Illinois was going to have a tough time winning at Arizona State without quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (ankle) available. But the Illini couldn't have figured things would get this difficult in the desert.
Arizona State simply shredded Tim Beckman's club, running out to a 28-7 halftime lead and never looking back in a 45-14 blowout.
It's perhaps too simplistic to say the quarterback situation made all the difference, but the contrasts between the two teams at that position were striking. At halftime, the Sun Devils' QB combo of Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank combined to go 16-of-17 for 241 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Illinois rotated Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei under center and was a combined 4-for-7 for 28 yards and an interception at intermission. Arizona State finished with a 318-101 edge in passing yards.
The most disappointing thing for Illinois was that its defense, which was so good last year and played terrifically in the opener, couldn't rise to the occasion. Arizona State marched up and down the field from the get-go and piled up 511 total yards. The Illini defense looked gassed at the end, perhaps from the heat and the long trip. Or maybe just because the Sun Devils are that much better.
About the only good news for the visitors was a rushing attack that put up 231 yards, led by Josh Ferguson's 101 on 14 carries. If the Illini can get that kind of effort in the ground game, its offense will be much better.
Realistically, this was always going to be the hardest nonconference challenge for Illinois. The team still has a good chance to win its next three -- against Charleston Southern, Louisiana Tech and a struggling Penn State, all at home. None of those offenses should be as good as Arizona State's. And given the struggles of Wisconsin so far this early season, the Illini can't be counted out of the Leaders Division race.
But getting Scheelhaase back sure would help, as would a return to form by the defense. Beckman and his players had better hope their disaster in the desert was more of a early-season mirage than a sign of things to come.