Fighting Illini Football: Midseason Grades for Players and Coaches

Jason S. Parini@@JasonPariniBRCorrespondent IIOctober 17, 2013

Fighting Illini Football: Midseason Grades for Players and Coaches

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    Let the grind begin.

    Coming off of their final bye week in the 2013 season, the Fighting Illini head into Saturday's prime-time contest against Wisconsin with a record of 3-2.

    The game will also mark the halfway point for the 2013 season. On the plus side, the Illini are already halfway to becoming bowl-eligible with seven games remaining.

    On the other hand, Illinois' remaining opponents have a combined record of 27-15. Take away Purdue (1-5) and the opponent record rises to 26-10.

    Before the focus turns to the latter portion of 2013, we take a moment to grade the Illini's performances through the first half of the season.

    All statistics courtesy of

Coach Tim Beckman: C+

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    Michael Rothstein's ESPN's season preview listed the Illini's biggest challenge heading into 2013 as "if the second season under Beckman will be better than the first."

    Well, it has been. So far.

    Illinois has already bested last year's win total of a whopping two victories, and the Illini can realistically win at least one more against Big Ten-worst Purdue.

    The Illini's consistency (or lack thereof) has been Tim Beckman's biggest weakness, but his recruiting hasn't exactly been stellar either.

    Beckman is yet to land a 4-star recruit in 2013. Of the 14 commits signed, 11 are 3-star recruits, via ESPN.

    Illinois is also one of four Big Ten schools without an ESPN 300 recruit this year.

Bill Cubit (Offensive Coordinator): B+

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    In a word, Illinois' offense has been impressive. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is second in the Big Ten in quarterback rating (159.2) behind Ohio State's Kenny Guiton.

    The Illini are averaging 36.0 points per game, a drastic improvement from last year's 16.7. Bill Cubit's new offense is the main reason behind Illinois' three wins. In the three victories, Illinois posted a total of 137 points combined.

Passing Game: A-

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    As previously mentioned, senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has been quite impressive for the Illini. With a 159.2 quarterback rating, Scheelhaase is over 25 points better than his career-best rating of 133.4 in 2011.

    Scheelhaase also has 12 touchdowns through five games, only five short of his career-high 17 in 2010.

    The big test will come in the second half of the season as the Illini take on Big Ten powerhouses Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Running Game: C-

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    Despite a struggling offensive line (we'll get to that later), the Illinois rushing game hasn't been terrible. Sophomore running back Josh Ferguson has averaged 6.3 yards per rush, over two yards more than last year's career high. He is fifth in the Big Ten in yards per rush.

    Despite having 12 more carries, fellow running back Donovonn Young is 41 yards short of Ferguson's 310 yards.

    The Illini rushing game is superior to only Purdue, which is currently 1-5. Much of this can be attributed to a young offensive line, but the Illini need to improve their rushing if they want to compete for the remainder of the season.

Defense: D

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    Illinois' defense has struggled in 2013, but that's not a surprise given the amount of starters that didn't return, such as linemen Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence.

    The Illini are last in sacks (4.0), yards lost on sacks (24.0) and interceptions (one).

    The Illini defense also allowed 34 points against FCS school Southern Illinois.

    The defense will be crucial in the remaining games of 2013. So far, it has been a tremendous issue for the Illini.