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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Illini offense could have new look in bowl

By Adam Rittenberg

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase views the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl as the start of a new season.

It's hard to blame him. The Illini offense needs a fresh start after flat-lining in its final six games. According to Scheelhaase, the unit will look a bit different against UCLA on Saturday in San Francisco.

Nathan Scheelhaase
Consistency will be a major focus for Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase next season.
Quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm has taken over the play-calling duties for offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, who earlier this month left for the same position at Arkansas. Brohm has spent the past few weeks installing some new elements for a unit that averaged just 11 points and 268.7 yards during the second-half slide.

"It's a little bit like preparing for your first game," Scheelhaase told ESPN.com this week. "Every team has stuff that they ran from last year, and for us, we had stuff that we ran from the season. But there's a lot of new things that we've installed, a lot of new stuff we're running going into this game that should put the defense on their heels a little bit.

"I think it will be a big benefit for us."

Brohm's knowledge of the personnel helped him implement some new wrinkles with the offense, and Scheelhaase said the amount of install didn't overwhelm him and his fellow teammates.

It's critical for Illinois to put Scheelhaase in favorable positions in the bowl game. The sophomore recorded fewer than 100 pass yards in three of his final four games and split time with freshman Reilly O'Toole. Scheelhaase also struggled down the stretch last year but made significant strides against Baylor in the Texas Bowl, completing 18-of-23 attempts for 242 yards in a 38-14 Illini win.

"My confidence really doesn't waver," Scheelhaase said. "That's due to preparation and due to just a strong work ethic. That part doesn't change. You've just got to make sure the rest of the guys around you are keeping their confidence.

"We've still got the players, we've still got the talent and it helps that we're doing some new things right now."

Illinois can't escape the disappointment from the way the regular season ended, but the team can still make a bit of history Saturday afternoon at AT&T Park. The Illini have a chance to win back-to-back bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time.

A victory would be a nice springboard for Scheelhaase and the other players set to return and play for new coach Tim Beckman in 2012.

"To win back-to-back bowl games, no other quarterback that's come through this school has done that," Scheelhaase said. "To do that in the first two years would be a heck of an accomplishment. And the guys around me have the same thing in mind, to be a part of something special."