Spring Mailbag (Part II) May 10, 2010
Part 2 of 4. Right to it.
Question #1: How would you compare Scheelhaase (I know Spring is a very small sample) at this point to a Senior Juice Williams in all skill sets of a QB (passing, awareness, reads, etc..).
Question #2: Same question but substitute Brad Smith as a Frosh for Juice as a Sr.
~ Zach in St. Louis
I’ll start with arm strength. Even with the small spring sample size, I would say that Juice’s arm is 4.681 times stronger than Nathan’s. It’s not even close. While watching reps last year in Rantoul, Juice would flick his wrist and toss it 35 yards. Scheelhaase needed every ounce of arm he had to complete a 40 yard bomb to Cordale Scott in the Rantoul scrimmage. So as far as the physical tools, Juice wins in a landslide.
But as we saw the last 4 years, arm strength does not a QB make. Yes, it’s extremely helpful to be able to make all of the throws. But if you’re only hitting on 56% of those throws, arm strength really doesn’t matter. In fact, the majority of great throws that Juice made in his career (4 TD’s at Ohio State, TD’s at the Big House in 2008, etc.) were throws where Juice took a little (if not a lot) off. So I’ll put all of that this way: Nathan Scheelhaase can probably duplicate every memorable Juice Williams throw from the last 4 years.
In running style, they’re also nearly exact opposites. Juice ran people over. Nathan is shifty. Juice was a load to bring down. Nathan might go down with a poor arm tackle (if they can get their hands on him). My friend I sat with at the Spring Game made a very apt comparison for Scheelhaase: Kellen Lewis at Indiana. Decent enough arm to toss it around a bit, and an extremely smooth, shifty runner.
The rest of the attributes you listed are still in the wait-and-see file. Reads? I specifically watched for that on one series in the spring game, and Scheelhaase locked in to his primary receiver on every play. Something he has to improve. Accuracy? He appears to have decent accuracy, including surprising accuracy while throwing on the run, but it’s nothing to write home about (at least not yet). Leadership? Solid A with a chance of finishing his career with an A+. I love watching him in interviews. I love that Petrino laughs and says the best leader on the team is a freshman who has never taken a college snap. He appears to be a take charge guy who cares deeply about winning. That’s the thing that probably has me most excited.
And I’m glad you brought up Brad Smith. Because there are certainly parallels there (running QB, shifty, unknown redshirt freshman entering the Missouri/Illinois game as the underdog for his first collegiate start) that will be played out over the next 4 months.
But I can barely allow myself to think it. Any time there’s a new quarterback, especially a freshman quarterback, there’s always the possibility of walking out of that game like Missouri fans did in 2002. “Wait – we get to watch that 45 more times? Am I dreaming?” I’ve had these feelings before: Scott Weaver’s debut, Juice at Rutgers – heck, even hearing that Kirk Johnson was getting his first start gave me butterflies. But I’ve never had the experience that Missouri fans had walking out of the dome in 2002. Which is why I need to stop talking about it. Hope is a dangerous thing.
I know you’re big on the short-term intricacies of the depth chart, etc. and I love you for it but I have a set of long range scenarios I’d like you to consider for the program and, specifically, how each would affect our coaches. Petrino and Koenning have been impressive from what I have heard so far, both far more experienced and knowledgeable coaches than we normally see at a program with Illinois’ recent track record. They both seem to be (and want to be) head coaches in the near future. Zook has stepped back to become more of an organizer/figurehead for the program, rather than necessarily so integrally involved in the game planning. Those situations said (and feel free to disagree with me on any of them), I see three scenarios going forward:
A. Dream (OK, daydream, not full on greatness) Sequence: Illinois makes a quick upswing. Illinois doesn’t stay in the post-peak/major bowl lull as long as the program has in decades past. Koenning and Petrino coax our upperclassmen to become leaders on the field, our up-and-comers from the sophomore and junior classes have strong campaigns, and the Illini squeeze six wins out of this year’s schedule and a trip to relive the half-full Ford Field experience in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl. They follow up this effort with an improved (slightly) recruiting class and improved results from upperclassmen after a full year in the new coordinators’ systems. They come in confident to the third game of the year (Arizona St) and pull the upset on the way to 8 wins in the regular season and a close victory in the Outback Bowl against Big Brother Petrino’s Arkansas Razorbacks.
B. The very possible: The Illini struggle through another up-and-down season. Scheelhaase struggles mightily against top-flight Big Ten defenses, but shows flashes of athleticism and passing ability against lower-tier Big Ten opponents. Hey, he even pulls out a late-night shootout to close the season on a high note in Fresno. The Illini finish with five wins and a young sophomore QB with All-Big Ten aspirations going into his junior year. The following season gets off to a solid start, but Big Ten again throws the Illini for a loop and they can’t eke out a frozen (it’s in December!) battle for a bowl berth against Wisconsin, falling 13-7.
C. Abyss: It’s happening again! The slump continues next season thanks in part to poor scheduling and lack of confidence in the Mizzou game. The Illini stumble through the early season, only able to control SIU and staving off NIU thanks to some late LeShoure heroics. The QB battle opens up midseason, sparking further controversy and the team can only pull a late field-goal victory over the Hoosiers from the Big Ten schedule.
How does the coaching situation play out? Do Petrino and/or Koenning bolt for head coach or elite coordinator positions following surprising performances after the 2011 season? Does Zook keep his job without a bowl berth for another two seasons–and, if not, does the job go to one of the coordinators? Does Guenther again frustrate us all again and keep Zook after a three-win campaign next year? I’m mainly concerned with how Petrino and Koenning handle either (A) winning and knowing they aren’t getting the HC job OR (B) losing consistently after turning down possibly better jobs this past offseason.
~Fitz in Chicago
I thought about trimming this question for brevity purposes, but then I realized two things: 1) I don’t have an editor, so I can make this as long as I want, and 2) I really wanted the daydream scenario above in print (Pizza Pizza Bowl! Followed by an Outback Bowl!).
As I said in Point #10, I want a program. And part of that program is to have innovative coordinators who are always training their successors. With our current scenario, that looks like this:
The offense shows late season signs this fall and surges to a top-25 offense in 2011. Paul has shown he’s something apart from Bobby, and Central Florida comes calling. No problem – Petrino out, Brohm in, keep the offense moving and growing and developing. The players know what to expect, recruits know what to expect, and the Illinois offense keeps on doing what it does.
Defense could be the same way. Koenning’s unit forces enough turnovers to keep us in games in 2010, and the same takeaway mentality in 2011 gives our offense enough to push us to a decent bowl. A few more years of consistent defense convinces the Colorado State AD that Vic Koenning might be ready for another shot as a head coach. Koenning leaves, Ron West steps in, and the Illinois defense keeps on doing what it does.
The scenario I don’t see is one where Petrino or Koenning find themselves named head coach at Illinois. As I’ve said before, right or wrong, in Ron Geunther’s mind, this is a two year plan. Even if we’re 4-8 this fall, I still think the entire staff returns. All of this is being built for 2011, 8 home games, and a shot at a solid bowl. If it happens, we follow the plan listed above. If it doesn’t happen, I think the entire coaching staff is tossed out and the new guy brings in an entirely new coordinators. I just can’t see a scenario where the defense improves, Zook is tossed out, and Koenning is given the reins.
Paul Petrino is here because he needs to make a name for himself apart from Bobby. Vic Koenning is here because Ron Zook can sell ketchup popsicles. I think everyone in the football office is aware that this is a two year plan, with the need to see improvement in 2010 and a big step forward in 2011. If that step happens, losing coordinators is a great problem to have. If not, here’s your office, complete with private bathroom, Al Golden.
What are your thoughts on McCamey and Davis returning for their senior years? Great thing, yes?
~Me, on the laptop in the den
Great question. Yes, great thing, obviously. With only one true point guard on the roster, the 2010/11 Illini needed McCamey like the 2005/06 Illini needed Dee. And we’re not just getting out point guard back – we’re getting the #2 assist guy in the nation back. Demetri has a decent shot at Big Ten Player Of The Year, and if all the cards fall right, such as, say, freshmen scorers Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard cashing in his dimes, DMac has an outside chance at something like 2nd team All American. Bottom line: McCamey’s return is probably a 4-6 win swing for next year’s team.
Mike Davis? I’m not sure what to say about Mike Davis. I probably need to know which Mike Davis we’re getting back before I make a determination just how important his return is. I do know one thing: Demetri McCamey is a lock for 37 minutes per game, with only redshirt freshman Joseph Bertrand pushing him for a few minutes of playing time. Mike Davis? Well, Mike, Tyler Griffey has the Houston 2011 Final Four logo pinned to his locker, and he just knocked down his 2,319th offseason jumper. You’d better crank it up a notch.
I think a fair expectation for next year, now that the roster is fully decided, is preseason #18, top-4 finish in the Big 10, and second weekend of the tournament. At a minimum. Anything less has to be considered a failure. A team with possibly 4 senior starters (yes, Richmond probably starts over Cole by Big Ten play, but we might start the season senior-sophomore-senior-senior-senior), two returning sophomores ready to make The Leap, and the best two freshman to enter the program in 9 years, simply MUST make the second weekend.
And beat Missouri.