With Illinois' voracious defense chewing up and spitting out opponents on a weekly basis, redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase doesn't need to feel he has to do it all in order for the Illini to win.
And, yet, Scheelhaase offered a complete performance to lead Illinois to a 44-10 home rout of Purdue on Saturday -- the Illini's widest win over the Boilermakers since 1990. He rushed for a career-high 118 yards and threw for 195 yards. He completed 80 percent of his throws for the first time, and his four touchdown passes doubled his previous best.
But his sparkling numbers told only half the story. Scheelhaase won the mental game, too, as he frequently needed to make audibles and change protections at the line in order to fend off Purdue's aggressive defense.
"With their blitzes and the things that they did, if I was able to get into the right checks and get us into the right things, it was going to be a big help against them," Scheelhaase said in the Daily Herald. "We changed a lot of protections and even a lot of run plays. That's kind of my responsibility."
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said Scheelhaase didn't make the right call every time, but he did so most of the time. When he succeeded on passing plays, he usually found an open receiver over the middle. The game-opening 17-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Jenkins, for example, came on a wide-open drag over the middle.
"A couple times it was because they were in man coverages and we were trying to get 'rubs' off of people," Petrino said. "And a couple times they had zone blitzes and Nathan got us to the right protection check. And when you zone blitz, you void places. Usually, if you get the right checks, you can beat it. If you don't, you get your quarterback killed."
Scheelhaase also did a terrific job on Illinois' zone-read option plays. When he and running back Mikel Leshoure came together for a potential handoff, Purdue invariably crashed down on Leshoure. Scheelhaase repeatedly read his keys, pulled the ball away from Leshoure's gut and raced around the end for big gains.
--Going solely by the yardage, Illinois junior running back Mikel Leshoure had his worst day of the season with 23 yards in 15 carries. Yet Leshoure, who was Purdue's No. 1 target throughout the 44-10 victory, tied his career high with three touchdowns. Leshoure powered for a pair of 1-yard scoring runs and also raced uncovered into the end zone on a 20-yard TD pass from Nathan Scheelhaase. Leshoure also scored three times in the 2009 season finale against Fresno State, but he piled up 184 rushing yards that chilly afternoon.
"I think the defenses are keying in on me more and daring us to beat them with other weapons on our team," Leshoure said. He dropped from 14th to 25th in the national rushing standings, averaging 97.5 yards per game going into Michigan.
--Junior defensive tackle Corey Liuget has become a marked man. After posting a career-high 11 tackles against Michigan State and then producing a career-high five quarterback hurries and one sack against Indiana, Purdue adjusted its blocking schemes to keep Liuget at bay. He estimated he was double-teamed on about 60 percent of the snaps. That extra attention allowed fellow defensive tackle Akeem Spence to step forward for a career-high eight tackles.
--With its 43-13 win over Indiana on Oct. 23 and its 44-10 win over Purdue on Saturday, Illinois delivered its first back-to-back 30-plus-point conference victories since 1914. The combined 23 points allowed is the program's smallest total in back-to-back Big Ten games since 1994.
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Nathan Scheelhaase -- In his eighth career start, the redshirt freshman set career highs for rushing yards (118), total yards (313), completions (16) and touchdown passes (4) as he produced the sixth-best single-game passer efficiency rating in Illinois history (227.9).
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR/QB Eddie McGee -- Illinois' brain trust has decided that the fifth-year senior deserves to run at least a handful of plays each week. This time around, McGee completed two of four passes for 9 yards, rushed five times for 17 yards and caught one pass for 3 yards.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'd never seen the Cannon. It was new to me ... somebody set it in my office. It's a heavy sucker. It was pretty cool to see it." -- Illinois coach Ron Zook, talking about the Illinois-Purdue rivalry trophy in the Daily Herald after the Illini defeated the Boilermakers for the first time in his six-year tenure. He now has beaten every Big Ten opponent.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Illinois' defense didn't rack up many sacks (one) or turnovers (one), but it held Purdue scoreless until the fourth quarter and surrendered just 205 total yards in the 44-10 home win. Eight Illini posted tackles for loss. QB Nathan Scheelhaase set personal bests for total yards (313) and total touchdowns (four) as he took advantage of a Purdue defense determined to stop junior RB Mikel Leshoure. He spread his four touchdowns to four receivers and spread his 16 completions among 10 receivers. True freshman Darius Millines and fifth-year senior Chris James caught their first touchdown passes. True freshman LB Jonathan Brown took some time away from two-year starter Ian Thomas and contributed a career-high and team-high-tying eight tackles, including one tackle for loss.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Middle linebacker Martez Wilson and nickel back Ashante Williams dropped Purdue passes thrown right into their hands. Punter Anthony Santella struggled to tame the fierce winds whipping through Memorial Stadium and averaged "only" 43.7 yards on his seven punts. More important, one of his punts rode the wind into the end zone for a touchback, and Purdue also posted two nice returns to stick the Illini with a net punting average of 34.3 yards. Illinois dropped from fourth to ninth in the national net punting rankings, though it still leads the Big Ten. Freshman tight end Evan Wilson needs to learn how to fool the TV cameras. The rookie thought he had a 7-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, but the replay official overruled the call on the field and said Wilson's knee touched down before he could extend the ball across the goal line.
--WR Jarred Fayson (sore leg), backup RB Jason Ford (sprained ankle) and backup safety Steve Hull (ankle) did not play, though coach Ron Zook said Fayson and Ford could have gone. They should be ready for Saturday's trip to Michigan.
--True freshman WR Spencer Harris, a lightly regarded late recruiting pickup, continued his rapid improvement by making his first start. He caught one pass for 10 yards that left him just shy of the end zone and his first touchdown.
--Senior QB/WR Eddie McGee took approximately 10 snaps at quarterback against Purdue, partly to give the Boilermakers a different look and partly to keep starting QB Nathan Scheelhaase fresh.
--Starting S Supo Sanni (ruptured right Achilles tendon) and starting OT Corey Lewis (torn ACL) were out before the season began. The juniors both will use redshirts and have two years of eligibility.
The TSX Report: Illinois
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