Illinois routed by Arizona State without Nate Scheelhaase
BY JACK MAGRUDER For Sun-Times Media September 9, 2012 1:10AM
Illinois running back Donovonn Young is tackled by Arizona State safety Alden Darby on Saturday. | Matt York~AP
Updated: September 9, 2012 1:38AM
TEMPE, Ariz. — Illinois anticipated the absence of starting quarterback Nate Scheelhaase on Saturday night. The whereabouts of the defense in the first half was more mystifying.
Scheelhaase was unable to play in the Illini’s 45-14 loss to Arizona State, but his presence might not have been enough to swing the balance.
The Sun Devils had 511 yards of offense and scored on four of their six first-half possessions to take much of the suspense out of the game.
“Anytime you lose a proven leader, no question you are going to miss somebody like that,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “That’s not the reason we didn’t cover or missed tackles.”
Scheelhaase, who suffered an ankle injury in a 24-7 victory over Western Michigan last Saturday, went through pregame warmups, but it was apparent during passing drills that he could not push off his left foot. Sophomore Reilly O’Toole made his first career start.
Junior Miles Osei replaced O’Toole on the third series and played the next four series before O’Toole re-entered for the final series of the first half and the entire second half. Both engineered long touchdown drives.
“They both came in and performed,” Beckman said. “We have to perform on a consistent basis. Both moved our offense. It wasn’t near good enough for the opponent.”
O’Toole, the first man off the bench to replace Scheelhaase last week, completed 10 of 14 passes for 54 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eddie Viliunas made it 35-14 with 4:02 left in the third quarter.
Osei was 4-for-10 for 47 yards with two interceptions. He guided the Illini on a 75-yard drive for their first-half score, a 17-yard run by Donovonn Young.
Osei mostly used his feet on the drive. He scrambled for 22 yards on third-and-20 on his third play before completing three passes for 26 yards.
Josh Ferguson, who suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in a 17-14 victory over Arizona State last September, led a potent Illinois rushing game with 101 yards on 14 carries. His 51-yard run midway through the third quarter set up O’Toole’s touchdown pass. It was Ferguson’s first 100-yard game. Young had 12 carries for 65 yards.
The Illini (1-1) led the FBS in rushing defense after limiting Western Michigan to minus-six yards, but new Arizona State coach Paul Graham’s spread offense presented vastly more weapons and diversity.
Sun Devils quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank completed 23 of 29 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Cameron Marshall gained 52 of Arizona State’s 193 yards rushing.
“We had a lot of eye violations,” Beckman said, referring to players’ problems reading plays. “It’s disappointing, but I’m not going to blame the players. When we lose, we lose as a team. When we fix it, we are going to fix it as a team.”
Arizona State (2-0) went 68, 65, 60 and 84 yards on its first four possessions. Illinois got a reprieve on the first drive when defensive tackle Hakeem Spence forced a fumble and Pat Nixon-Youman recovered it on the Illini’s 1-yard line. The Sun Devils’ next two drives resulted in a five-yard touchdown pass by Kelly and a one-yard run by Marshall, who initially was ruled to have been stopped short of the goal line. It was 14-0 after 13½ minutes.
O’Toole started the second half and threw an interception into coverage over the middle, a play that set up Arizona State on the 13-yard line. D.J. Foster’s one-yard run made it 35-7 only 75 seconds into the third quarter.