The attention should be on the fact that the Illini are heading way out of their comfort zone this weekend to the deserts of Arizona, but most of the discussion is circling on whether or not QB Nathan Scheelhaase is going to be healthy enough to play.
Scheelhaase left the game vs. Western Michigan on Saturday due to an ankle injury, and no one seems to know just how badly he is actually hurt. Reports are in that he had a good practice and a decision would be made tomorrow, but no one – except Coach Beckman – will actually know what’s going to happen until 9:30pm Saturday night. That’s right, we’re on Pac 12 time so don’t party too hard too early if you’d like to stay awake for the game.
It’d be nice to have the safety net of Scheelhaase in the game running the show, but then again the team didn’t exactly fall apart in his absence after he came out Saturday. Illinois didn’t actually score after Scheelhaase came out, but there weren’t any disasters!
Some sources seem to have a pretty positive outlook thanks to that practice today, but I’ve got my own fancy sources that say Scheelhaase was spotted around Champaign riding his bike sporting a big walking boot on his foot. As someone who has worn a walking boot not too long ago, I can tell you it’s sort of a big deal.
Okay, so with or without Scheelhaase, the Illini are heading to Tempe to face the Sun Devils this weekend. Let’s start with the good news, the Illini are undefeated this year! I like to say that just in case it doesn’t stick. The Illini are 3-point faves going into the game, but that might change without Scheelhaase starting. Illinois beat ASU last year in Champaign, by a narrow victory of 17-14.
ASU has a new QB since the gentle giant Brock Osweiler graduated. That means we’ve got a leg up on experience in the QB position. Vontaze Burfict is also gone, which is nice because it looked like he was going to murder one of our players last year. Another plus is that like the Illini, the Sun Devils are under new leadership as well. New head coach Todd Graham has just as much to prove as Tim Beckman.
On the down side, ASU won their season opener by a whopping 63-6. Granted Northern Arizona is no Western Michigan, but who is to say we could’ve put up 63 points against a team in the Big Sky Conference like those NAU Lumberjacks. You have to admit the numbers are a tad intimidating, but the guys will be full of lasagne and ready to prove that last week wasn’t a fluke.It is also notable that NAU is an FCS team that hasn’t beat an FBS team since 1987.
We’re going to have to look out for Sun Devil RB Marion Grice, who rushed for 107 yards and 3 TDs last week, but then again it’s sort of comparing apples and oranges. Sophomore QB Taylor Kelly won the starting job for ASU, and threw for 247 yards last week. He had just one passing TD, and was sacked once. Again, let’s see if these guys are able to shine quite as brightly when staring at the grills of Jonathan Brown and the rest of our defense.
Some fun facts:
- Illinois was one of 28 teams in the nation that did not allow a sack during week one.
- The seven points the Illini defense held WMU to were the fewest against the Illini by an FBS opponent in nine seasons, since UCLA scored six on Sept. 13, 2003 (UCLA defeated Illinois 6-3).
- Illinois controlled time of possession against the WMU Broncos, owning a margin of more than 11 minutes (35:02 – 24:58). The Illini are ranked 13th nationally in time of possession after week one.
- Illinois trails the all-time series with Arizona State 2-1 after winning last year’s matchup in Champaign,17-14. Arizona State won the games in 1987 (21-7 in Champaign) and 1988 (21-16 in Tempe).
The game will be on ESPN at 9:36 PM Saturday, September 8.