Cincinnati visits Champaign after an impressive win over Purdue

This is the first real test. If the Illinois football team has really made any progress since last season, it will show this weekend. The Cincinnati Bearcats come into Memorial Stadium on Saturday following back-to-back 10-win seasons and a 42-7 demolition of Purdue last week.

Nathan Scheelhaase and Co. will face defense that Illini defensive coordinator Tim Banks knows well. Banks spent two seasons at Cincinnati prior to joining head coach Tim Beckman at Illinois last season.

He knows these players; he helped recruit them.

Running back Donovonn Young says he remembers seeing linebacker Jeff Luc on television when he came out of high school in 2010. At the time, Young was still in high school at Katy High School in the Houston area.

“(He’s a) big guy … big guy,” Young said. “I remember watching him on ESPN, and he was a monster. I was like, ‘I would never want to play that guy.’ He’s a big guy and he can move.”

Now Young doesn’t have a choice — he has to play him.

Luc and the Bearcat defense held the Boilermakers to 226 yards last week and 4-of-12 on third-down conversions.

“They have a lot of athletes,” Scheelhaase said. “They’re big up front and play well on the outside. You definitely can tell they’re athletic on the defensive side.”

Scheelhaase also said he thought Purdue hurt itself with too many mistakes, committing four turnovers.

But no matter how successful Scheelhaase is in recreating his 400-yard passing performance against SIU, it won’t matter if the Illini can’t shut down an offense that had its way against the Boilermakers.

Quarterback Munchie Legaux threw for 145 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 55 yards and a score. He and fellow quarterback Brendon Kay spread the ball to 12 different receivers.

The ground attack was spread out as well. Along with Legaux, running backs Hosey Williams and Ralph David Abernathy each ran for more than 50 yards.

And if there’s one thing first-year Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville was known for in his three years at Texas Tech, it’s high-scoring offenses.

A young defensive secondary will have to improve on a shaky performance in the second half of the season opener.

“Cincinnati presents a little bit different issue,” Banks said. “They’re bigger, their backs may be a little bit quicker, stronger. If we’re sound, we should be OK.”

The combination of cornerbacks V’Angelo Bentley, Eaton Spence and safety Taylor Barton will have to help out safety Earnest Thomas, who was the only player in the secondary Beckman was pleased with following last week’s game.

The Bearcats have held a share of the Big East (now the American Athletic Conference) football championship each of the past two seasons, and won the title outright in 2008 and 2009.

“You’re talking about a program that has been a champion in the last two years,” Beckman said of Cincinnati. “You’re talking about an offense and a defense that has been successful and is built to be successful.”

You’re talking about exactly what the Illini want to be.

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