When the Illinois football team trotted onto the field as an eight-point underdog against Cincinnati last Saturday, the Illini offense lined up in the rarest of formations.
The ensemble looked like something drawn up on an Etch A Sketch by someone content to just wheel and deal with the white knobs, devoid of a particular or logical goal.
The ball, center, quarterback and two receivers were on the right hash mark. The two receivers flanked the center with the quarterback 5 yards deep in the shotgun.
The rest of the offense was outside of the left hash mark. Linemen and tight ends assembled with a hybrid back a few yards behind them.
An assumed name for this formation may be “nonsense,” but it’s better known to defensive coordinators as “chaos.” That’s precisely what Illini offensive coordinator Bill Cubit wants.
As much as Boise State was known for trick plays, Cubit carries similar renown for his sleight of hand.
“You make the reel of kind of ‘gadget’ or ‘issue’ plays, it’s 120,” Washington defensive
coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “It’s a big reel.”
Cubit was the head coach at Western Michigan from 2005-12 before joining the Illini’s staff this season. He’s also been the offensive coordinator at Missouri, Rutgers and Stanford. Wilcox has gone through video from when Cubit was running the Broncos to assess what he is seeing now.
“Obviously a fast team,” Wilcox said. “Their quarterback is a heck of a football player, (they) have a big O-line, and give you every formation, motion, personnel group that there is.”
But, like most offenses, the engine is the quarterback. For Illinois, that’s the suddenly efficient Nate Scheelhaase.
His pass out of the “chaos” formation was one of his few incompletions last week in his 26-for-37 passing performance. The senior has completed 74 percent of his passes two games into this season.
It wasn’t so easy for him last year. His completion percentage in 2012 was 60.2 percent. He threw eight interceptions and four touchdowns. He has thrown 173 fewer passes this season than last and already has two more touchdowns.
Washington wants to cage him. For the UW defense, that doesn’t necessarily mean sacks.
Wilcox said the Huskies want to “affect” the quarterback by keeping him in the “cage.” That means reducing his ability to step up or get out of the pocket, making his feet uncomfortable and making him throw into tight windows.
Wilcox said the Huskies were all right at it in the Boise State game.
“It’s never going to be where you want it be,” Wilcox said.
Scheelhaase hit 11 receivers during the 45-17 rout of Cincinnati. His first completion in the opener against Southern Illinois went for 52 yards. His first touchdown against Cincinnati was a 48-yard pass. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in each game.
“Their offense has more speed than Boise State did,” Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson said. “The quarterback is a lot better. We just have to keep him in the pocket.”
In addition to that, Wilcox doesn’t plan on a scatter-brained approach putting his team on guard against trick plays, draws, screens and more. He said the Huskies have to stay right with their eyes and fundamentals.
“It’s like, ‘You’ve got to be ready for the trick play!’ ” Wilcox said. “That’s great. No kidding. If you told us when it was coming and what type, it would help.”
That’s not happening, so they will try to cage Scheelhaase on their own, providing a defensive dose of email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas