Zook hopes to pass Chappell test
BY HERB GOULD firstname.lastname@example.org
Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell figures to put pressure on an improving Illinois defense.
Going into Illinois' homecoming meeting with Indiana, the focus is on the Hoosiers' high-powered offense vs. the Illini's much-improved defense. And that's the way it should be.
''Obviously, the defense has got their work cut out for them,'' Illini coach Ron Zook said. ''This will be a big test. I hope it's not a shootout, but it very well may be.''
In five of its six games, Indiana has scored at least 35 points. Its 319.3 passing yards a game leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth in the nation.
The key reason is the Hoosiers' senior quarterback, Ben Chappell, who leads the Big Ten and is fourth in the nation with 309.7 passing yards. Chappell has thrown 16 touchdowns, also tops in the Big Ten, with only three interceptions, and he's completing 68.7 percent of his passes.
In Indiana's 27-14 win against Illinois last year, Chappell completed 23 of 38 passes for 333 yards, with three TDs and no pickoffs.
''The last time we played them, he had a great game against us,'' safety Tavon Wilson said. ''They had us off-balance with their motions and shifts and all that.''
Indiana has done its best work against a nonconference schedule that would not pass the sniff test. But it's also likely that the Illinois defense, which has been digging in against muscular offenses, will need ballerina slippers as well as workboots against the airborne Hoosiers.
''Their quarterback is the real deal, and those receivers are the real deal,'' Zook said. ''[Chappell] is hard to get to. You can say, 'We're going to blitz him,' and you can't get to him because he gets rid of the ball so fast.
''He's very strong and very accurate. It doesn't matter if he's throwing across the field or if he is throwing short. He's got a great touch. They've got a great plan. It doesn't make any difference who they're playing. They're going to move the football and they're going to get their yards.''
If that's the case, Illinois may need to be ready with Plan B. With an offense that's 10th in the Big Ten in scoring (21.3 points) and total offense (336.7 yards), and last in passing yards (136.3), it's understandable that the Illini don't want a shootout.
But you can't always get what you want.
Knowing that, Nathan Scheelhaase vowed to do whatever it takes to make Illinois' 100th homecoming crowd leave Memorial Stadium happy.
''We want to do our part in this homecoming weekend,'' the redshirt freshman QB said. ''There has been a lot of promise in this season. Fans and alumni are looking forward to seeing what we're able to do. This would be a great time to prove it.''
Maybe Illinois will be able to impose its will. Mikel Leshoure, who is 14th in the nation with 113.3 yards, seems likely to have a big day against an Indiana run defense that is allowing 169.8 yards a game, 10th in the Big Ten.
It wouldn't be surprising, though, if offensive coordinator Paul Petrino asks Scheelhaase to make more big throws.