Wednesday Scrimmage Produces Big Plays

The Fighting Illini football team held a situational scrimmage inside Memorial Stadium again Wednesday. Both offense and defense are improving, and they continue to play with a great deal of intensity and aggression. The team is far ahead of this time last year.

Illinois football coach Ron Zook was encouraged by the scrimmage Wednesday.

"We're doing a lot better. Obviously, there's a lot of things to clean up on both sides. The good things we're doing, we've got to become consistent, and we will. The more we practice, the more we get into it, we'll get better and we won't give up the big plays, we won't give up the sacks.

"If you listen to the coaches, you may not think this. But we really are making a lot of progress. That's not to say we're there, we're not close. I like the way they're competing to get better. They're getting after each other. Both Saturday and today was very physical."

Illini coaches demand perfection, and they let players know their mistakes in no uncertain terms. They are fired up every practice, and the players are also. It makes for the kind of competition that improves everyone.

Second string quarterback Miles Osei took a majority of reps Wednesday, with the first couple series being live. He continues to improve and made some impressive plays against the first string defense.

His first play was atypical of his day as he and Troy Pollard mishandled an exchange. WILL linebacker Jonathan Brown, back with the first unit, scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown. But after that, Osei returned the favor to the defense more than once.

In unofficial statistics, he ended with 8 completions in 15 attempts for 159 yards. He also gained 50 yards in six carries, not counting his one sack by Whitney Mercilus late in the scrimmage. He did give up an interception to Houston Bates.

Highlights for Osei included 20 yard and 50 yard passes to Ryan Lankford; a 37 yarder to Spencer Harris, who made an impressive leaping catch with two defenders draped over him; a 19 yard completion to Justin Lattimore, who held on despite a hard hit; and a 20 yard option burst for a touchdown.

Nathan Scheelhaase completed 7 of 9 passes, but the receptions only gained 45 yards. His longest pass was 14 yards to Pollard. He also ran for 10 yards in three carries and was not sacked.

Jason Ford sat out the scrimmage but is expected back Saturday. Bud Golden is nursing a ligament strain in his foot and did not participate. Pollard was the workhorse before leaving for an early class. He gained 45 yards in 10 carries and scored one touchdown. Pollard continues to show both quickness and toughness and should be a big help this fall.

The big running play on the day was produced by senior walkon Arshan Pouladdej, who took a pitch, played tightrope with the sideline and burst downfield for 55 yards before finally being caught from behind. It was his only run of the day, but it was against the first unit. Ean Days scored a touchdown but had mixed results, gaining 22 positive yards but losing 11 in ten carries.

Lankford was the most popular receiver, gaining 79 yards on 4 receptions. Harris was next with three grabs for 45 yards. Pollard and Eddie Viliunas each caught two balls, while Fritz Rock, Anthony Williams, Evan Wilson, Lattimore and Chris Willett had one each.

Lankford also tried his hand at punting. Using a rugby style, his low line drives traveled around 40 yards but allowed for the possibility of returns. Zook explained the reasoning behind using Lankford in that capacity.

"He was better today than he was Tuesday, when we put that in. He's a guy that can run. He's got pretty good speed, and he's got good ball skills. What it does, it forces the punt return team to be concerned about what you're doing back there. It's something they've got to practice for."

Derek Dimke receives most of the field goal and extra point opportunities. Nick Immekus appears to be ahead of Pat Dunn for a backup role. Dimke has had a good spring, but Brown blocked two of his attempts prior to the scrimmage.

One practice visitor was Metamora's Brennen Van Miegham. The place kicker will walk on to Illinois this fall. The lifelong Illini fan has the state record for most career points, most career points after touchdown, and most season PAT's.

He's kicked a 45 yard field goal in a game, but his longest is 67 yards off a tee. He has been working without a tee since the end of last season and is one of Tim Williams's prized pupils.

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