Tate: Keep Cubit at all costs

Tate: Keep Cubit at all costs

Good football teams have been known to give up 37 points and win.

The game is peaking in a high-scoring era. Fresno State was headed for a major bowl and ran into a 62-point onslaught. Ohio State got away with allowing 41 on Saturday at Michigan. Oregon won 36-35. Alabama was headed for a three-peat before permitting 34.

So it’s common.

What makes Illinois different is that Northwestern, with two overtime games counted in, came here averaging just 16 points in seven Big Ten games ... was without its No. 1 quarterback (Kain Colter) and No. 1 running back (Venric Mark) ... didn’t have a senior on the offensive line ... and simply played keepaway all day at Memorial Stadium.

To their credit, the gritty Illini seniors made it close, 37-34. In fact, they did some extra-special things: Nathan Scheelhaase broke Juice Williams’ career total offense record with a 307-pass, 55-rush day (10,634 yards), Steve Hull caught 13 passes to give him 653 yards in the last four games, and Jonathan Brown compiled 17 tackles to finish the season with 119.

But Northwestern’s Wildcats, arriving on a seven-game slide, kept the ball for 13 more minutes than the Illini, 36:23 to 23:37. From the first two drives, when they took a 10-0 lead, to the closing minutes, the Purple Gang punched holes in a soft, porous Illini defense.

When it was over, the Wildcats ran an incredible 96 offensive plays without a turnover. Trevor Siemian had his pick of receivers as they ran wide open through the UI secondary. The 37-34 result left the 4-8 Illini with just three interceptions out of 354 opposing passes. When the ball is in the air, they are seldom around. Of the 354, they were credited with breaking up 40.


Same ol’ same ol’

Through 11 games, Tim Beckman’s second edition had already permitted more yards (5,218) than any Illini team in history. They permitted 560 more Saturday ... the slippage from 2011 amounting to roughly 2,000 more yards than the 13-game bowl team allowed.

The exact number — 2,158 — represents the extent to which the Illini defense has fallen from a team regarded so bad two years ago that coach Ron Zook was fired.

Beckman remains outwardly undismayed, expressing confidence and reminding that Brown and Tim Kynard are the only departures on the defensive two-deep chart. Maturity alone should bring better results.

But the question must be asked: Is major improvement possible with the talent on hand and, if help is needed, how does Beckman recruit successfully when Illini Nation is so clearly devastated and the Memorial Stadium stands so empty?

Fewer than half the announced attendance (37,058) showed up for a sunny, 50-degree kickoff, and several thousand of the hardy souls were gone by halftime. With students on holiday, fewer than 130 made it for the Block I section, and most of the sold-out seats in the opposite horseshoe were unfilled.

It was a dismal sight as darkness settled on the stadium and Pat Fitzgerald’s athletes began to enforce their will, rallying from a 27-23 deficit to carry a 37-27 lead into the final three minutes. Northwestern has taken charge of this series and can point to a 12-7 edge on Illinois since 1995.


Now what?

If you are a worrier, the next concern is who’ll come courting Bill Cubit after his extraordinary one-year reclamation project with the UI offense.

The former Western Michigan head coach took over an average line with no depth, some experienced tight ends and a quarterback who had thrown four TD passes in 2012. His best receiver (Ryan Lankford) got hurt, and two of his leading wideouts turned out to be a converted safety (Hull) and former quarterback (Miles Osei). Josh Ferguson, who ran for 110 yards and two TDs Saturday, had just 312 yards last season.

The Illini averaged 16.7 points in 2012 and upped that to 29.7 this season, an increase of two touchdowns per game.

But the point has been made: Offenses can do tricks with the passing game but, for the defense to excel, it takes an extraordinary mix of scheme and raw talent. There is doubt all around whether Beckman’s young defenders can blossom into winners.

From all indications, Beckman will be back in 2014 to take another run at fixing it, and athletic director Mike Thomas is strongly advised to meet whatever challenges arise with regard to Cubit. In the final analysis, he was the star of this 4-8 team.


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

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blueandorange wrote on December 01, 2013 at 10:12 am

There's zero chance Cubit will be back next year. A mid major or maybe even a struggling major will want him as head coach.

Bwp 5P wrote on December 01, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Don't disagree that the "defense" was UN- defensive........but there were still some plays on offense that left me wondering! Two running plays at the goal line against Michagan States Top rated defense? Would have been a huge deal if we'd scored there!

I'll give Cubit credit.........and I KNOW we'll be better next year........but geez........apparently Banks uses the same mentality/plays as the Bears! (OK....the Bears have injuries) and I'll accept the youth excuse..........but when you see a reciever open and nobody within 5-10 yards........it makes you wonder if we're that "talentially" challenged.......or they have no clue where or what they should be doing!

It was a better result than last year..........but............

Illipud wrote on December 01, 2013 at 5:12 pm
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Pay whatever it takes to bring back Vic Koenig & his d-line coach (Gilmore?), they had a very effective D-scheme and they knew how to recruit and coach-up D-talent. If MT allows Cubit to slip away, only family and office staff will be in the stands next season.  How could the program of Butkus, Grange & Halas have fallen so far?  Its just astonishing......... you have to try to be at this level of ineptitude.  Do I hear Zuppke stirring..........

DaisyJ wrote on December 01, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Did we let Nathan play so he could break the record. After breaking the record, I did not hear from him that he would have traded the record for more big ten wins.

The offensive stats are misleading. Todays game looks like a flag football game in my back yard, short pass here and there, lots of them, no clock control, just fast pace passing. So, on the one hand, with so many more plays being run, maybe the defense would be better if we had used a little clock once in a while, a novel idea of yesteryear.... duh..

Look, if we are so potent, and our defense so bad, then lets control the ball versus see how many short passes Nathan can get to get his totals up.

As for all are coming back on defense next year but 2,,well that actually by Vegas standards is not a positive. I kinda of hope none of them come back.

With so few in the stands, that is the real story. Maybe if they would have had the state football tournament there (where is should be) then attendence would have looked better.

illinifaningeorgia wrote on December 01, 2013 at 6:12 pm

In 5 out of 12 games,  the defense gave up more than 500 yards!!!  If all or most of those games had come early in the season, then I could agree that maybe improvement was being made.  But they came throughout the season, including the last game of the year against a very poor, injury- riddled Northwestern offense that had been averaging only 16 points per game in B1G play.

The idea (from Beckman) that there is cause for optimism because all but 2 players from the 2-deep starting defensive lineup will return next year, is ridiculous. 

Bad players are bad players and there is no guarantee that just because they are young, they will improve with age.

Reminds me of an old Casey Stengel story (young guys, google him if you don't know who he is).  In spring training one year, there was a young rookie who was turning heads among the reporters as a potential future superstar. When they asked Casey what he thought of the kid, he said (and I paraphrase a bit): 

"You guys have to remember that the kid is only 18 years old.  If he keeps his nose clean, works hard, and listens to his coaches, in 5 years he has an excellent chance to be---23 years old."

 

jjohnson wrote on December 01, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Let me get this straight. Virtually every team we played against gave up 400 -500+ yards; does this mean their defenses "sucked"? I agree our defense was not good, but the NU game was lost on an interception and on poor offensive thinking or execution after Illinois got the ball near its own goal line at the end of the first half. It was a team loss. 

illinifaningeorgia wrote on December 02, 2013 at 4:12 pm

No, those teams (except Purdue) didn't "suck". 

Illinois finished 110th (out of 123) in total defense and 113th in rush defense.  Those resemble "suck"-like numbers to me.

 

 

 

OrlandoIllini wrote on December 02, 2013 at 7:12 am

Yesterday the Gators fired coaches after a 4-7 season.

 

Why are Tim Banks, Greg Colby, Al Seamonson and Mike Ward still employed today by the UofI? Their players are often out of position, and tackle as though it’s a game of touch football.

 

We know why Tim Beckman is still employed today: Mike Thomas’ plan is based on competence unexpectedly bursting forth from Beckman like spontaneous generation in the next ten months.

 

Beckman has coached badly, has recruited poorly, hasn’t controlled his own actions on the sideline, and hasn’t even give coherent comments in a live interview. He has taken a below-average program and devastated it.

 

Do more than keep Cubit: make him the head coach. Put Beckman in charge of something where he can’t do further damage to the program… yet I’m not certain such a job exists.

billbtri5 wrote on December 02, 2013 at 9:12 am

great idea on Cubit...

billbtri5 wrote on December 02, 2013 at 9:12 am

why are they playing seniors at the end of a loosing season?  give next years players some playing time ....

walker wrote on December 02, 2013 at 10:12 am

All the Guenther haters thought that just about anybody would be an improvement. I believe that Thomas' came in and fired too many, too quickly and football wise has set the program much much lower than it ever was before.  M.T. is just as in over his head as Beckman.  Too bad we all have to suffer like this.