Saturday, September 7, 2013
Illini get image-changing win vs. Cincinnati
By Brian Bennett
For at least a year, if not longer, Illinois was the laughingstock of the Big Ten.
The Illini went just 2-10 in Tim Beckman's first season in 2012, losing their final nine games. They had won just one of their previous 16 regular-season games against FBS competition going into Saturday.
Laugh no more. Illinois blasted Cincinnati 45-17 at home in a result almost nobody saw coming. It was easily the program's best victory since beating UCLA in the 2011 Fight Hunger Bowl, though even that was clouded by a coaching transition. Beckman's team is now 2-0 with some momentum going into next Saturday's game against Washington at Soldier Field in Chicago.
"These first two wins felt really great," senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase told ESPN.com after the game. "We struggled last year, and I think when you struggle, you realize how much things like this mean, how much you've invested and how much you've put in. It's hard to get a win. Anytime you can go out and do that, I think you can walk off with a smile on your face."
Scheelhaase and the Illini offense look completely different from last year, when they averaged a Big Ten worst 16.7 points per game. Scheelhaase threw for 416 yards last week vs. Southern Illinois and finished with 312 passing yards and four touchdowns -- with no interceptions -- against Cincinnati. The team piled up 522 total yards and looked faster than Cincinnati much of the day. New offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's system has been a smashing success so far.
"It's fun to see our team compete out there," Scheelhaase said. "I like the product we put out there, the way we played and the intensity we came out to the field with.
"We want to be a team that's able to use our tempo and use our playmakers. It's fun to be back there distributing the ball to those guys."
Illinois' big victory couldn't have come at a better time as the program tries to drum up interest for what it is billing as a Chicago homecoming next week. The negativity surrounding the team and Beckman is quickly fading.
"I think you build confidence with wins, but more so than that we built confidence with the way we practiced last week," Scheelhaase said. "I don't really worry about who's doubting or who's believing. I think all of us inside this locker room are just trying to come to work every day and do a great job. We can't worry about anything else."