not watch he game? I did. Illinois barely, by the skin of it's teeth, survived a game against The Little Sisters of the Poor. Cincy will eat them alive after eating Purdue alive. 

DaisyJ wrote on September 01, 2013 at 11:09 am

Folks, if you cannot run the ball against SIU, you have big problems.

Nate was better today because he got out of the shotgun which when he is in he wants to run instead of passing the ball. Each time he went under center meant that he was not able to try to run as much.

Aaron Baily is a man among the boys out there. He should be starting and playing 70% of the times. Sorry the coaches do not see this. He is the future.


azfan wrote on September 01, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Cowpie, yes I did watch the game. You never comment on the game it is always a complaint against Tate, The News Gazette or something negative. I just thought I would save you the time in complaining. I do think they looked bad and I hope for improvement from them and also from you. Stop the Bitching and find something else to talk about.

jjohnson wrote on September 01, 2013 at 5:09 pm

From the "half-full" perspective, the coaches seemed to want to use this game as a development-of-players tool. From a perspective of convention, calling time out on the Illinois 6 with less than 2 minutes remaining was strange, yet I think they did it to see whether the offense could move under the time constraint -- and they sure did. Ditto the decision not to take the holding penalty on the 3rd down play that left the ball at the Illinois 4 yard line at the end. In the first half, where the defense played very well, Loren's lack-of-sacks notwithstanding, there were two completely different defensive lines (personnel-wise) and all sorts of shuffling of defensive backs. The lack of experience was at times costly, as in the first SIU touchdown and the pass over Bentley right after his touchdown run, but I am hoping -- and there is good reason to believe this -- that those experiences are great schooling. Cincinnati will be tough, and we need to run the ball better, but it seemed SIU was jamming the line quite well and bringing two line-backers in on most plays in the first half, and the adjustments Cubit made -- especially the screen to Ferguson, which was not thrown well by Nathan -- is exhibit A.

I prefer to take some hope from this. 39-17 would have looked better, but does not matter on the season record.

rocko wrote on September 01, 2013 at 9:09 pm

Daisy, are you serious?  Nate has a career game of 28-36 for well over 400 yards and no interceptions and you say Bailey should be the starter and play 70 % of the time.  Really?  This is idiocy at its highest level.

DaisyJ wrote on September 02, 2013 at 10:09 am

Dead SERIOUS,,,even Tate has over time said that Nate turns scared and runs too much when in the shotgun. Over 48% of the time he takes off running when the intent is too stay in the gun and gun it.

Cubit put him under center much more, which made him run the intended play.

Aaron Baily is so much stronger. This non con game in a year that is not a bowl year is more reason to play him and let him show us why he is a 4 star recruit.

DaisyJ wrote on September 02, 2013 at 10:09 am

so, where was Nate last year???? Guess he needed to play more in state teams to shine

DaisyJ wrote on September 02, 2013 at 10:09 am

He had one interception.  Where was old Nate in the end,,,how well did he move the team.

IMAN wrote on September 02, 2013 at 8:09 pm

If you think Nate is the problem with this team, I just don't know what to tell you.  Is Nate an All American?   No.  Did he have a good game?  Yes, yes he did. Is Nate serviceable? Yes. 

There are two HUGE problems with this team (Okay, 3 but I won't count Beckman):   

  1. The defense is is young, inexperienced and very weak in the secondary.  
  2. The running game is non existant due to a terrible running scheme (you have to put a blocking back in the game) and a on offensive line that is frankly not very good.