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Illinois will have to keep up vs. fast-paced Louisiana Tech

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is expected return from sprained ankle. | Seth Perlman~AP

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is expected to return from a sprained ankle. | Seth Perlman~AP

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Updated: October 21, 2012 2:59PM



It’s pretty safe to assume that Louisiana Tech is going to get its points when it visits Illinois on Saturday night
(7 p.m., BTN, 560-AM).

The Bulldogs — who are third in the nation in scoring (56 points per game) and have 14 touchdowns on 21 possessions — are fast and experienced. They run an uptempo style that left a promising Illinois defense looking flat-footed against Arizona State.

“When you score, the other team has to score,” Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes said. “I do not know how scoring could be a bad thing for your football team. But there are a lot of people who think it is.”

The flip side is that the Bulldogs also are giving up points in bunches. Of the nation’s 120 teams, the Bulldogs are 118th in points allowed (43) and 120th in total defense (585 yards per game).

That means Illinois’ offense, which has scored 31 points against two FBS opponents (16.5 per game), is going to have to take off the training wheels.

It’s good that quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle after starting the first 27 games of his career, is planning to be back.

‘‘I feel a whole lot better,’’ Scheelhaase said after practice Tuesday, his last media availability of the week. ‘‘This is as good a team as we’ve seen, so I definitely want to be back out there on the field, helping this team out. I’ve been focusing on La. Tech.’’

Coach Tim Beckman wants to see more in practice before giving Scheelhaase the green light.

‘‘There’s some things where it doesn’t hurt at all,’’ Scheelhaase said. ‘‘And there are other things — certain cuts, certain rolls — where I’m down to 85 percent.’’

Considering that Scheelhaase is only one awkward foot plant away from aggravating the injury, backup Reilly O’Toole, who threw for five touchdowns last Saturday against Charleston Southern, also needs to be ready, along with Miles Osei.

‘‘All three of us are preparing like we’re going to play,’’ said O’Toole, who expects a rougher ride this week. ‘‘[Louisiana Tech] is a great team. They’re really athletic. We’re going to have our hands full, for sure.’’

The Bulldogs have won nine of their last 10. The lone loss was a 31-24 setback against TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl.

The Illini believe that La. Tech — which led 56-35 in its 56-49 win over Houston and 49-23 in its 56-37 win over Rice — plays better defense than its stats would indicate.

‘‘Don’t get twisted on that,’’ co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty said of the Bulldogs’ ugly defensive stats. ‘‘They’re really good on defense. Most of those yards are coming when they’re up 56-20 or whatever. Stats don’t always tell the truth. Those guys are really good upfront, and they have great speed on the back end.’’

Beckman seems most wary of the Bulldogs’ offense.

‘‘They play very fast,’’ he said. ‘‘They stay in the same formation, then run certain plays out of that formation. Then they bring in a whole new set of backs and wide receivers.’’

As daunting as that sounds for a defense that struggled against the Sun Devils’ speed, Beckman expressed confidence.

‘‘It still comes down to tackling,’’ he said.

And most likely, if the Illini are going to be successful, scoring.



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