Scheelhaase continues to progress, impress

There’s what we’ve all been waiting to see.

Nathan Scheelhaase had his breakout game Saturday, leading a powerful Illini offense to the majority of its 391 total yards and six touchdowns — four of them passing — in the team’s 44-10 win against Purdue. The performance was his best this season, as the redshirt freshman quarterback finally put together a nice combination of yardage and touchdowns, which he hadn’t quite been able to do before this week.

We weren’t the only ones to notice.

“Yeah, I definitely felt that way,” Scheelhaase said after the game. “We knew that this defense, in general they were going to bring more to the table than Indiana did, we knew we had to come prepared. And I really took that upon myself this week. If I was able to get us into the right things, I was going to be a big help.”

Even before Scheelhaase stepped foot on campus, but especially since last spring, we’ve all heard about how smart the guy is. This season, we’ve heard Illinois coaches rave about how he handles himself and how he prepares for each game. It’s been written about plenty of times, but we’re all lucky enough to be in the process of seeing something special. We get to see the maturation of a young quarterback who’s gaining valuable Big Ten game experience, but that’s not out of the ordinary. No, what’s special here is that we’re seeing a young quarterback who’s winning while gaining that experience.

“He ran the ball well; he threw the ball well; he threw a bunch of touchdown passes,” Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. “Nathan continues to get better. The coaches know him inside and out, and Nathan’s going to do whatever he has to do to win the game. He’s realizing he can go out there and be himself because he has enough weapons around him. I think that’s a sign of coaching, but it’s also a sign of the learning process that Nathan is going through.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

There’s no doubt that Scheelhaase is a work in progress, sitting at the bottom of the conference in passing yards per game and passing efficiency. But he’s also showing his maturity in managing a team with a legitimate chance to go 9-3 — the same record that the Illini had in 2007 — and is doing so with less game experience than Juice Williams had.

You can’t help but believe in someone who lives to play the game, yet still keeps a level head and knows he has plenty of room to improve. I’m not ready to crown him as a Davey O’Brien Award winner for the best college quarterback, or even as the savior of Illinois football, for that matter.

I am fully comfortable saying that, at this moment, Nathan Scheelhaase is better than advertised and will continue to impress down the final stretch of 2010.

Alex Iniguez is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @alexiniguez.