SEATTLE — Justin Wilcox doesn’t need another reminder. He knows his Washington defense must be ready for anything against Illinois on Saturday — even some “chaos.”
Illinois’ offense looks dramatically different this season under new coordinator Bill Cubit, and the results have been dramatically better.
The Illini are 2-0 — matching their win total from all of 2012 — thanks in no small part to the remade offense, which features 11 different personnel sets and many various looks, from a familiar no-huddle up-tempo attack to more of a traditional, slow-it-down tempo.
“They give you every formation, motion, personnel group that there is,” said Wilcox, UW’s second-year defensive coordinator. “It creates a lot of issues we’ve got to deal with.”
One of those issues is “chaos” — the label for a play Wilcox says the Illini ran on the very first snap of their surprising 45-17 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday.
The play, Wilcox said, involved the Illinois offensive line lining up far to one side of the field, with the tight end in the middle of the field snapping the ball to senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
Scheelhaase’s pass fell incomplete, but the play is an example of the sort of chaos Cubit is trying to create.
Wilcox said he has a cutup of about 120 trick plays that Cubit ran at Western Michigan in recent years.
“It’s a big reel,” said Wilcox, who deadpanned: “It’s one of those deals where everyone says, ‘Oh, you better be ready for the trick play.’ Well ... no kidding. If you told us when it was coming and what type it was going to be, that would help.”
The offensive coordinator at Stanford from 2003-04 before spending eight seasons as the head coach at Western Michigan, Cubit, 59, was hired to spark an Illinois offense that ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring (16.7 points) and total offense (296.7 yards) in 2012.
Two games are still a small sample size, but the changes are already working: The Illini are averaging 43.5 points and 493.0 yards with Cubit directing the offense.
Most notably, Scheelhaase has been rejuvenated.
In his fourth year as the starting quarterback, the dual-threat Scheelhaase has six touchdowns against one interception while leading the Big Ten in passing (364 yards per) and completion rate (74 percent).
And this after he had just four touchdown passes in 10 games in 2012.
“He’s so intelligent. For me, it’s just a pleasure to watch him go out there and have fun,” Cubit told reporters on Monday. “For a guy who’s been a little bit maligned around here, you know, right now I think he’s leading the Big Ten in passing.”
The Illini are as explosive as they are versatile. Scheelhaase completed at least one pass to 11 different receivers against Cincinnati, and seven different players have accounted for at least one “explosion” play of 29 yards or more — and that doesn’t count Scheelhaase, who has a knack for extending plays with his feet.
To counter the chaos, Wilcox wants the Huskies to “cage” Scheelhaase in the pocket.
UW didn’t register a sack in its season-opening victory over Boise State, and while Wilcox believes the Huskies can be better in the pass rush, UW defenders can also make things uncomfortable in the pocket.
“Whether it’s in the stat sheet or not, you have to affect the quarterback, whether it’s by doing a good job of keeping ‘the cage,’ as we call it, making him throw out of tight windows, making his feet uncomfortable, getting yourselves in (throwing) windows — all those things,” Wilcox said.
And the Huskies have to be prepared for it all.