CHAMPAIGN — It was offensive coordinator Bill Cubit’s 60th birthday Monday and he had nothing but respectful things to say about Saturday night’s Illini football opponent, No. 25 Wisconsin.
But he also admitted he spent a portion of this past weekend polishing his trash talking.
Head coach Tim Beckman took his son to the State Farm Center on Saturday night. They were part of a sellout crowd there to see the country music duo, “Florida Georgia Line.”
Beckman and his son sat in one section and the rest of the Illini coaching staff sat in another area. Among them was Cubit.
But part of the evening out was a chance for the football staff to schmooze backstage with band members Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, and that’s when Cubit couldn’t resist trading barbs.
Turns out Kelley is a Florida State football fan. Cubit is a one-time quarterbacks coach for one of the Seminoles’ in-state rivals, the University of Florida Gators.
Put a Florida State fan and a Florida guy in the same room and sparks will fly.
“It was a good show,” Cubit said. “We had a chance to go back and meet and gree,t and (Kelley) was a Florida State guy and I’m kind of a Gator and when I found that out, we got on each other a little.
“He said, ‘I thought I smelled something in here,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s how it is when I’m around you criminals.’
“It was good. It was fun.”
Cubit was presented with an orange birthday cake, which he stashed in his car. And on Monday afternoon, when offensive guard Teddy Karras was informed it was Cubit’s birthday, he said he’d have to alert the rest of the team.
“He might need a Gatorade bath,” Karras said.
With the birthday wishes out of the way, Cubit can zero in on resuscitating an Illini offense that had its most disappointing performance its last time out. That was the feeling when Illinois was just 4-of-15 on third down, took three sacks, suffered two turnovers and generally looked out of sync trying to throw the ball against Nebraska’s blitz. The Cornhuskers won, 39-19, and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase’s 13-for-26 passing game generated just 135 yards, his lowest output of the season.
Cubit said tweaks — not major changes — are what’s needed.
“The biggest thing for us is that we have to show more composure when things are flying around,” Cubit said. “When things were going a little too quick, guys abandoned the play. We just have to get comfortable.
“I knew it was going to be an issue, and unfortunately it was an issue in the first half of the Washington game and in some parts of the (Nebraska) game. We did get people open at times, but we abandoned it too quickly.”
Translation: Scheelhaase fled the pass rush and ran with the ball when a split-second more patience might have helped him find an open receiver. And, Cubit said, in other cases receivers broke off routes too quickly and weren’t where Scheelhaase expected them to be.
He has talked to Scheelhaase about maintaining his patience in the pocket.
“Sometimes your strength can be your greatest weakness,” Cubit said. “Nathan’s strength is that he can run. But sometimes he got antsy. If you hang in there two-tenths or three-tenths of a second longer, someone will come open.
“Even with the trouble we had, we ended up with 372 yards and 24 first downs.”
Scheelhaase said he spent the bye week working on resisting the urge to flee.
“When you are back there and you see things break down, it can make you want to get out of there and make a play. But you have to trust your guys, trust your protection and give it a little time. We can all do a little better job of that.”
Cubit said he will continue to showcase running back Josh Ferguson, who had 114 yards rushing and 82 yards receiving against Nebraska. And he’s making an effort to get wide receiver Ryan Lankford more involved.
“We’re working on some different things with Lankford, on how we can attack the things defenses are doing against him,” Cubit said. “We’re going to move him around more – inside, outside, wide side, short side, not letting the defense get a read on where he’s at. We have to utilize his speed and play-making ability.”
Cubit knows Wisconsin will spend time game-planning for Ferguson, who leads the nation in receiving yards by a running back (344 yards on 20 catches, 17.2 yards per catch).
“It’s a little harder to defense Fergie,” Cubit said. “What happens with him is he gives us matchups on linebackers. A wideout you can take away by just double-teaming him. But with Fergie, we just have to keep moving him around.”