5 Questions: Illinois

Five questions about Illinois are answered by IlliniPlaybook.com publisher Fletcher Page.

1.) A 3-1 start I'm sure has people excited about the direction of Illinois football, how much pressure is there to get that first Big Ten win under Coach Beckman after going 0-8 last year?

Page: Obviously the 14-game losing streak in the Big Ten is a major talking point for fans, but I'm not sure there is pressure to get that first conference win this weekend. I think the fans are encouraged by the start, especially the upset win over Cincinnati. But the fan base is still being realistic – getting a win in Lincoln against Nebraska is asking a lot at this point in time. I don't think people are seeking moral victories in losses, but there's something to be said for being competitive on the road in the conference.

If Illinois can hang in there and show it has a puncher's chance in these types of games, I think most fans will be satisfied. Hey, Purdue and Indiana are coming up. Those are games that Illinois should win, especially if it shows it can hang with Nebraska.

2.) Nathan Scheelhaase has really bounced back this season after being banged up and not the greatest year in 2012, talk about the confidence you have seen from him at QB?

Yeah, it all stems from offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. With guys like Wes Lunt (sitting out after transferring) and Aaron Bailey (talented true freshman) entering the program, there were plenty of reasons for people to look ahead and get excited about the future at quarterback. Scheelhaase seemed to be a stepping stone during the summer.

But Cubit let Scheelhaase know early in the spring that he was his guy. That gave the senior the confidence he needed. Scheelhaase doesn't have the best arm strength or the prototypical size, but he's a great leader and is well respected in the locker room. He knows where everybody is supposed to be and is an extension of the coaching staff on the field. That type of experience and knowledge is a perfect package for a schemer like Cubit to utilize. It's paid off to this point in big plays and a small amount of mistakes. That's what gives the Illini a leg to stand on in games that last year would have been out of reach.

Aaron Bailey

3.) Quarterback Aaron Bailey is fresh off of Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. How much has the true freshman surprised you and how much should Nebraska fans expect to see him this weekend?

Page: Nothing Aaron Bailey does surprises me. The guy is a 220-pound true freshman, built like a linebacker with the speed of a wide receiver and the best arm strength on the team.

Now, to this point his running skills have been the only thing on display. I stand firm by this – Bailey can make every throw needed to be a great Big Ten quarterback. It's just that he's not ready to read defenses and make adjustments on his own. Cubit has done a good job of bringing Bailey along slowly and giving him just enough to be a threat while not overwhelming him.

I expect to see Bailey's role expand as time moves on and as the defenses encountered in the Big Ten get tougher and tougher.

4.) Talked about the defense and where you feel they are at collectively at the moment?

Page: The defense spends most of the time picking its poison. I can't overstate how great linebackers Jonathan Brown and Mason Monheim are. The two combine for over 20 tackles a game. But elsewhere, the unit is a mess of youth and inexperience.

The line can't generate a pass rush, and it's hard for defensive coordinator Tim Banks to dial up blitzes because the secondary starts a junior, a redshirt sophomore, a sophomore and a redshirt freshman. On top of that, the nickel and dime corners are true freshmen.

So… It's been a struggle and will continue to be a struggle. This was anticipated though, so look for the defensive staff to mix and match both personnel and mentality as it looks for a way to generate more pressure on the quarterback.

5.) How are Illinois fans approaching this game and how big would a win over a ranked Nebraska team on the road be for the program?

Page: There's no question winning in Lincoln would be a huge boost. I know it's early October, but a win against Nebraska would likely mean Illinois is headed to a bowl game. That was not in the realm of even the most optimistic of thinkers in the pre-season.

Like I said earlier, I don't think fans need to see a win to be satisfied. Sure, everybody hates losing. But like the effort in the loss to Washington in Chicago, fans want to see a competent and competitive team with a shot to win and a will to keep fighting if a lose eventually proves inevitable.

Prediction: Nebraska 41, Illinois 31

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Josh Harvey has covered college football and recruiting for Fox Sports & Scout.com since 2008. He is now the Publisher of Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics.
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