Scheelhaase wins Big Ten offensive player of the week

After arguably the best passing game of his career, Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was named Big Ten offensive player of the week on Monday. His 416 passing yards against Southern Illinois on Saturday were a career best. He also tossed two touchdowns en route to an 8-point victory. This is the second time Scheelhaase has won the award and the first since Nov. 1, 2010, following a four-touchdown performance against Purdue as a redshirt freshman.

Former Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins is the last Illini to win the award. He did so after racking up three touchdowns and 268 yards in a comeback win against Northwestern in 2011.

While Scheelhaase doesn’t get much more than a pat on the back for winning the award, it does seem to signal the return of something resembling an offense for Illinois after the lack of any such thing in 2012.

Scheelhaase’s 416 yards matched nearly one-third of his total passing production in 2012. With the two touchdowns, he’s already halfway to his season total from a year ago.

Beckman not pleased with pass protection

Between Scheelhaase and backup Reilly O’Toole, Illinois quarterbacks were sacked five times against the Salukis and forced into quick decisions countless other times.

At his weekly news conference Monday, head coach Tim Beckman expressed his displeasure in the protection of his quarterbacks.

“We must protect him better,” Beckman said. “There was just too much pressure on Nathan. That’s not just the front five; that’s backs, that’s tight ends, that’s everybody involved.”

Beckman said he hopes to have injured right guard Ted Karras back when Cincinnati comes to town this weekend. Karras missed the opener with an ankle injury. Redshirt freshman Joe Spencer made his first career start in Karras’s place.

Beckman said the offensive line simply did not play well enough. He was not pleased with the performances of any of the big guys up front.

Secondary surrenders too many big plays 

On the defensive side, the Illini coaching staff was not happy with the performance of the secondary in the second half. SIU quarterback Kory Faulkner threw 228 of his 312 yards in the second half and all three of his touchdowns. 

Beckman said cornerback Eaton Spence was the only player in the Illini secondary who performed up to par with what the coaches expect.

And even though cornerback V’Angelo Bentley gave Illinois a boost with a 100-yard kickoff return in the third quarter, his performance on defense was questionable.

Said Beckman: “I told him this: After he returned the kickoff, he didn’t play up to the capabilities he needs to play if he wants to be an All-Big Ten cornerback. And he knows that.

“We have to find ways to create pass rush and do a better job of covering passes.”

A formidable foe

Illinois will get its first test against an FBS team this weekend when the Bearcats of Cincinnati make the trip to Champaign. Cincinnati thumped Purdue 42-7 on Saturday.

Quarterbacks Munchie Legaux and Brendon Kay spread the wealth, hitting 12 different receivers. Legaux also ran for 55 yards and a score.

But the Illini have a defensive coordinator who knows the Bearcats well. Tim Banks spent two seasons at Cincinnati prior to coming to Illinois last season.

“I don’t know how much an advantage it is,” Banks said. “But knowing the quarterback and some of the personnel (helps). I can give the kids the information, but once the game starts it’s up to us to go out and execute.” 

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