Illini wide receivers view ASU as opportunity to perform

Ryan Lankford’s 64-yard touchdown catch notwithstanding, the Illini receivers combined for just four receptions and 28 yards in Saturday’s win over Western Michigan.

And with starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase’s status in question this week, the Illini will be looking for its top receivers to step up, particularly if backups Reilly O’Toole or Miles Osei are under center.

“We take reps in practice with other quarterbacks, other receivers, other running backs, other linemen, so we are prepared for whatever comes at us,” Lankford said.

Scheelhaase practiced Wednesday but was limited.

If he can’t go, the starting job is up for grabs between O’Toole and Osei, who both saw time at quarterback Saturday after Scheelhaase left with an ankle injury in the third quarter.

“We’d like to have Nate back, but whoever they put back there, we’re going to have confidence in them,” junior wide receiver Spencer Harris said, adding that it falls on the receivers to help maintain the inexperienced quarterbacks’ confidence during the game.

“They haven’t taken a lot of snaps lately, and they just need to know they can trust us,” he said. “We’re going to put them in good situations to make them look good even if the ball’s not there or if the ball’s great, which it probably will be. We’re just going to do our job.”

Co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales has said Lankford, Harris and junior Darius Millines have separated themselves from the pack at wide receiver.

All three began their Illinois careers together as freshmen in 2010, and each saw considerable playing time in his first two seasons, including a combined 22 starts last season alongside star receiver A.J. Jenkins, who left for the NFL last spring.

“We bonded a lot on and off the field,” Harris said. “We trust each other a lot. We communicate well on the field. … When we go back to the sideline, we talk about what we’ve seen and things we need to do differently.”

But while this year’s top receivers aren’t inexperienced, they have yet to put up big numbers at Illinois.

Jenkins led the team last season with 90 catches for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns. Harris and Millines were second and third in receiving with just over 200 yards and one touchdown apiece. Lankford logged 12 grabs for 108 yards.

“Everyone knows we lost A.J.,” Lankford said. “Everyone’s going to have to step up. Everyone’s going to have to do what they need to do to win.”

The junior receivers are hoping to contribute more this Saturday against Arizona State. They said the amount of run plays the Illini called while playing with a lead for the entire game played a role in the lack of catches last weekend.

“If we have to block, we’re going to block,” Millines said. “Every receiver wants to have over 100 yards, but some games are just not like that. You have to go with what’s called.”

But regardless of the amount of catches or receiving yards that showed up in the box score, the wide receivers were just content with a victory last week.

“A win is a win,” Lankford said. “We’re still 1-0 and moving in the right direction. And that’s how you have to look at it.”

_Chad can be reached at [email protected]_