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Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase is still Tim Beckman’s man

Reilly O'Toole

Reilly O'Toole

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Updated: October 26, 2012 2:21PM

When Nathan Scheelhaase sat down at the end of the first quarter and backup Reilly O’Toole basically played the rest of the way as Louisiana Tech crushed Illinois 52-24 Saturday night, two questions came to mind.

Was coach Tim Beckman leaning toward O’Toole at quarterback? Or was Scheelhaase, coming back from a sprained ankle that had sidelined him the two previous games, simply too gimpy to be effective?

Beckman answered the questions loud and clear Monday.

‘‘Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘Nathan took a big hit on the first play of the game. He got high-lowed, and I was concerned. I want to make sure everybody’s 100 percent. He came back in and played a couple more series. Then we felt it was in the best interest of the team to put Reilly in.’’

If Scheelhaase looks right in practice, as everyone expects, Beckman said, he’ll play, adding that he wants to wait until Thursday to decide.

If only some other questions were as easily answered.

The Penn State media was all over Beckman, asking about his recruitment of Nittany Lions who were free to transfer because of NCAA sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky devastation. Illinois landed offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki but also was criticized for poaching on a Big Ten brother.

‘‘I regret that it’s still talked about,’’ Beckman said, adding that he believes a conversation with Penn State coach Bill O’Brien at the Big Ten meetings in Chicago in July cleared the air.

‘‘I hope so,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘This game’s about the players and playing on the field.’’

Some Penn State insiders say it’s not that simple.

‘‘I doubt they’ll be talking crap about what went on in July,’’ Scheelhaase said. ‘‘I’m pretty sure they’ll be concerned about what’s going on on the field.’’

The larger concern for Illinois is getting off to a good start in the Big Ten after a 2-2 nonconference ride.

It’s new territory for Beckman, in his first season on the unblinking Big Ten stage. It’s also new turf for Scheelhaase, who’s battling an injury that has robbed him of his elusiveness in a way he didn’t experience in his first two college seasons.

With O’Toole a viable alternative who’s likely to have opportunities, it’s a delicate situation for a first-year coach and a veteran quarterback. Scheelhaase said he trusts in Beckman to handle things well.

‘‘I’m a pretty trusting guy,’’ Scheelhaase said. ‘‘I trust in these coaches, I trust in their plan and I trust in what they tell me. That’s how I’m always going to be. When you get squeezed, that’s when you really are tested. When there are tough times, that’s when you find out what you’re really about.’’

With injuries threatening an Illinois offense that didn’t look imposing even when everyone was healthy, Beckman and Scheelhaase figure to be tested.

Besides Scheelhaase’s ankle, Illinois’ two best linemen, Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton, are nursing knee injuries that make their status for Saturday questionable. Whether top receiver Darius Millines (shoulder) will play also is uncertain.

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