Questions Surround Quarterback, Defense

CHAMPAIGN — Nathan Scheelhaase's absence at quarterback was a big problem for Illinois.

So was the downright panic in the Illini defense as Arizona State drove down the field en route to a 45-14 win last Saturday.

It isn't clear yet whether Scheelhaase will return from his ankle injury this Saturday against Charleston Southern. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence says the defense has to play far better whether he does or not.

From the opening drive, Spence said, Illinois (1-1) was confused — some players mistook dummy play-call signals coming in from the sidelines for the real ones — and on its heels against the high-tempo Sun Devils.

"Guys were panicking, everybody yelling, trying to get the (play) call," Spence said Monday. "I had to ask guys what the call was, you know, and they're yelling all over the place. We can't do that as a defense. I mean, we're supposed to be the strength of the team."

Illinois had one of the top defenses in the country last season — seventh overall — and it was expected to be the team's anchor again this year. But the Sun Devils (2-0) piled up 510 yards overall, with 318 of them and three touchdowns coming through the air.

Arizona State's receivers drew Illini defensive backs like magnets on deep routes, clearing out space that the Sun Devils exploited.

"They're running two and three receivers through a zone," coach Tim Beckman said. "We had a couple of miscommunications in our man coverage. I think the speed in which they were running the plays, it's something that's hard to practice but we did practice it as best as we could."

Scheelhaase could have played in an emergency against the Sun Devils and practiced Sunday after the team returned on a pre-dawn flight, Beckman said. But like last week, the first-year Illini coach says he doesn't yet know if his junior starter will play and won't decide until later in the week.

Without Scheelhaase, backups Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei were 14-of-24 passing for a touchdown, 101 yards and three crippling interceptions.

"The three turnovers is what you think about," Beckman said. "Things we definitely can't do and be successful."

So far this week, all three quarterbacks are practicing. Beckman said any or all of them could play against Charleston Southern (0-2), a Football Championship Subdivision team from the Big South.

Center Graham Pocic said that, after seeing Scheelhaase practice Sunday, he is optimistic he'll at least play part of the game.

"Yeah, I think so. He's moving around better," Pocic said. "I mean, he's constantly been working on rehab. He was in there again Saturday before the game working on stuff."

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