Illinois faces Louisiana Tech’s high-octane offense under the lights

If the Illinois football team thought the Arizona State offense moved quickly, it will have its work cut out for it under the lights Saturday. The same Illini defense that surrendered 45 points to the Sun Devils will have to stop a Louisiana Tech offense that has put up the fifth most yards per game (603.5) in the nation.

The Bulldogs scored 56 points in each of their first two games. In its season opener, Louisiana Tech defeated Houston 56-49. The two teams combining to set a NCAA record with 209 plays from scrimmage, breaking a 41-year mark. The two teams totaled 1,291 yards, 87 completed passes and 14 touchdowns. Bulldogs quarterback Colby Cameron threw for 353 yards and three scores.

“We feel like this is the game to go out and show everybody what type of defense we are,” STAR Ashante Williams said. “We want to redeem ourselves from our last night game (against Arizona State). We’re taking them like a serious challenge.”

Against the Sun Devils two weeks ago, many blown coverages were because of miscommunication from the sideline. Following the 45-14 loss, Williams said the defense asked the coaches not to give signals when a team is running a hurry-up offense against the unit. Instead, starting with their game against Charleston Southern, the Illini implemented a system in which the coaches hold up color cards that communicate to the defense what type of formation to be in.

Williams also said the defense was focusing on not falling behind Louisiana Tech’s high-octane offense.

“We’re working on conditioning this week,” he said. “Everybody’s getting around the ball, hustling to the ball, getting onto the field so that we know we can prepare for this challenge.”

The Bulldogs have allowed a lot of points, but they have come in a blowout of Rice — a game that was essentially over by halftime — and to Houston — a team that has scored a lot of points in recent years. Co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty is not letting the numbers fool him.

“Every game they’re up big,” he said. “Last week at Rice, in the first quarter, (Rice) got one first down. Stats don’t always tell the truth.”

After missing the last two games with a left ankle injury, head coach Tim Beckman said quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was “nearly 100 percent” after practice Wednesday. He did not say who his starter would be this week. Backup Reilly O’Toole, who started the last two games, said all three quarterbacks were preparing as if they were going to start.

“(Scheelhaase) has looked good on both Sundays,” Beckman said. “But we’re not going to put Nathan out there unless he can better this football team and he is feeling good about the way he’s capable of playing.”

Whether Scheelhaase plays, Illinois will have to work on both sides of the ball to keep up with Louisiana Tech. Co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales said Illinois was not going to let the game become a “track race.”

But the scene Saturday will likely be different from last season’s night game at Memorial Stadium, a 17-14 slugfest against Arizona State. After sparse crowds in the first two home games, the Illini are expecting a better turnout for the primetime game.

“I’m ready to see what the town of Champaign has to bring to the game,” Williams said.

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @sean_hammond.