Illinois spring game provides reasons to feel Blue, reasons to feel encouraged
BY HERB GOULD firstname.lastname@example.org April 14, 2012 10:50PM
Illinois coach Tim Beckman jokes with Brit Miller during their NCAA spring college football game, Saturday, April 14, 2012, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/The News-Gazette, Rick Danzl) MANDATORY CREDIT
Updated: May 16, 2012 8:29AM
CHAMPAIGN — After the Blue had beaten the Orange 13-12 on Saturday in Illinois’ first spring game under new coach Tim Beckman, Orange quarterback Nate Scheelhaase knew what the loss meant.
“Come Monday, they’ll be having steaks and we’ll be having beans and weenies,’’ Scheelhaase said. ‘‘Which means Chipotle can probably expect a lot of business from the Orange squad. I don’t think that’ll fill up any of us. I’ll be getting a barbacoa burrito.’’
If Beckman was looking for competitiveness, he got his wish. In light rain that kept the crowd to 3,000 — many of them huddling under Memorial Stadium’s east side upper deck — the Illini showed bursts of promise.
‘‘It was a bit sloppy,’’ Beckman said, ‘‘but I did see us make improvement in the offense and the defense as we continued to work through the scrimmage.’’
The special teams, which went largely unused, will remain a mystery until the fall.
But at this early stage, there were some encouraging answers:
◆ Josh Ferguson, the redshirt freshman tailback from Joliet Catholic, had a big day, rushing for 150 yards on 20 carries, including a 68-yard breakout in which he was caught from behind by Justin Green, who saved a 98-yard TD.
‘‘He really stepped up, didn’t he?’’ Beckman said. ‘‘‘He has great speed, great burst, and he’s a guy that’s still learning.’’
Is the 5-8, 185-pound Ferguson, who sat out last fall with a hamstring injury, big enough to withstand the rigors of the Big Ten?
‘‘No. I’m definitely going to put on more weight,’’ said Ferguson, who received the most improved player of spring practice. ‘‘I hope to get to 190 or 193. It’s really relieving to just play football again, and not be in rehab all day.’’
◆ Cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who caught a 29-yard touchdown pass, and quarterback/tailback/receiver Miles Osei showed the versatility that will help Illinois overcome its depth concerns.
Osei rushed seven times, caught four passes and completed 8 of 12 passes for 115 yards.
‘‘Miles is a guy that just wants to play,’’ said Scheelhaase’s backup, Reilly O’Toole, who threw for 159 yards. ‘‘He’ll do whatever it takes.’’
◆ Michael Buchanan, who hopes to follow in the pass-rushing footsteps of Whitney Mercilus, had 41/2 sacks for 25 yards and was named the game’s defensive MVP. The senior from Homewood-Flossmoor considered declaring for the NFL after Ron Zook was fired, but decided to return for his senior year.
‘‘Me and coach Zook had a very special relationship, but coach Beckman has done a great job of coming in and getting around the guys,’’ Buchanan said. ‘‘A big thing in me deciding to come back was as soon as I got around coach Beckman, he was very honest. He told us where we were projected to go. He told us everything he wanted to do with this program, and I wanted to be a part of it.’’