Scrimmage Leaves Coaches Wanting More

The Fighting Illini football team resumed spring practice Tuesday on another warm and windy day. They drilled on the East practice field before going inside Memorial Stadium for a lengthy scrimmage. Neither coordinator was extremely happy with the results, especially Paul Petrino with offensive execution.

Illinois held it's second straight scrimmage Tuesday, with mixed results. All three quarterbacks did some good things, but they all threw interceptions. Nathan Scheelhaase continued to work with the first unit, but he suffered three fumbled snaps, losing one to Joelil Thrash and one to Walt Aikens.

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino admitted part of the problem might have a lack of practice time between Scheelhaase and center Graham Pocic with the first unit, but it will not be tolerated.

"Maybe a little bit, Nathan and Graham just working together. That's something that's not acceptable. We've got to keep working it. It hurt us at a crucial time, so we can't have that. We've got to work extra hard after practice and make sure that doesn't happen."

Mikel Leshoure ran hard with the first unit, his 24 yard run aided by a good block by London Davis set up a 10 yard touchdown pass from Scheelhaase to Justin Lattimore. With Justin Green out with a broken leg and both Troy Pollard and Jason Ford a little nicked up, redshirt freshman Bud Golden got a chance to shine.

Golden ran hard all day. Unofficially, he gained 105 yards in 20 carries. His long gainer went for 29 yards. He powered for first downs on several short yardage situational plays. Scheelhaase also made plays with his feet off bootlegs and scrambles, his quickness noticeable all day.

Among the receivers, A.J. Jenkins caught three balls for 41 yards; Jarrod Fayson grabbed 3 for 35 yards including a 20 yard gain off a deflection; Jack Ramsey also caught three balls, for 34 yards; Chris James gained 25 yards in two opportunities; Lattimore totaled 18 yards in two grabs; and Eddie Viliunas caught a pass for 13 yards.

There were a number of defenders with big plays. Safety Travon Bellamy continues to show more aggressiveness, and he seems quicker with more confidence. He broke up two passes. Safety Supo Sanni also had two pass breakups. Safety Thrash sacked Chandler Whitmer, and safety Trulon Henry had a big hit late in the action.

Cornerback Tavon Wilson broke up a couple passes, and he intercepted Jacob Charest. Pat Nixon-Youman, playing ahead of Terry Hawthorne, intercepted Whitmer. Scheelhaase threw a pass into the waiting arms of SAM linebacker Nathan Bussey.

SAM Ashante Williams intercepted Charest on the last play of the game on a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage. He returned it for a touchdown.

Bandit Michael Buchanan was in the backfield all day, as was defensive end Whitney Mercilus. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence and Bandit Nate Palmer teamed up on a couple tackles for loss. Defensive tackles Corey Liuget and Daryle Ballew were also prominent.

All the players were kept afterward doing running and extra drills as the coaches meted out punishment for inconsistent play. Petrino worked his offensive players especially hard. While the linemen all worked on pass protection drills, the skill position players ran suicides.

Once exhausted, they ran pass routes over and over. Petrino was once heard to say, "As long as somebody's jogging, we're not done." They appeared to get the point.

Afterward, Petrino explained his feelings about the practice.

"I wasn't happy with the way we came out on the field. I think we did some things with the one's sometimes that were good, but as a group we have to have a lot more energy and fire. We'd better have it, or we'll stay and keep working at it.

"You've got to play the game of football with passion, with energy and toughness. If you don't play with passion and toughness, it doesn't matter what plays you draw up. That's just something we've got to keep working on and improving on. Come out here and work to get better on Thursday."

He was asked his thoughts on how some players tend to celebrate a good play.

"We're gonna celebrate as a team. Always. We don't need to celebrate on our own. We always talk about being a fist and all together, so we want to celebrate a good play all together. They get an extra grade if they get their hands in the air on a touchdown, but we're always gonna celebrate as a group."

As receiver coach, he will make sure his men are all on the same page about excessive celebration and discipline in general.

"If you watch practice, you'll see our receivers will do what they're told. I think it's something you talk about every time you watch tape. The other day, a couple of them didn't hand the ball to the official after the play. I think that's important. You want to hand the ball to the official, not throw it or spin it. I think as long as you keep bringing it up, they'll understand it.

"Every once in awhile they'll get overexcited and something will happen. You've just got to make them run until they don't do it again.

"If you have discipline, then you don't hurt yourself. If you do what you're told, play to the whistle and don't kill yourself with penalties, then you give yourself a chance to win.

"We hurt ourselves a couple times today not doing our assignments right. That's a huge part of discipline. The biggest thing about discipline, if you get tired do what you're coached to do. That's something we've got to keep grinding on them and grinding on them. Make them do things they're supposed to do when they're tired."

Overall, there is much to do before the offense functions in a well-oiled machine.

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