Koenning takes football from defense after 5-turnover weekend

After forcing five turnovers and scoring two defensive touchdowns on Saturday, the Illinois defense returned to the practice field Monday — without a football.

“We went without a football today,” defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said after Monday’s practice. “Guys have to take on their responsibilities, and our guys looked lost like leaves out in the wind in the parking lot. We’ve got to focus on our responsibilities.”

Koenning said he decided to take away the football from the practice as the team struggled in early preparation for Purdue. Illinois will face a Purdue team that has relied heavily on the option attack this season.

“Everybody’s for their responsibilities. If you have the football in there everybody’s got an excuse, saying, ‘Well, I went to the ball,’” Koenning said. “If you practice against option football without a football, then the quarterback player has the quarterback, the dive has that, the alley has that. That way, you know everybody has their responsibility.”

“You can’t really attack against option football,” Koenning added. “You have to read and react, and you have to be assignment-perfect.”

McGee integral part of ‘D.C. Package’

Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was able to take a breather for a few series in the second half Saturday when senior wide receiver Eddie McGee came in to take snaps under center.

Part of what the coaching staff refers to as the “D.C. Package,” the former quarterback came in for Scheelhaase in what was a mostly run-based package.

“He did some good things,” offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said about McGee. “This was the first week really where we felt like he was back and could run a little bit. He’s able to take some hits off of Nathan and some pressure off, and I thought Eddie did a good job.”

McGee, who is from the Washington D.C. area, missed three weeks this season with an ankle injury. He rushed four times for 19 yards Saturday.

“It makes defenses defend two different things,” Petrino said. “There are some things that he does that are his strengths, so we just have him out there to be a playmaker for us.”

Petrino said the team will continue to work on the D.C. Package in practice and use it in games.

“There’s still stuff that we have that we’ve been doing that everybody still hasn’t seen,” Petrino said. “We’ll expand on it a little bit every week as it grows.”

Hawthorne’s return adding depth to defense

Though he started on the sidelines for the third straight game, sophomore cornerback Terry Hawthorne notched five tackles Saturday, including a hard tackle on Indiana receiver Tandon Doss for a two-yard loss.

Hawthorne has continued to play in a rising number of plays since returning from a stress fracture in his right foot that sidelined him for the first five weeks of the season.

“I wasn’t planning on playing him on the boundary (corner) too much, but I anticipated the game going down to the fourth quarter, and I wanted to have some fresh guys,” Koenning said. “That’s the one thing that we haven’t been able to do this season, which is be fresh in the fourth quarter because of lack of depth.”

Hawthorne has mostly taken the spot of sophomore cornerback Justin Green in the lineup, although he did spell senior Travon Bellamy at the boundary cornerback position at times against Indiana.

“It’s better for Justin,” Koenning said about Green playing less plays. “He’ll be the first one to tell you, you get to a point where you get so tired you can’t think straight. He can be fresh now.”