Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has a career day as Illinois pounds Purdue.
Illinois divided the quarterback duties Saturday in the easy 44-10 victory over Purdue in a Big Ten Conference football game Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
While senior receiver-wildcat quarterback Eddie McGee logged a growing number of plays under center and the Illini running back Mikel Leshoure also took a direct snap, redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase produced the best game of his young career.
"It was definitely one of those games where you feel good about the things you did,'' said Scheelhaase, who passed for 195 yards and a career-high four touchdowns.
This wasn't like last weekend, when five turnovers created by the Illini defense led to 30-point win over Indiana. The Illini offense took a step forward on a day when the Boilers made stopping Leshoure's running the No. 1 priority No. 1. No big deal.
Scheelhaase threw accurately on a windy day, hitting players in stride and coming 2 yards short of six touchdown passes. He also managed the offense, making the reads and checks at the line of scrimmage more like a veteran. It could have even been better for Scheelhaase, who twice threw completions carried to the Purdue 1.
During the week of practice, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm reminded Scheelhaase "what won you the job,'' Petrino said. "Be yourself and keep that personality. For a little while, he was so worried about doing everything exactly right. I don't know what he expected.
"Go out there, have that fire and that enthusiasm. Be that leader and the guy who won the job. He went out there and just played.''With the defense coming within the final play of keeping Purdue under 200 yards for the game and coming close to the program's first shutout in Big Ten play since 2000, Illinois put together back-to-back 30-point wins for the first time since 1944.
In the process, Illinois kept rolling toward a bowl berth. The Illini, who improved to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten, could take care of that at Michigan next Saturday. Finally, there's a traveling trophy on the Illini campus after taking the Cannon Trophy from Purdue by virtue of the first win over the Boilermakers since 2002. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget grabbed the trophy from McGee and carried it off the field.
"Somebody yelled, 'Where's the cannon?' '' Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "I'd never seen it. It's new to me.''
Scheelhaase set career-highs in five categories -- four touchdown passes, 313 total yards, 118 yards rushing, completion percentage (16-for-20) and quarterback rating of 227.9 -- but the best part of his game might have been how he changed the protections at the line of scrimmage.
"Nathan grew up and made checks today to protect himself,'' Petrino said. "A lot of passes he completed, he changed the protections at the line of scrimmage. He did it once last week. He did it quite a bit this week.''
Scheelhaase completed touchdowns passes to four different receivers, including a 17-yarder to A.J. Jenkins in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Derek Dimke drilled Purdue's Joe Holland with a low kick that bounced to Illini linebacker Nate Bussey. The Illini scored 11 plays later for a 14-0 lead.
By the end of the first quarter, the Illini had 24 plays on offense to Purdue's four. The time of possession was just as telling: 13:25 for Illinois, 1:35 for Purdue.
When Dimke converted a 18-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, this game appeared over because Purdue struggled so mightily on offense. Illinois didn't allow a score until a 35-yard field goal with 10:50 left. Purdue scored its touchdown on a 7-yard pass from freshman quarterback Sean Robinson to Gary Bush.
"There are some upset defensive players,'' defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said after the Illini surrendered points with some second-stringers on the field. "In some respects, that's good. We have high expectations.''Purdue (4-4, 2-2) didn't get the same kind of game from Robinson and starting quarterback Rob Henry, who was limited with a laceration on his finger. Robinson, who led Rochester to the Class 4A state playoff semifinals last season, played the majority of the snaps but finished 7-for-20 for 52 yards passing in his third game played.
"That's just a matter of immaturity and me not completing passes,'' Robinson said. "There's no excuse for that. I completed those passses all week. I didn't rise to the occasion.''
NOTES: Illinois wide receiver Jarred Fayson didn't play because of a sore leg, Zook said. Running back Jason Ford (sprained ankle) also didn't play. . . Illinois scored 40 pints or more in consecutive games for the first time since 1999. . . Illini freshman Darius Millines and senior Chris James each had the first touchdown catches of his career. . .John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Illinois report card Offense -- A Illinois showed some imagination on offense by using quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Eddie McGee, running back Mikel Leshoure taking a direct snap and a nifty play where Sheelhaase rolled right and threw back across the field for a 20-yard touchdown pass to Leshoure. Defense -- A This should come with an asterisk, because of all the personnel losses on the Boilermakers' roster because of injury. Purdue had just 1:35 in time of possession in the first quarter, a hint of things to come by the Illini defense and the struggles by the Purdue offense. Special teams -- A Placekicker Derek Dimke has a strong leg, but we didn't know he was that accurate. He pounded a line drive kickoff off Purdue's Joe Holland that the Illini recovered to set up the second touchdown. Lucky or good? It didn't matter. Overall -- A Illinois swept the back-to-back home games against teams from the other side of the state line to get within one victory within bowl eligibility. The next shot comes Saturday at Michigan, where Illinois goes for its first three-peat against the Wolverines since winning four straight from 1950 to 1953.