Enemy Crosstalk: Illinois

PurpleWildcats.com talks about the Fighting Illini with Scout.com's Illinois affiliate, InsideIllini.com. II publisher Jack Lyman answers some questions on Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois' early success, how Illini fans perceive this rivalry, and more.

1. Who would you compare Nathan Scheelhaase to?

I haven't seen a lot of similar quarterbacks this year, so this is difficult to answer. He is a true combo quarterback who can both run and pass. He is much improved passing the ball and finding open secondary receivers, but he is best when he is running and scrambling. More than anything, he is a strong leader who will do whatever it takes to win.

2. Any truth to the rumors that Scheelhaase is a bit banged up?

Scheelhaase suffered a bruised shoulder against Arizona State, but he says it is feeling much better now. It may have affected play-calling in the Western Michigan game, especially the first half. He also had a stiff neck after the blatant face mask in the first half of the WMU game. But he is a tough kid, and everyone expects him to perform at 100% efficiency. 3. Outside of Scheelhaase, what is Illinois' greatest strength?

Offensively, it is their balance, with numerous options and an experienced line. Defensively, it is probably their teamwork and chemistry. This might be considered a "no-star" team. Everyone works together for a common cause. That togetherness might be their best asset.

4. With the 4-0 start, how do Illini fans now perceive Ron Zook?

There is a dichotomy of opinion on Coach Zook. Those who still haven't forgiven him for the 2008 and especially 2009 season refuse to consider anything good he does. They are incapable of accepting him as their coach. That may never change, but the die-hards are in relatively low numbers. Those who see all the good things he does speak favorably of him.

I think the biggest problem with the fans is the many years with losing records under Lou Tepper, Ron Turner and Ron Zook. They closed their hearts to prevent additional heartbreak, and they are slow to recover. Now, if the team wins 10 or more games this year, more will come around. It takes time, no matter who the coach.

5. What has been the key to the Illini's start?

The Illini have been on an upswing since beating Baylor in the Texas Bowl. That momentum has carried over to the fall. The players believe they can win big this year, and that confidence influences everything they do. They go into games determined to win instead of hoping to win. The great play of the defense has been a pleasant surprise to many, but not to the Illini players.

6. What would be Illinois' greatest weakness?

The punting game is the biggest weakness. They are using a true freshman plus a sophomore receiver who does rugby punts. When freshman Justin DuVernois is relaxed, he hits high boomers. But both he and Ryan Lankford are inconsistent. Of course, if they have an injury to Scheelhaase or a couple other indispensable players, their lack of depth at those positions would be a weakness as well.

7. Do Illinois fans consider this game a rivalry?

That is hard to gauge. Some fans have learned to dislike Northwestern and Pat Fitzgerald, but many likely still remember the days long ago when Northwestern didn't always play well and was considered beatable. Those who are influenced by the hype of the game consider it a rivalry. But it doesn't compare with UI fans' animosity toward Iowa, for instance.

8. What was the Illini fan's perception of the Wrigleyville Classic?

Illini fans loved the game and the location. Would they feel the same if the Wildcats had won? Highly doubtful. As long as Illinois wins, the fans wish the game would be played there yearly. They had a lot more fun than they would have had in Evanston.

9. Any injury questions for the Illini going into the game?

The Illini have been lucky with injuries. A few minor problems won't keep anyone from the lineup, as far as we can tell. This is the exact opposite of the dreadful 2009 season, when the top 15 players were either sick or injured part or all of that season.


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