Fighting Illini Enjoy First Spring Scrimmage

The Fighting Illini football team held its first scrimmage action of the spring Wednesday morning in Memorial Stadium. It was a hard-hitting affair with big plays both by the offense and defense. Much work remains, but the Illini are making progress with ten practices left to go.

Illinois football players got their first extended opportunity for the contact they all love as they participated in a scrimmage on the East practice fields adjacent to Memorial Stadium. Some goals were accomplished, and there were no serious injuries.

Second string guard Andrew Carter suffered a possible concussion early and sat out the rest of the day, but he appeared to be the only casualty. Tight end Eddie Viliunas displayed a slight limp, but he played through it.

As it did so often last season, the first team offense moved smartly down the field on its first possession, going 70 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. Jason Ford was the rushing star of the series, scampering for gains of 15, 6, 12 and 8 yards before needing two plays to go the final two yards for a touchdown. As well as he performed, Ford was reprimanded by coach Paul Petrino for not running hard enough.

Nathan Scheelhaase hit passes of 7 yards to Fred Sykes and 13 and 9 yards to tight end Evan Wilson to keep the drive alive. It was first team offense against second team defense. Michael Heitz got most of the reps at strongside tackle, but otherwise the two lineups remained the same as on previous days.

Troy Pollard had an impressive 19 yard burst on the first play against the #1 defense, and he gained 7 more on the next play. But from then on, the second unit found its path blocked by sturdy defenders.

Quarterback Miles Osei, who completed just 6 of 15 passes for 54 yards, struggled all day. He was sacked 5 times, more than offsetting his two positive runs for 10 yards.

On the first unit's second possession, Scheelhaase found Ryan Lankford open over the middle, and he used his blazing speed to gain 20 yards. But the quarterback was sacked by Glenn Foster and later Tim Kynard to end that threat. Kynard had a good day as he later intercepted a telegraphed flat pass from Scheelhaase and ran it 30 yards down the sideline. It was Scheelhaase's only interception on the day.

In the middle portion of the scrimmage, third string running back Bud Golden began to assert himself. Running hard mostly against the first unit, he gained 72 yards in 20 carries overall. His big play was a 21 yard burst where he ran over safety Trulon Henry to open ground in the secondary.

There was no other scoring until red zone action. Ford scored his second touchdown on a one yard plunge as he twisted around a solid tackle by Austin Teitsma. He ran 18 yards for a third score, and Golden added a three yard touchdown.

Derek Dimke made a 30 yard field goal. But prior to that he had a 35 yarder blocked and recovered by Tavon Wilson, who returned it all the way for a defensive touchdown.

Redshirt freshman Anthony Williams had a star-crossed day. He had a nice catch in early 7 on 7 action where he adjusted his body to an underthrown ball. He caught two balls during the scrimmage for 52 yards, and he his chance to score a touchdown was nullified by an interference call on a reserve defender.

However, his ten yard gain ended abruptly when he was hit hard, causing a fumble. And his big 42 yarder from Scheelhaase in a two-minute drill appeared a possible touchdown until he let the ball slip from his fingers before a defender could reach him. While it was no doubt frustrating for the youngster, he learned lessons not soon forgotten.

On the day, Scheelhaase was a comfortable 9 of 11 passing for 121 yards and the one interception. He also gained ten yards in two carries, although that was more than neutralized by three sacks.

Ford was the leading ground gainer with 83 yards in 12 carries and his three touchdowns. Pollard ran 39 yards in 8 carries. Evan Wilson, Sykes, Lankford, Tim Russell and Anthony Williams each had two receptions. Jake Kumerow, Fritz Rock, Golden, Viliunas and Ford had one catch each.

Among the defensive standouts, Craig Wilson was in on a sack and tackle for loss. Trulon Henry had two big hits on Golden, one where he submarined to stop him three yards behind the line, helping balance the embarrassment of Golden leaving cleat marks on his back earlier.

Sacks were produced by Justin Staples, Akeem Spence, Whitney Mercilus, Ian Thomas and the aforementioned Foster and Kynard. Tavon Wilson broke up a pass to add to his good day, and Earnest Thomas did likewise.

Ian Thomas had one solo tackle for loss and combined with Ashante Williams and Michael Buchanan for another. Tackle Jake Howe and end D.J. Woods stuffed running plays.

Illinois coach Ron Zook was pleased overall with the scrimmage but reminded his Illini are far from a finished product and must work hard for the next ten practices.

On a sad note, starting fullback Jay Prosch was absent to be with his mother as she underwent brain tumor surgery. It is not known when he will return.

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