Q&A: What Bill Cubit sees in Illinois

The Illinois offense was broken in 2012. How bad was it? The Fighting Illini ranked 11th in the Big Ten in rushing (127.8 ypg); 11th in passing (168.8 ypg); last overall (296.7 ypg); last in scoring (16.7 ppg) during a 2-10 debut season for Tim Beckman that saw the Illini finish 0-8 in the Big Ten.

So, Beckman fired co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty and saw co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales leave to coach receivers at Mississippi State.

Enter Bill Cubit.

Cubit, 59, is a sage offensive mind who most was head coach the last eight seasons at Western Michigan, where he went 51-47 overall and 36-27 in the MAC with three bowl trips. In fact, his 2008 team beat Illinois. And in 2007, Cubit coached Western Michigan by Iowa in the regular-season finale. The loss kept the Hawkeyes out of a bowl game after a six-season run.

Cubit also has been coordinator at Missouri (2000); Rutgers (2001-02); Stanford (2003-04). If Illinois is to end a nine-game losing skid that it brings into 2013—along with a 14-game Big Ten skein that dates to a 41-20 win at Indiana on October 8, 2011—Cubit must get the offense in gear. I caught up with Cubit a few days after the Illini’s spring game.

[RELATED: Watch Illini game on BTBN2Go | Illini game notes | Video highlights  ]

Q: What do you like about quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O’Toole?

Illini 2012 Passing Leaders
Player POS Att Comp Yds Pct TD
N. Scheelhaase QB 246 149 1361 60.6 4
R. O’Toole QB 87 65 564 74.7 6

A: They are both pretty smart. This system is pretty complicated. They struggled a bit early. We knew it was gonna be a long haul. But they picked it up. Now, it’s a matter of if we can get it done talent-wise. Both of them got better in their technique. I’m not saying it was poor, but it wasn’t very pretty.

I thought Nate was throwing the ball a lot faster. I thought in the spring game, he did a good job of getting the ball out with a little bit more arm strength. Route-running was not a big priority here. I think we made some grounds in the passing game and in knowing concepts.

Q: How is the line coming together?

A: I think the line got a bad rap. The style of offense last year was a lot of east and west. I don’t think the personnel was good for that. Our backs are more north-south guys, so I think we’ll be better. That will help the line. I also think the quarterback was holding the ball too long, causing sacks. So our big thing was to get rid of the ball quickly. I think that will help them. We are thin. But we have enough guys, I think. If we don’t get injured, we will be OK.

The Corey Lewis kid is huge in having him back. He’s a sixth-year guy who has some experience. He had a lot of issues with his knee (five surgeries). Hopefully we can keep him healthy. I think (guard Ted) Karras is a good player. The center, (Alex) Hill, could be a good player. He has lost a lot of weight and probably needs to lose more. But he has a chance. The left tackle Simon (Cvijanovic), we have to get him more comfortable, but I think he has a chance.

Q: Do you like the tight ends?

Illini 2012 Receiving Leaders
Player POS Rec Yds TD Avg
Donovonn Young RB 38 172 1 4.5
Ryan Lankford WR 37 469 5 12.7
Darius Millines WR 32 319 0 10.0
Josh Ferguson RB 29 251 0 8.7
Spencer Harris WR 21 252 2 12.0
View All Players

A: There is a kid (Jon) Davis who is hurt, who I think can be pretty good if he can stay healthy. He has a knee injury. (Evan) Wilson also has a chance but they haven’t been using the tight end in the passing game. He’s a 6-7 kid with a chance. And there’s also Matt LaCosse who is a 6-5 guy who is a former quarterback so I think those three, you have a chance to be decent.

Q: How would be describe the offense?

A: Really multiple with the personnel. Try to get rid of the ball quickly. Don’t hold the ball. More down-hill runs. We could be in a three-tight end, one-wideout set on one down and on the next play be in five-wides. I don’t think we have a Jordan White-type guy (Western Michigan receiver) who you can count on all the time. I haven’t seen it yet. We may have. But I haven’t seen it yet.

Q: Do you like the running backs?

Illini 2012 Rushing Leaders
Player POS Att Yds TD Avg
Donovonn Young RB 131 571 3 4.4
Josh Ferguson RB 75 312 0 4.2
Nathan Scheelhaase QB 125 303 4 2.4
Dami Ayoola RB 26 117 2 4.5
Jon Davis TE 21 102 1 4.9

A: Yes. (Josh) Ferguson has a lot of ability. He has to stay healthy. He’s a smaller guy, so we have to be really careful with how we use him. (Donovonn) Young has some potential. He is used to the east-west runs and now is more north-south which fits his style better. But that’s a year’s reps that they really didn’t have. So, understanding the powers, the zones, knowing where to cut and the feel up front, that’s gonna take a little bit of time and was an issue in the spring. Those two kids I think are good enough. We have enough where I think we can move the ball.

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About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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