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Nathan Scheelhaase, Donovonn Young shine in Illinois’ spring game

Running back Donovonn Young celebrates touchdown with SimCvijanovic during Illinois’ spring game Friday night Memorial Stadium. | John Dixon~AP

Running back Donovonn Young celebrates a touchdown with Simon Cvijanovic during Illinois’ spring game Friday night at Memorial Stadium. | John Dixon~AP

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Updated: May 14, 2013 6:23AM



CHAMPAIGN — As part of his latest motivational effort, Tim Beckman has given his players wristbands that say, “WIN.’’ It’s a variation on the TNT (Toughness and Togetherness) wristbands used by basketball coach John Groce.

WIN stands for Whatever Is Needed.

A nocturnal spring game played in blustery, wet and windy 30-degree weather would not appear to qualify as something needed.

But there the Illini were, doing their version of Friday Night Lights before a few thousand shivering loyalists in cavernous Memorial Stadium.

Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and junior running back Donovonn Young led the Blue past the Orange 35-28 in Illinois’ spring game. The pair, who are likely to be Illinois’ best offensive players in the fall, wound up together when seniors drafted the teams.

Scheelhaase completed 24 of 32 for 210 yards and one touchdown. Young carried 19 times for 86 yards and three touchdowns.

‘‘The difference between last year’s spring game and this year’s is offensive production,’’ Young said. ‘‘I think we can do a lot of good things with this offense. They call the right plays at the right time. They work.’’

Orange quarterback Reilly O’Toole completed 34 of 52 for 362 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw four interceptions, including two to Taylor Barton. The redshirt freshman safety from Orlando, Fla., also recovered a fumble.

New offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said O’Toole was nursing a sore finger and credited him with playing when he wasn’t 100 percent.

Miles Osei also threw an interception for the Orange, who apparently didn’t get the memo about not making mistakes.

‘‘That’s what we talk about,’’ defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. ‘‘We want to turn the ball over, and the guys have really taken that to heart. And by God, they did it.’’

For Beckman, the first point of emphasis this spring has been to become mentally tougher. His second and third points of emphasis also boiled down to becoming mentally tougher.

The coach saw that in an Orange team that came back from 28-0 and 35-14 deficits.

‘‘I was proud that the Orange team fought back,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘They could have folded their tent and they didn’t. I was happy with that.’’

Based on what they’ll be up against as they try to halt their 14-game Big Ten losing streak, the Illini will need to be more than mentally tough. But that’s theoretically something they can control.

Beckman’s chief assistants are guardedly optimistic while trying to accentuate the positive.

“We’re coaches. We’re never feeling better,’’ Banks said. “But I am confident and pleased with the direction we’re headed. Are we repeat offenders as far as mistakes? Thus far, we have not been that. If we make a mistake, we get it corrected. We are slowly getting better.’’

Cubit, who was fired as Western Michigan’s head coach last fall, is skilled at building skilled offenses. But skill is a required ingredient.

“It’s getting guys in the right spot,’’ said Cubit, talking about quarterbacks wondering if receivers will run their routes correctly. “It’s gotten better. But it’s nowhere near where we need to be.’’

That last comment isn’t as catchy as WIN. But until proven otherwise, it seems pretty accurate.



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