Monday, April 15, 2013
Spring game recap: Illinois
By Brian Bennett
It was a busy weekend of spring games in the Big Ten, and we're here to recap all of them this morning. Let's start with Illinois, which held its spring game on a chilly Friday night (temperatures were in the 30s by kickoff) before an estimated 2,100 fans at Memorial Stadium. You can find coverage of the Illini game here, here, here and here.
Star of the game: Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase completed 24-of-32 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown and was named offensive MVP of the spring. Redshirt freshman safety Taylor Barton grabbed a pair of interceptions and recovered a fumble.
How it went down: Fans who suffered while watching last year's impotent offensive attack had to like the fact that the Illini threw the ball 87 times for 601 yards during the spring game. Bill Cubit's new offensive system should at the very least inject some excitement into the program.
The Blue team, led by Scheelhaase, raced out to a 28-0 lead and led 35-14 in the second half. Reilly O'Toole led the Orange on a comeback, and got his side within 35-28. The coaches then gave the Orange team the ball back for a two-minute drill, but linebacker Mason Monheim ended things with an interception at the Blue 13-yard line.
Scheelhaase and O'Toole are competing for the quarterback job, according to head coach Tim Beckman. If this spring game is any indication, Scheelhaase definitely has the upper hand. Though O'Toole threw for 362 yards, he also tossed four interceptions, while Scheelhaase did not have any turnovers. After the game, though, Cubit revealed that O'Toole was dealing with an injured finger.
"I thought he had a great touch on the football," Beckman said of Scheelhaase. "You could hear there was some great leadership things being said on that Blue offensive team."
Donovonn Young ran for 86 yards on 19 carries and scored three touchdowns, showing some strong north-south running. The team's other top tailback, Josh Ferguson, did not play because of an ankle injury. Justin Hardee led the receiving corps with seven catches for 108 yards, while Miles Osei added eight catches for 98 yards and Ryan Lankford had nine catches for 77 yards.
Barton returned one of his interceptions 45 yards for a touchdown. Beckman said Barton had been one of the team's top safeties throughout spring practice. Junior defensive lineman Austin Teitsma was named the defensive MVP of the spring.
Illinois obviously has a lot to work on between now and the fall, and the five turnovers were concerning. But the final score of last year's spring game was 13-12, which indicated some of the problems to come in a 2-10 season. The Illini at least look a little more explosive than they did last spring.
"I definitely think the offense is getting more comfortable," Beckman said.