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One coordinator is perfect for Illinois’ Scheelhaase

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (2) throws pass during warm-ups before an NCAA college football game Saturday Sept. 28 2013 Memorial

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (2) throws a pass during warm-ups before of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

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Updated: November 4, 2013 12:16PM



The X’s and O’s of the problem don’t even matter anymore.

Maybe former Illinois co-coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, both long gone now, were to blame for the offense’s impotence in 2012. Were they co-clueless, too? A lot of Illini fans would say that was obvious. Of course, a lot more would say it was beyond foolish of coach Tim Beckman to put two men — with zero coordinator experience — in charge of one job in the first place, that the whole thing was doomed from the start.

Whatever, you know? It’s over now. As senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said this week, “We’ve put the things that we’ve done and the things that we haven’t done in the past.”

The hard part for Scheelhaase at the start of his fifth year in the program was also the easy part. Who could blame him for wanting to let go of much of his past experiences and grab hold of one last chance to succeed as a college quarterback? After answering to four coordinators, including Beatty and Gonzales, in his first four years at Illinois, Scheelhaase merely wanted someone he could believe in.

He found that person in coordinator Bill Cubit, who, one-third of the way into the season, has to be on anyone’s list of candidates for the Frank Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach.

“From Day 1, he established what he was all about and how he was going to do things,” Scheelhaase said. “It has been a good transition.”

It also has been the most fun Scheelhaase has had in his Illinois career. And why not? The statistical success he and the Illini (3-1) are having nearly boggles the mind.

The offense has improved from 296.7 yards per game (ranked 119th nationally) in 2012 to 478.5 (35th) in 2013, with a school-record 161 points through four games. Scheelhaase is leading all Big Ten passers in yards per game (290.5) and efficiency rating (174.8) and is second in touchdown passes (12).

We’ll let you choose which of the following is the most impressive:

1. Scheelhaase has thrown for 709 yards and six touchdowns — on first down alone.

2. He has had three streaks of at least 10 consecutive completions. No other Illini quarterback since 1994 has had even one such streak.

3. Scheelhaase’s five TD passes in the first half against Miami (Ohio) last Saturday bettered his 2012 season total by one.

“I think our players are confident and realize that I know what I’m doing out there and I’m worth being trusted,” he said.

And that gets straight to the biggest reasons Scheelhaase has been so good — no, great — in his final go-round. First, there’s nothing confusing about what Cubit wants from his quarterback. One coordinator isn’t better than two if the guy’s a poor communicator.

“It always helps to have a clear identity, to be clear in what you’re expected to do and how you’re expected to do that,” Scheelhaase said. “There’s probably not many 18- to 22-year-olds who do real well with a ton of freedom on the football field.”

Perhaps most important, Scheelhaase knows his coordinator genuinely believes in him. Two voices in charge of the offense were one too many, but there are two voices this season, as well — Cubit’s and his quarterback’s.

“There’s probably a lot of truth to that,” he said. “Coach Cubit has trusted me a lot this season.”

He never had that sense last season. He isn’t sure he has ever been trusted like this in his college years. But, you know, whatever. All that’s over now.

E-mail: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SLGreenberg



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