The Illinois Fighting Illini suffered through a rough 2012 season under first-year head coach Tim Beckman. They won just one game against an FBS opponent with an opening day 24-7 victory over the Western Michigan Broncos. After that, it was all downhill, losing 10 of their next 11 games, including the last nine, to finish 2-10 on the season and 0-8 in Big Ten play. If the Illini hope to avoid a similar debacle in 2013, they will need major contributions from quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
The dual-threat quarterback was one of the offensive leaders already on the club during his junior season, but the only problem was that the Illinois offense was horrendous in 2012. The Illini ranked No. 119 in total offense averaging 296.67 yards per game with only the Maryland Terrapins averaging less. They ranked No. 107 in passing offense, averaging 168.83 yards per game and No. 97 in rushing offense with 127.83 yards per game. Their 16.67 points per game average ranked No. 119 in college football.
For his part, Scheelhaase struggled right along with the rest of the offense. While he completed over 60 percent of his passes, which was good, he threw for just 1,361 yards (a career low at Illinois) and threw just four touchdown passes all season against eight interceptions. He finished third on the team in rushing last year as well, gaining 303 yards and scoring four touchdowns, both career lows for the three-year starter.
Luckily for Illinois, there is little room to go but up next season. Scheelhaase needs to find himself in Beckman’s offense next fall and try and replicate the playmaking he displayed during his freshman season in 2010. That year, he accounted for 2,693 total yards and 22 total touchdowns. That could mean taking on a larger role in the running game, where he averaged 4.7 yards per carry that season.
After a promising two years with Illinois, Scheelhaase regressed in his junior year under Beckman. He needs to improve on his big-play ability and efficiency in 2013 if the Illini have any shot at winning more than two games in the quarterback’s senior season.