An Offense With No Name

CHAMPAIGN – Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit and his defensive staff already faced a tough enough task in the season opener.

Illinois hiring coach Tim Beckman made the takeaway from last year's game, a 23-20 Illini victory, between the two schools irrelevant. It also meant there was no film to study period. And since Beckman is a defensive-minded coach, the offense he oversaw at Toledo probably wouldn't be much use for preparation either.

But to top it all off – Beckman named Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales co-offensive coordinators.

That meant two brains combining to craft a playbook, with two backgrounds to draw from and two sets of eyes monitoring every play of every practice to help formulate the best way to reach the end zone on Saturdays in the fall.

"This is another tough one for us because two-fold, we're dealing with a quality opponent and also the uncertainty of schemes," Cubit said. "We know that their coaches came from a lot of different spots. It's just tough to gauge what exactly they're going to do."

Beatty and Gonzales were paired together and given one directive from their boss.

"I think the biggest thing is coach Beckman wanted to have an opportunity to have a wide-open offense with tempo," Gonzales said.

And so the collaboration was launched, with past experiences playing a key role to formulate the present.

Gonzales coached wide receivers for two seasons at Utah under Urban Meyer. Their final year together the Utes reached the 2005 Fiesta Bowl while averaging 499 yards and 45 points a game.

A feature of those Utah offenses – two running back sets. Throw that card into the Illini deck, as perhaps Donovonn Young, Josh Ferguson or tight end Jon Davis will be on the field together.

Gonzales followed Meyer to Florida in 2005. During his four years in Gainesville, the Gators produced seven All-SEC wide receivers. Part of the reason why? Empty backfield sets. Another feather in the Illini cap, as multiple wide receivers and tight ends could be on the field to provide quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase with five pass-catching targets on any given down.

His last two seasons were spent in Baton Rouge, monitoring the LSU passing attack. That offense was more physical and pro-style – a run-based look with chances to capitalize on play-action passes. Senior offensive linemen Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton surely are looking forward to the chance to play physical in the trenches.

Then there's Beatty, who spent three years coaching West Virginia's pass-option offense from 2008-10.

The balanced offense featured All-Big East performers at running back and wide receiver as the Mountaineers advanced to consecutive three bowls berths.

Given Scheelhaase's ability to both run and pass, Beatty has the chance to coach a dual-threat signal caller.

Adding it all up – the Illinois offense can best be described as multiple and varied, with something included for everyone. You can try to put it in a box if you'd like – but it'd be an odd-shaped box.

"I'd like to think we're going to be disciplined and try to spread the field vertically and horizontally," Beatty said. "Try and take people out in space.

"We've got our own system, our own terminology, our own lingo, different tempos and things like that to try to keep people off balance."

Imagine these two offensive minds sitting together and mapping out the scheme and overall direction. The options appear endless, but the object is exactly the same as any other football offense – get your best players the ball in the best ways possible.

"You take what your players do best and you kind of move it around formationally," Gonzales said. "So the players are doing the same thing, but you kind of sugar coat it, move it around a little bit, (use) some smoke and mirrors. Just be able to do the same thing over and over and over rep wise, but by moving formations, shifting, motioning. I think that's how you get good."

On Saturday, Beatty will be up in the coach's box, with Gonzales manning the sideline. The two will discuss adjustments and personnel, but play calling will ultimately be up to Beatty.

"I haven't really called plays at this level so (Western Michigan doesn't) really have an idea necessarily what I would do and Billy hasn't either so they don't know exactly," Beatty said. "They kind of have an idea of where we've been, but they don't know where we're going."

So how will this project work? The old saying about quarterbacks goes, ‘If you have two, you don't really have one.' Could that apply in this case? To combat that, the credit goes to Beckman for identifying Beatty and Gonzales as two coaches with differing personalities with a common overall philosophy.

Gonzales is more on edge, more intense and prone to raising his voice on the practice field and in meetings. Beatty, on the other hand, is more subdued, quiet and soft-spoken.

"They both kind of feed off each other and help each other out," junior wideout Spencer Harris said. "They seem to work well together and they get along. You can see it on the field. They communicate things and say what they like and work it out."

And so this is Western Michigan's challenge. Prepare for an offense that doesn't have a name, a scheme with roots that reach into two winding upbringings. It's one part Beatty, another part Gonzales, perhaps with a sprinkle of Beckman, too.

"It's been a combination of everybody's system," Beatty said. "It's the Illini offense. It's not one person's."


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