Most teams revolve around their quarterback. In a pass happy era of football, few teams rely on a running back to carry the team. Even mediocre quarterbacks are held to a high standard to do enough to win games for their respective school. This is the case, even more than other teams, for the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Nathan Scheelhaase, the senior quarterback for the Illini, will all but certainly be the starter in week one. He has shown potential over his career in Champaign, Illinois, but has yet to have that breakout season that Illini fans have expected since he announced his plans to wear the blue and orange.
As a four-star dual-threat quarterback coming out of Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Missouri, Nathan showed what he could be, being the kind of quarterback that a program can build around.
On the surface, his numbers have not been bad. He is a 60% career passer, boasts a little under 2,000 yards for his first three seasons, and has racked up 49 touchdowns in 36 games. Being a dual threat quarterback, there is a greater risk of injury on the field. This caused him to miss three games last season as the Illini limped to a 2-10 overall record and a 0-8 conference record.
With this team, and no knock to Donovonn Young or Josh Ferguson, Scheelhaase must produce at a high level. Sure, the running game might be able to get 100 yards a game, but the Illini are going to need more than that. My only knock on Scheelhaase throughout his career is purely from a play-calling standpoint.
The kid has talent. That much in undeniable. His knack for making plays with his legs and his arm is evident, but the choice of plays has been his biggest downfall. I saw far too often last season, when Illinois would face a third and long, they would run a short out, leaving themselves well behind the line. I hope this coaching staff can realize that on third and ten, a two yard out just won’t cut it.
If Scheelhaase hopes to land with a team in the 2014 NFL Draft, he is going to have to show the talent and ability that he showed coming out of high school.
He has good speed with his legs, and he has a very quick release on short drop back passes. Even with that quick release, he needs to have a better view of the field. Scheelhaase has to make sure that when he is trying to hit a guy on a quick ball, the receiver is ready and on the same page. His accuracy is something that needs some polishing this offseason, but his numbers are not terrible.
He showed in games last year that he can thread the needle at times, while averaging under one interception a game. With pretty much a new offensive coaching staff, Nathan will have some learning to do. He has shown he is a quick learner, so Illini fans can rest assured he will figure out the new offense in the spring.
If we simply look at the spring game, we can see that he has begun to figure out Cubit’s offense, and it appears, at this point at least, Cubit is molding his style around Scheelhaase. Cubit sees the talent that Scheelhaase has, and knows that they could sneak into a bowl game if Nathan can have some big senior games for the Illini. Nathan threw for over 200 yards in the spring game win, showing that the offense has the talent to win ball games this year.
All that being said, the Illini are in what is a sort of rebuilding phase. Head coach Tim Beckman has to bring in his players so that he can implement the system he wants to run. However, Nathan Scheelhaase is not going to sit by and watch others develop. He is the kind of player that wants to win games now, not wait.
If Nathan can bring up the numbers, maybe complete 70% of his passes and throw fewer picks, the Illini could surprise teams this year.
2014 Stat Predictions: 65% Completions, 2200 yards, 14 TD, 9 Interceptions, 4 Rushing Touchdowns
What do you think, Illini Nation? What should Illini fans expect from Nathan Scheelhaase this season?
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