For Cubit and Illini, grace period is over

By Peter Bailey-Wells

Bill Cubit’s time has come: He bought himself some time by beating Nebraska 14-13 in Illinois’ Big Ten opener. He has survived a pair of tough losses to strong Iowa and Wisconsin teams — his team lost, but in a mostly respectable fashion.

Now, his feet are headed for the fire. His grace period is up — if the Illini lose to Penn State on Saturday, Cubit’s future with this program becomes cloudy.

It’s now or never for Bill and Co.

There can be no more “wait for Mikey Dudek and Justin Hardee” talk from anyone. Cubit’s been relatively good about not making excuses, but whether he said it or not, he got the benefit of the doubt about his team’s performance while Dudek and Hardee’s statuses were up in the air.

He’s probably going to be missing Josh Ferguson on Saturday. Ferguson’s importance has been obvious while he has been out of the lineup — Ke’Shawn Vaughn was the team’s only rusher against Wisconsin. And while Vaughn has put forth a valiant effort, the fact is that a freshman can’t replicate Ferguson’s experience in this offense.

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Wes Lunt and Geronimo Allison have been Cubit’s only constants on offense — in addition to an offensive line that has pass blocked extremely well — and even they have proven fallible at times.

Allison dropped a pair of passes against Wisconsin and Lunt was not on his game at times. He threw a nasty interception in the end zone and overthrew Allison twice on long passes in the fourth quarter.

After the game, Lunt talked about struggling to be perfect, and it’s easy to sympathize with the junior — he’s the most important player on the offense, and right now, he only has one guy to bail him out in case he makes a mistake.

But going forward, for Cubit, the sympathy stops with his players. The head coach has done good work to give himself and his team a positive image in Champaign, but if he has a losing record in the next five games — at Penn State and Purdue and Minnesota, versus Ohio State at home and against Northwestern in Chicago — he’s probably out the door.

The good news for the boss is that those games are winnable — except for the one against the Buckeyes — and he can give his job prospects new life by spanking the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley.

If he wants to win over the Illinois fan base and get the trust of Mike Thomas — or whoever the athletic director is when the head coach hiring decision is made — these are the games he must win.

The Nebraska win made Illinois fans happy. The losses to Iowa and Wisconsin didn’t make them upset. But their wrath is coming for Cubit if he drops Big Ten games at a Beckman-like rate.

It’s win, or go home, for Cubit going forward.

Peter is a junior in Media.

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