Illinois offense dazzles in rout of Cincinnati
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter September 7, 2013 6:00PM
Nathan Scheelhaase has been a bright spot amid the gloom during his career at Illinois, which ended a 20-game losing streak in the Big Ten last week. | AP
Cincinnati 0 7 10 0 — 17
Illinois 7 14 7 17 — 45
Ill—Ferguson 48 pass from Scheelhaase (Zalewski kick), 5:45.
Ill—Lankford 29 run (Zalewski kick), 12:47.
Ill—Wilson 23 pass from Scheelhaase (Zalewski kick), 7:04.
Cin—Morrison 1 pass from Legaux (Miliano kick), :08.
Cin—FG Miliano 37, 11:02.
Ill—Hull 22 pass from Scheelhaase (Zalewski kick), 2:48.
Cin—Abernathy 13 run (Miliano kick), 1:34.
Ill—FG Zalewski 19, 9:57.
Ill—Barr 26 pass from Scheelhaase (Zalewski kick), 8:23.
Ill—Young 8 run (Zalewski kick), 2:11.
TEAM STATISTICS Cin Ill
First downs 24 27
Rushes-yards 32-148 39-210
Passing 308 312
Comp-Att-Int 23-42-1 26-37-0
Return Yards 26 66
Punts-Avg. 6-36.7 5-38.8
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 7-48 5-24
Time of Possession 23:32 36:28
RUSHING —Cincinnati, Legaux 11-52, Abernathy 12-47, Williams 5-43, Morrison 1-3, Kay 3-3. Illinois, Young 14-64, Ferguson 9-47, Lankford 3-46, Barr 1-24, Scheelhaase 8-24, Bailey 3-4, Church 1-1.
PASSING—Cincinnati, Legaux 17-31-1-237, Kay 6-11-0-71. Illinois, Scheelhaase 26-37-0-312.
RECEIVING—Cincinnati, McClung 6-94, Washington 5-83, Morrison 4-45, C.Moore 3-45, McKay 2-17, Graves 1-10, Abernathy 1-8, Annen 1-6. Illinois, Barr 5-72, Davis 4-25, Hull 3-53, Osei 3-30, Harris 3-16, Ferguson 2-55, Wilson 2-43, Hardee 1-13, Lankford 1-10, Church 1-(minus 1), LaCosse 1-(minus 4).
Updated: October 10, 2013 6:20AM
CHAMPAIGN — Bill Cubit was good and ticked off before Illinois’ 45-17 victory over favored Cincinnati even started.
On his drive to Memorial Stadium on Saturday, the first-year offensive coordinator heard a commentator on the radio say the Illini had no chance to beat Cincinnati. Why not?
“He said we can’t run the ball,” Cubit said, his mouth forming a half-sneer.
“Well, we just ran it pretty good — over 200 yards.”
A football purist might interject here that, for much of the game, the Illini (2-0) couldn’t get anything going between the tackles; their only real running offense came on end-arounds and sweeps by wide receivers.
That doesn’t count the same as slobberknocking the guys in front of you, the purist might say.
But that would be missing the point entirely. Something rather amazing is happening with the Illini offense, and it was on full display against a defense that, a week earlier, surrendered seven points and 226 total yards to Purdue.
The best way to put it, after the Illini racked up 522 yards of wow-this-is-really-happening: At no time in the game did Cincinnati (1-1) have a clue what was coming next.
Anyone who watched Illinois play last season surely agrees that game-planning against that offense couldn’t have been even a bit challenging for a decent coach. This time, veteran defensive coordinator Art Kaufman got his rear end handed to him. Kaufman — celebrated by Bearcats fans after the Purdue game — never even had a chance.
The Illini offense lined up in so many formations, Cubit actually lost count.
“I know at one point [in the third quarter] we were up to 20,” he said. “We like to do some different things.”
Cubit’s offense has as many looks and combinations as those old Rubik’s Cube toys. Are they still around? Who knows. But if we didn’t just stumble into a perfect nickname for Illinois’ offense …
Ladies and gentlemen, behold the Rubik’s Cubit.
Last year’s Big Ten-worst offense was embarrassingly easy to solve. More than one, and maybe most, opposing defenses will have more talent than the Illini offense this season. But watch them struggle to find the answers to what Cubit is showing them.
By how many victories will Illinois improve after going 2-10 in a miserable 2012? Perhaps just a couple or a few.
But quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, a four-year starter, is coming off the best two weeks of his career, having thrown for 728 yards and more touchdowns (six) in two games than he threw all last season.
Eleven Illini receivers caught a pass on Saturday, a number that keeps everyone practicing hard.
Heading into a difficult matchup against Washington on Saturday at Soldier Field, there is much to feel good about.
“I can’t tell you how much fun I’m having,” Cubit said in a team meeting room less than an hour after the upset was official.
Then, for reasons that are as complicated as a Rubik’s Cube, Cubit, 59, began to think about his father, who died three months ago.
“I know he’s really happy with how it’s going,” he said.