O'Toole Sets Record, Builds Confidence

CHAMPAIGN - Admittedly, Reilly O'Toole didn't think much about the numbers or stats Saturday during Illinois' 44-0 win over Charleston Southern.

Instead, the sophomore quarterback focused on the play calls, read the defense and tried to get his linemen in the right protection before each snap. He completed his first 10 passes and finished 26-of-31, but was surprised following the game when informed he'd set the school record for completion percentage (83.9 percent).

"I mean, that's what you expect," he said.

Following a subpar performance last week against Arizona State, nobody was sure to expect from O'Toole, who started once again in place for injured Nathan Scheelhaase.

O'Toole led the offense on seven scoring drives with 250 yards passing and was the first Illini quarterback to throw five touchdowns in a game since Juice Williams last did it in 2008.

"It's wasn't just Reilly," coach Tim Beckman said. "Reilly had great protection. Reilly had receivers that were getting open. Reilly will probably be the first one to tell you that, too. I'm proud of the way he came in and performed. I think our offensive staff did a good job enabling him to hit some people that were open, scheme-wise."

With Scheelhaase still on the mend, the Charleston Southern game allowed for another week of rest. And it also provided O'Toole with a chance for confidence. The offensive staff tailored the game plan more to his skill-set, more to a pocket-passer than a dual threat like Scheelhaase. The short to intermediate pass game was established early, which allowed O'Toole to settle in and opened up longer passes later in the game.

"We've got to be able to do some things to give him a chance to be effective, and that's part of any coaching staff is you've got to play to the strengths you have," co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty said.

"Whatever it is he needs to do he's got to be able to execute it too. We need to be able to adjust to the personnel we have."

There was a glaring mistake -- an interception thrown near the end of the first quarter as the offense was driving for a score. O'Toole said he saw the blitz was on before the snap, but failed to properly adjust the line. He didn't give himself enough time to make the throw, a learning point that he said will stick with him in the future.

"Obviously you want to have that one ball back in the red zone, but other than that it's easy when the receivers open," he said. "I've just got to put it on them and I had great time (to throw)."

It's fair to say Charleston Southern, the losers of 15 in a row, aren't the stiffest of competition. And the game was at home, providing a much more friendly atmosphere than experienced at Sun Devil Stadium. Still, O'Toole displayed better body language and command than he did the previous week, when the offense was twice flagged for delay of game in the first quarter.

"I felt like he had some confidence," Beatty said. "For him he just needs a lot of reps and it's part of being young. The maturation of a young guy is needing the reps in a game as opposed to practice. It was good to see him get a grasp of the offense."

Easy to note, the schedule gets more difficult from here. Louisiana Tech, the opponent this coming Saturday, is no pushover, and Big Ten play starts the following week.

There is no quarterback controversy -- when Scheelhaase is healthy he'll return to the starting lineup, Beckman confirmed following the game. That's expected to happen this week, too, as Scheelhaase is nearing 100 percent. But with performances like Saturday, as opposed to out West, O'Toole is showing perseverance.

"Obviously we didn't perform like we wanted to last week, but at the same time we gained confidence," he said. "Playing at Arizona State, it's a tough place to play at, but at the same (I) gained a lot of confidence."

In the least, he's competing to get better, something the staff wants across the board.

"It's about competition and Nathan's won football games also," Beckman said. "But Reilly keeps getting himself better. That's why you compete on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. That's why you practice."


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