Loren Tate: Cubit does more than talk good game

Accurate quarterbacks in complementary systems complete passes. A high percentage of them. If the QB also can run, that’s a bonus. If you’re not Navy, spread the field and pitch it around. That’s the modern game.

Coaches with less than powerhouse personnel see this as a way to level the playing field ... by turning each contest, insofar as possible, into the touch football game so familiar to quarterbacks raised on 7-on-7 summer competition.

Look around. A 50 percent completion rate is considered below par. Good passers hit 60 percent with regularity. Fall far below and, like Andrew Maxwell at Michigan State, you get benched.

The hottest young thrower, Cal freshman Jared Goff, will attempt to fly over Ohio State’s superior ground forces Saturday as he carries a 72-for-115 completion rate and a nation-leading 467.5 per-game yardage mark.

In the Big Ten last season, then-senior Robert Marve led an otherwise-erratic Purdue team into the Heart of Texas Bowl by completing nearly two-thirds of his throws (65.6). Five Big Ten regulars topped 60 percent in 2012, including the UI’s Nathan Scheelhaase ... and Scheelhaase has upped it to 74 percent in two Illini wins, placing him No. 6 nationally in production with 728 yards.

Two good
The UI’s uplifted spirits in 2013 can be traced directly to Scheelhaase and his connection with new coordinator Bill Cubit.

But Washington projects as even more prolific going into Saturday’s shootout at Soldier Field. The Huskies routed Boise State 38-6 in their only outing as senior Keith Price threw for 324 yards, Bishop Sankey ran for 161 and Jaydon Mickens caught nine balls for 109. And now — alert! alert! — 276-pound All-America tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins returns this week.

Coach Steve Sarkisian, after seeing his 2011 team give up 51 points to Nebraska, 65 to Stanford and 67 to Baylor, made a daring move to stop the air raids. He hired Justin Wilcox from Tennessee, offering a three-year contract that began at $750,000 in 2012 and hits $800,000 this season. Wilcox is regarded as one of the top 10 defensive coordinators in the country. His job now: Stop Illinois and blunt those magical attacks at Stanford and Oregon.

Illinois also had a defensive coordinator of Wilcox’s status, Vic Koenning taking the Illini in his three seasons from 91st to 38th to seventh defensively (2011), with the Illini climbing to No. 4 that year in pass defense. But after serving as interim head coach in the 20-14 bowl win against UCLA, Koenning was hired by North Carolina for a fraction of what Wilcox is earning ... and the Illini permitted 45 or more points on five occasions in the 2-10 disaster of 2012.

Words of wisdom
Back to Cubit. With the 45-17 defeat of Cincinnati as verification, he has taken Illini Nation by storm, not only because of his play-calling skills but because of his avoidance of coachspeak in discussing the issues. Following are more examples this week.

— The run game.
“There were things I was disappointed in. I was disappointed in myself, too. I didn’t do a good job of play-calling here and there. We sit down as a unit every Monday and go over every mistake we made, so that we’re all on the same page.”

— The receivers.
“The wide receivers are blocking better than anywhere I’ve been. Ryan Lankford only caught one ball, but he played better than the previous week. Why does a wide receiver only catch one ball and play that good, running routes and blocking? The kids are busting it every play.”

— Scheelhaase.
“He is a treat. I was talking to my son and he said, ‘What great checks he made.’ And that’s right. Nate checked out of some bad calls at the line and got us in some really good plays. On that first touchdown (deep pass to Josh Ferguson), we had talked about that on Wednesday, and he went right to it. The second time, they gave us another look, and he checked into what we were looking for. He is such a calm guy, and he’s so intelligent. It is a pleasure for me to see him go out there and have fun.”

— More on Scheelhaase.
“For a guy who’s been a little bit maligned around here, Nate is leading the Big Ten in passing, and I don’t think there’s many people in Big Ten territory who thought that would happen. Last week Nate came up to me and said he hadn’t seen an Illini team come out with the purpose and the enthusiasm like they have today.”

— Coach Tim Beckman.
“I am having a ball. Coach Beck probably thinks I’m a little corny, but I go up to him a lot and just say, ‘Thanks.’ My wife and I are having the time of our life. I’m sure Coach Beck looks around from time to time and wonders, ‘Who is that knucklehead?’ We are having fun. Otherwise, it’s just too hard.”

— Adjustments.
“You begin with a base of plays. If you don’t change, then you fall into tendencies. I constantly look at quality control, what we run, how we run it, what formation, where did the back line up, what was the protection. I spend about four hours looking at what we’ve done and try to get a picture. You don’t go from five wideouts to a wishbone. You keep certain core aspects and then expand from there.”

— Expectations:
“Washington is a good challenge for us. I still don’t know how good we are. All I know, we’ll give the guys a good plan and hope they execute it.”

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

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