Illinois football coach Ron Zook liked his team's scrimmage last week, but he says Saturday's scrimmage was better.
"I went back and looked through last Saturday, and it was our best first scrimmage. I thought we made improvement in all three phases this week. I really like how offensively we were clicking on all cylinders today. Defensively, we made improvements. There were far less big plays and holes in the front than we had last week."
Zook pitted his first string offense against the first team defense at times.
"We went ones against ones probably more than we normally would do and more than I had planned to do. But when they're playing hard like that and getting after it, usually we don't have to worry so much about injuries."
Running back Troy Pollard ran hard, gaining 46 yards in 8 carries before sitting out with a minor injury problem. Cornerback Terry Hawthorne sprained his ankle late, but it was not considered a major problem. The most serious injury was to walkon running back Arshan Pouladdej, who suffered a high ankle sprain. Zook was grateful there were no more injuries.
"As much as we got after it today, we're probably pretty fortunate to get out the way we did."
With Jason Ford and Bud Golden also withheld with minor injuries, fullback Jay Prosch was pressed into action as a tailback. He reminded running back coach DeAndre Smith of former Purdue and Tampa Bay star Mike Alstott due to his aggressive, powerful running style. He showed surprising mobility and maneuverability as well.
"Prosch did good," a smiling offensive coordinator Paul Petrino stated. "He had some nice runs. That was a good thing, seeing Prosch run hard."
Petrino was generally pleased with the play of the offense.
"I liked it. We made some plays in the play-action game, and that's something we've tried to work on. It was good to see us make some big plays. I was real happy with that. Overall, I thought the ones played real good, and the two's have got to keep improving."
"There was a couple times we needed to run the ball a little bit better. A couple times we just got beat. It hurts when you keep losing backs. We've got to get some other backs healthy, and it'll be good to get the freshmen in here. It's a contact sport, so you'd better stay healthy and be tough."
Ryan Lankford caught 8 passes for 79 yards, and Spencer Harris added 43 in four receptions including a great catch on an 11-yarder. Petrino singled both out for praise. Harris also caught a long pass from Nathan Scheelhaase but was called for offensive pass interference.
Petrino agreed Harris did push off a little, but he verbally criticized the officials, one of whom had blown the call on the lateral to Mikel Leshoure in the Minnesota game last fall. Since he was in the press box at the time, this was Petrino's first chance to express his displeasure with that call as well.
Scheelhaase completed 14 of 21 passes for 145 yards and a five yard touchdown to tight end Evan Wilson. In what has become somewhat a trademark, Scheelhaase led the #1 offense downfield for a touchdown on its first drive. Miles Osei had 10 completions in 28 attempts for 134 yards and a TD. He also had four balls dropped.
Anthony Williams had one catch for five yards but had a long touchdown called back by a holding call. Justin Lattimore had one catch for 22 yards, Ean Days caught one for 12, and Fritz Rock caught a 20 yard TD pass.
After Pollard sat down, Days became a workhorse runner for both units. He gained only 44 yards in 20 carries, many against the stout first defense. But he did have two short touchdown plunges. Prosch's running ability was the surprise of the day as he totaled 35 yards in 8 carries.
Osei flashed his excellent speed on three outstanding runs totaling 24, 25 and 25 yards each. He ended with 94 yards in 9 carries, not counting five sacks. Walkon Ronald Stewart gained 30 yards in 7 carries, while Scheelhaase gained 20 yards in six tries including a 6 yard touchdown on a naked reverse.
One other touchdown was scored as SAM linebacker Ashante Williams separated Osei from the ball on a sack, allowing Bandit Michael Buchanan to scoop it up and return it to paydirt. Derek Dimke hit a 25 yard field goal late in the action.
MIKE linebacker Ian Thomas had his best day this spring with five tackles on carries that either lost yards or gained zero yards. Others in that category included Craig Wilson, Jonathan Brown and Whitney Mercilus with two each. Brandon Denmark, Wisdom Onyegbule, Trulon Henry, D.J. Woods, Foster and Buchanan also got into the unofficial scorebook with TFL.
SAM linebacker Earnest Thomas broke up a pass. So did walkon linebackers Alex Porter and Najee Robinson. Staples knocked down a Scheelhaase pass at the line of scrimmage.
The last week of spring ball includes four practices beginning Tuesday and culminating with the annual Spring Game next Saturday.