Beckman’s biggest offseason move won’t help Illini this season
In Tim Beckman’s maiden voyage as head coach of the Illinois football team, the Illini struggled in all three phases en route to a 2-10 finish on the year.
After convincing victories early over Western Michigan (24-7) and Charleston Southern (44-0), the Illini had trouble even keeping games close, with nine of the team’s 10 defeats coming by 14 or more points.
Whether Nathan Scheelhaase or Reilly O’Toole was under center, the team couldn’t produce points with any consistency. The Illini ranked 119th out of 120 in both total yards and scoring offense, leading to the dismissal of co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty as well as the departure of Billy Gonzales, who left the team for a job at Mississippi State. Without taking into account the 44 points the team posted against FCS foe Charleston Southern, the Illini averaged 14.2 points per game in the other 11 contests.
While you were out
After the season, a wave of changes swept through the program. In addition to Gonzales and Beatty’s departures, Illinois lost offensive line coach Luke Butkus to Florida International as well as his intended replacement Jim Bridges, who left for Big Ten foe Purdue in March. Illinois brought in former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit to become offensive coordinator as well as quarterbacks coach. In addition, the Illini hired A.J. Ricker to coach the offensive line and promoted Mike Bellamy to receivers coach.
The biggest splash of the summer for the Illini was a player who won’t even see the field in 2013 — the commitment of transfer quarterback Wes Lunt. The 6-foot-5 signal caller was in and out of the starting lineup at pass-happy Oklahoma State with injuries as a true freshman in 2012, but must sit out a year per NCAA transfer rules.
Shortly after Lunt’s commitment, Beckman continued his trend of signing players from the junior college ranks when wide receivers Tyrin Stone-Davis and Geronimo Allison committed two days apart in late July. Both are considered top-15 junior college receivers by the recruiting website 247sports.
What to watch for
The biggest variable heading into the 2013 season is how the Illini will respond under Cubit’s offensive system. While at Western Michigan, Cubit’s offense was 28th in the country in passing yards and 38th in the nation in total offense in 2012 despite a 4-8 record.
Cubit is known for spreading the field with receivers and pushing the tempo at times with a quick passing attack. The Illini have five senior wide receivers — the most tenured position group on the team — and it will be up to them to step up and make plays on the outside.
While Scheelhaase has three years of experience and O’Toole was given multiple opportunities last season, freshman Aaron Bailey stands out as a quarterback who could bring a change of pace to the Illinois offense. Cubit said he has never run a two-quarterback system, but if Scheelhaase struggles, the contingency plan could revolve around the four-star quarterback from Bolingbrook, Ill.
Stephen can be reached at email@example.com and @steve_bourbon.