Scheelhaase practices but availability for Arizona State unknown

Normally during Illinois football practices, injured players are easily identified by their wearing purple jerseys. But as Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase completed practice Wednesday, he was wearing a red no-contact jersey, just like other quarterbacks.

Scheelhaase was “carted from the sideline”: during Saturday’s game against Western Michigan with an ankle injury, and his status for this week’s game against Arizona State is officially undecided. However, Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said he felt his quarterback looked much better than he had at any point during the week. Scheelhaase told Beckman that he felt fine after practice.

The biggest key is how Scheelhaase feels Thursday morning. Beckman reminded everyone that ankle injuries tend to progress, so he won’t make his final decision until after Thursday’s practice.

Beckman was unwilling to release much more about Scheelhaase’s status and won’t announce his final decision, in an attempt to derail the Sun Devils’ preparation.

If Scheelhaase misses Saturday’s start, it’ll break his streak of 27 consecutive starts.

Then Illinois will have to turn to backup quarterbacks Reilly O’Toole or Miles Osei, who both have had more reps with the first team than Scheelhaase this week. The coaching staff has said it doesn’t plan to platoon the two if Scheelhaase doesn’t play.

Beckman said both O’Toole and Osei are “neck and neck” in the competition for who starts.

In other injury news, defensive backs Steve Hull and Supo Sanni are still question marks to play Saturday. Beckman said Hull has had more practice time throughout the week than Sanni has.

*Illini players will have to deal with heat*

Defensive end Michael Buchanan jokingly understated Arizona’s temperatures Monday. “I hear it’s hot over there,” he said.

The expected temperature Saturday in Tempe, Ariz., is a dry 102 degrees.

During football meetings, players are given full Gatorade bottles that they have to finish before they can leave the meeting.

“We try not to worry about it,” said defensive coordinator Tim Banks, adding that he’s had way too much Gatorade this week. “We worry about what we can control and that’s getting enough rest, hydrating … taking care of our bodies.”

An advantage for the Illini for dealing with the heat is the ability to substitute more players, especially on the offensive line. More offensive linemen will get playing time as the players are finally getting healthy, and Simon Cvijanovic returns from suspension this week. It’ll provide more depth to a group that played the entire game last week.

On the defensive line, Justin Staples also returns from suspension, giving the Illini another fresh body to use Saturday.

Another challenge for the Illini is competing in a different time zone. The game will kickoff at 9:30 p.m. Central Time Saturday. The majority of the Illini’s games this season, especially at Memorial Stadium, kickoff during the morning. Beckman, who’s used to more night games from his time in the Mid-American Conference, plans to get the Illini off their feet during the day as much as possible with walkthroughs.

*Challenge accepted*

Once again, Illinois defensive players have to answer questions about a team that scored 60 points. Last week, the questions were about the 66 points Western Michigan scored on Beckman’s Toledo team last year. “Illinois’ defense responded”:, and the seven points it held the Broncos to last week were the fewest against the Illini by a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent in the last nine years (UCLA scored six in 2003).

Last week, Arizona State romped Northern Arizona, 63-6, and when the Illini defense sees points of that magnitude, it only motivates the players.

“Yeah, it gets their attention right away,” Banks said. “We don’t care who they’re playing. At the end of the day, they scored a ton of points, had a ton of offense so we understand it’s going to be a great challenge going into their place and having to play in front of their crowd.”

Linebacker Houston Bates said he is looking forward to the challenge of seeing where the Illini stand as a defense against a team in a BCS conference like Arizona State. Bates believes the Illini defense is underrated, citing that many people thought they’d take a step back after losing key players to the NFL Draft. The defense has again found a way to play with a proverbial chip on its shoulder.

“They’re a high-rated offense and high-powered,” Bates said. “It’s always nice to prove people wrong and go in there and show them what we’re made of.”

_Jamal can be reached at [email protected] and @JamalCollier._