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Scheelhaase, Illini take bite out of Bearcats

llinois wide receiver Ryan Lankford (12) runs touchdown during first half an NCAA football game against Cincinnati Saturday Sept. 7

llinois wide receiver Ryan Lankford (12) runs in a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA football game against Cincinnati on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)

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Updated: September 7, 2013 2:54PM

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It was enough of a challenge heading into this game simply to imagine an Illinois victory. But a wire-to-wire near-domination of Cincinnati?


Yet that’s what we got here on Saturday, a 45-17 victory for the resurgent (Is it too soon to use that word?) Illini, who are 2-0 for only the second time in seven years.

Here’s what else we got: sign after sign that nearly everything has gotten better on the field for the Illini.

Last season’s offense was the worst in the Big Ten and surely one of the most depressing in program history. Now it’s averaging 40 points an outing, with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, a four-year starter, coming off the best two weeks of his career and first-year coordinator Bill Cubit fast becoming something of a rock star.

Scheelhaase, who threw for a career-high 416 yards in the opener against Southern Illinois, showed even more against a Bearcats team with a first-year coach, Tommy Tuberville, but a strong tradition of winning.

Facing a defense that held Purdue to seven points last weekend, Scheelhaase completed 26 of 37 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. He was particularly good on third downs, helping the Illini convert nine of 15 for the game.

The defense, which struggled against Southern Illinois, made Beckman and especially coordinator Tim Banks — who came to the Illini from Cincinnati — look good. The run defense was stout. The pass rush was decent.

And a third-quarter goal-line stand on four plays from the 2-yard line or closer was, as they say, epic. Cincinnati had a chance on that drive to cut its deficit to 21-17. Illinois ended up taking possession and driving 99 yards to all but put the game away.

There was an awful moment during the second half when Bearcats quarterback Munchie Legaux suffered a grotesque leg injury after being hit on a throw by Illini end Tim Kynard. It was a true downer on an otherwise glorious day for Beckman’s team, which wouldn’t appear to be finished making noise this season.

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