O’Toole finishes game after Scheelhaase benched for being ‘rusty’

Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes said after the game that Illinois was “a little unsettled at quarterback tonight.”

That’s putting it lightly.

This was not how Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase wanted to make his return from injury. Not only did the Illini get walloped at home 52-24, but Scheelhaase didn’t even make it out of the first quarter.

Reilly O’Toole replaced Scheelhaase near the end of the quarter, and his night was over. He didn’t appear to be limping on the sideline and didn’t have his ankle looked at by team trainers. Scheelhaase remained on the sidelines with his helmet still on his head, watching O’Toole; even Miles Osei entered the game for a short period of time.

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said he thought Scheelhaase looked rusty.

“I’m not as fast as I wish I was,” Scheelhaase said. “So you gotta get it back. But for sure (my ankle) was ready to play.”

He didn’t begin the game rusty; Scheelhaase completed his first seven passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. His first incompletion was an interception, and it all went downhill from there.

On the next drive, with the Illini trailing for the first time, 14-7, Scheelhaase didn’t have enough burst on a rushing attempt to get around a linebacker and lost a fumble, which resulted in another Louisiana Tech scoring drive.

“That was really uncharacteristic,” said Scheelhaase, who acknowledged that he’s not exactly 100 percent yet. “But on that play, it’s one of those things that I just have to get back to, where I can run away from people. That’s a play that there times in my career. … I’ve been able to run away from people, so it’s frustrating.”

O’Toole was able to move the ball for the Illini, leading a second-quarter scoring drive that lasted 13 plays and took nearly seven minutes off the clock. He finished the day going 19-for-25 with 120 yards, just a week after setting the school’s record for completion percentage.

Like all backups, O’Toole said, he prepares throughout the week like he’s going to be the starter, so he was only thinking “score (points)” when his named was called.

Beckman wouldn’t commit to a starter for next week’s game against Penn State, saying he would have to evaluate both quarterbacks throughout the week.

But turnovers are the ultimate sin for Beckman on offense; he quickly benched Osei against Arizona State after he began to turn the ball over and same with Scheelhaase on Saturday.

Illinois may have a battle for the starting quarterback job again.

“No, you always want competition and to have that there, but you just have to go out there and do your thing,” Scheelhaase said. “I’ve never looked at it as a battle so much as it is us doing what we can to better our team.”

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