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Illini will lean on new QB, coaches
Question of the Day
CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (AP) - Juice Williams is gone and the guy who’s being asked to replace him at Illinois after two bad seasons was barely a blip on the roster a year ago.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is being asked by new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino not to manage the game, not to play within himself, but to win after last year’s disastrous 3-9 campaign. Even to put the Illini on his back and carry them when necessary.
“I know you hear people say that all the time, manage the game,” Petrino said. “Usually those are, you know, people that try to win on defense, and I’ve never been part of that.”
No pressure, kid _ not that Scheelhaase seems to mind.
“Last year I was just fighting for reps,” said Scheelhaase, who was fourth on the quarterback depth chart last season. “Any rep I could get I was thankful for.”
Now, every snap is Scheelhaase‘s, and so is the team.
Last fall, the Illini were expected to rebound from 2008’s five-win season. Juice Williams was in his senior year and destined to set the school record for offensive production. Receiver Arrelious Benn was expected to star before heading to the NFL.
The Illini offense struggled early before averaging 35 points a game over its last five games. But the defense got worse as the year went along and Illinois was 2-3 in that final stretch.
Petrino, defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and four other new assistant coaches are in Champaign because the men they replaced were fired. After two straight losing seasons, many wanted change at the top but head coach Ron Zook kept his job.
But they’re all relying on a quarterback who has never played a down of college football. Scheelhaase at least has a good pedigree, winning the Missouri state title his junior year and choosing Illinois over Oklahoma and his home-state Tigers.
“It sent shock waves down through our offense, really,” Scheelhaase said. “He coaches us tough, and we like that. We like him to get after us.”
Petrino, Bobby Petrino’s younger brother, came to Champaign from Arkansas, where he was offensive coordinator for his brother’s Razorbacks. They were 8-5 last year, scoring 36 points a game.
Scheelhaase will have another edge this fall _ the strength of the team will line up in the backfield with him. Illinois is deep at running back, with junior Mikel LeShoure back from a 108-carry, 734-yard season that included five touchdowns. Junior Jason Ford (588 yards, 97 carries, 4 TDs) and quick sophomore Justin Green (19 carries, 88 yards, 2 TDs) are also in the mix.
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