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              After sitting out Tuesday, Nathan Scheelhaase practiced on his sprained left ankle on Wednesday, but Illlini coach Tim Beckman still is considering starting Miles Osei or Reilly O'Toole at Arizona State Saturday night (9:30 p.m., ESPN).

            ``He's much better than he was yesterday,'' Beckman said. ``We'll see how [the ankle] responds. It's been progressing, and we'll have to make that decision on Thursday after practice.''

            Beckman, who said he routinely tries to divide reps equally among his quarterbacks, is not expected to announce the decision publicly. That not only would keep the Sun Devils guessing. Beckman and his staff could change their starting QB plan right before kickoff, depending on Scheelhaase's ankle and their confidence in Osei or O'Toole.

            Although O'Toole, who saw a lot of playing time last fall, is more experienced, Osei has been impressive in pre-season practice, showing a strong arm as well as mobility. Beckman has vowed to use Osei at wide receiver and running back, if not quarterback, this week.

 

            Nathan Scheelhaase practiced Sunday night, but Illini coach Tim Beckman said Monday he wants to see more before making a decision on the third-year starter's status for Illinois' trip to Arizona State Saturday night (9:30 p.m., ESPN).

            After leading Illinois to its only two offensive touchdowns in Saturday's 24-7 victory over Western Michigan, Scheelhaase left the game in the third quarter with an apparent left-ankle sprain.

            The fact that he practiced a day later appears to be a good sign for Scheelhaase, who threw a 64-yard touchdown pass and had a four-yard TD run against the Broncos.

            Scheelhaase ``was moving around, but definitely not 100 percent,'' Beckman said. ``We're going to have to continue to evaluate throughout the week. You know Nathan is very committed to everything that he does, so I know he will give it everything he's got to make sure that he's healthy. We'll have to make those decisions as the week goes on.''

            The coaching staff, training staff and Scheelhaase all will be involved in the decision.

            ``I want him healthy,'' Beckman said. ``Does he have to be 100 percent? He has to be healthy enough for him to be successful in what we're asking him to do.''

            Scheelhaase's backups are strong-armed sophomore Reilly O'Toole, who lacks Scheelhaase's mobility, and athletic junior Miles Osei, who's expected to be on the field in a variety of roles this fall. Osei had an impressive fall camp, but is the least experienced quarterback option.

            ``Reilly's very capable of doing what we need to do to be successful,'' Beckman said, adding that the versatile Osei will get more touches this week. ``Miles Osei needs to be in the game more than he was. Whether at quarterback, wide receiver or running back, he needs to be on the field. So he will be.''

            An already spicy Big Ten opener between Penn State and Illinois just got a little hotter.

            Ryan Nowicki, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman from Glendale, Ariz., who has Illinois roots, is transferring to Champaign. The 6-5, 280-pound Nowicki, who has four years of eligibility left, is the eighth Penn State player to leave State College under NCAA sanctions that allow players to change schools without penalty.

            Nowicki is the first Nittany Lion to transfer within the Big Ten. Leading the departures from Penn State is star running back Silas Redd, who is headed for USC.

            New coach Bill O'Brien will lead Penn State against Illinois in Champaign on Sept. 29 opposite Tim Beckman, who also is in his first year as Illini coach. Sources said O'Brien already was not pleased with Beckman, who dispatched eight assistants to Penn State to talk to Nittany Lions about transferring.

            While some Big Ten coaches declined to recruit Penn State players in wake of the scandal at the scandal, Beckman defended the move, pointing out that no rules were broken. Other Big Ten schools reportedly were recruiting in State College, but they weren't as visible as the Illlnois staff.

            The game shapes up as an important barometer for both schools and their first-year coaches. Penn State opens league play with a road test after a relatively low-keyed nonconference schedule. Illinois, which travels to conference powers Wisconsin and Michigan on Oct. 6 and 13, could give itself a boost by taking care of business at home first.

            For all the attention Ilinois' recruitment of Penn State players has attracted, Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase doesn't expect the contest to turn into a grudge match.

            ``I don't think it will,'' the three-year starter said. ``I think people forget about any grudges they held pretty quick, especially when the season gets going. Because then it's about winning ballgames.

            ``I think there will be more hype surrounding Its first weekend of the Big Ten. It's our opener, and I'm sure people will be paying attention to Penn State and how their season is shaping up. But we'll be foused on doing our best job to find a way to get a win, and I'm sure they'll be doing the same.''

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


With four touchdowns in three games, Illinois needs to get its offense going. Where to start? These stats say rushing yards lead to passing touchdowns, and the Illini agree.

FIRST 6 GAMES LAST 3 GAMES
Scoring 34.7 9.3
Passing TDs 11 2
Rushing yds 226.2 129
Passing yds 221.5 169.3
*****
Coming off its bye week, Illinois faces a perplexing task.
Shut out in the first half of its last three games, it now will try to snap its three-game losing streak against No. 22 Michigan, which defeated it 67-65 in triple overtime last year, the highest scoring Big Ten game in history.
If this is going to be another shootout, the Illini say they'll be ready.
``We're always prepared to put points on the board,'' quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. ``If we take care of business, we'll be fine, regardless of what the score is.''
Since averaging 34.7 points when they opened with six straight wins, the Illini have put up just 28 points in their three losses, 21 of them when they were playing catch-up in the fourth quarter.
Coach Ron Zook remains optimistic that the offense has been recharged by last week's bye, which enabled the team to go over its fundamentals, heal up and recharge for its final three games.
``The signs that maybe we're coming out of it a bit?'' Zook said. ``We are a refreshed team. The attitude, the way they're running around out there. They're rested.''
Where did it get away from the offense? 
``I  don't have the answer exactly why,'' said Zook, who also saw his offense lose its swagger. ``You go back to the Ohio State game and they were pressing a bit. It really kind of started at the beginning of the Indiana game.''
One obvious explanation is that Ohio State, Purdue and Penn State are better defensively than the teams Illinois faced when it was winning.
Zook's point of emphasis during the bye week?
``Let's go back and do what we do,'' he said. ``Don't worry about having big plays. Just take what they give and line up and play.''
Another explanation: The offensive line wore down, and didn't give Scheelhaase the time he needed to connect with A.J. Jenkins on the deep balls that were a signature of the winning streak.
And another: Scheelhaase also wore down, a combination of the offensive line's decline and his aggressive running style. Since throwing 10 touchdown passes in the first six game, he has thrown two in the last three games.
``Nathan may have been [banged up], but he's not going to tell you unless it's  serious,'' Zook said. ``But there's no question the time off has helped everybody.''
Scheelhaase, who took some knocks on his throwing shoulder early in the season, said his throwing arm is fine, but said the week off has been a good time for the offense to regroup.  
``In the bye week, you get a chance to get back to basics,'' the quarterback said. ``So its does build some confidence. You're breaking things back down, it's always nice to have that. It's been very helpful to us as an offense.''
Illinois again will ``saddle up and ride'' senior running back Jason Ford, who has rushed for 183 yards on 34 carries, a 5.4 average, the last two games. In the four games before Zook and offensive coordinator Paul Petrino made him the horse, Ford had 117 yards on 37 carries, a 3.2 average.
``The better you run the ball,'' Petrino said, ``the better you're going to be, and the better you're going to protect the passer. We've worked real hard on our timing, our execution and all the little details. I expect us to go out and execute it better.''
Restless fans will question the play-calling if Illinois continues to sputter.
But the running game buys the quarterback time to make throws, Scheelhaase knows. Which means the Illini need to do everything better.
``It's going to come down to execution,'' Scheelhaase said.











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