Beat writer Matt Daniels lists three players on each team who might affect Saturday's game in Bloomington, Ind.:
Nathan Scheelhaase, QB
Once again, the fifth-year senior will need to have a strong game if Illinois hopes to end its 18-game Big Ten losing streak. He did the last time he played at Indiana’s Memorial Stadium, throwing for 210 yards and three touchdowns. He added 88 rushing yards and a touchdown in one of the most complete performances of his career. That game was also the last time Illinois won a Big Ten game. Scheelhaase, second all time in program history in career total offense, is only 30 passing yards from hitting the 2,000-yard mark this season and needs 141 more yards to establish a career high for most passing yards in a season. The only statistic Scheelhaase, however, is concerned with is heading back to Champaign with a win.
“I feel like I remember that (2011) game like it was yesterday,” Scheelhaase said. “It was a little bit shaky to start off down there, but you knew at that time that Indiana was a team that was very dangerous, and I think they still are a really dangerous team you have to be ready for. I would have said that (Big Ten losing streak) never would have happened, but that’s the place we’re in right now. We’ve got to find a way to get the monkey off our back.”
Spencer Harris, WR
Have another game like he did at Penn State and Harris’ phone will once again light up with congratulatory messages. Usually just known for his third-down production, Harris filled the void of No. 1 wide receiver against the Nittany Lions with career highs in catches (10) and receiving yards (81). A forgotten man at some points during his Illinois career, the senior has emerged with the injury of Ryan Lankford.
“He works his butt off every day,” wide receiver Miles Osei said. “It’s just awesome to see stuff work out for him and pay off. Everything that you see on Saturday, he has put in throughout the week.”
Wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy said it was fulfilling to see Harris have the type of success he did against the Nittany Lions.
“That was the biggest pleasure to see him have a game like that,” Bellamy said. “You hate the loss, but you’re happy for a guy to have an opportunity like that, especially being a senior.”
Josh Ferguson, RB
Indiana is susceptible to the run. The Hoosiers have had six running backs this year top 100 rushing yards against their defense. Excluding the Hoosiers’ season-opening win against FCS foe Indiana State, the road to a win is simple for Indiana: hold an opposing running back to under 100 yards. In all five of Indiana’s losses, a running back has rushed for more than 100 yards. In its wins against Bowling Green and Penn State, no running back surpassed that mark. Ferguson has eclipsed that barrier once this year at Nebraska, where he managed 114 rushing yards. His next three games, however, have produced only a combined 85 rushing yards on 27 carries. Yes, he has delivered in the receiving game and Illinois has started out its four Big Ten games trailing in the first quarter, but Ferguson’s best contributions Saturday might come when he’s lugging the ball in between the tackles.
“Our goal this game is to start fast so we can avoid that type of situation,” said Ferguson, who dealt with cramps at the end of the Penn State game. “They’ve had the ball run against them a lot, so we’re hoping to get the run game going.”
Nate Sudfeld/Tre Roberson, QB
Two different type of players. Two players, however, capable of putting up impressive stats. Both have this year and both should against Illinois, regardless of who starts.
“You know what one can do a little bit more than the other,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “There’s a little bit more quarterback run game when Roberson is in there. I remember him in high school, too, and we were one of the first to offer him at Toledo. Both quarterbacks have been extremely successful. You can just see that in their numbers.”
Combined, the duo has thrown for 2,639 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The 25 touchdown passes have Indiana second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State in that category. With the Buckeyes off this weekend, Sudfeld and Roberson could leap into the top spot against a vulnerable Illinois secondary.
Tevin Coleman, RB
He will likely split carries with Stephen Houston. Both are averaging more than 6 yards per carry, with Coleman having carried the bulk of the running load this season for Indiana with 743 rushing yards. He has 10 rushing touchdowns, tied for second in the conference behind only Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Michigan’s Fitz Toussaint. Where the former track all-state performer at Oak Forest is on the field is a primary concern for Illinois.
“He’s a home run hitter,” Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “You’re one gap misfit away from him going the distance. We’ve got to be really disciplined in our gap integrity and really swarming to tackle before he gets a head of steam on him because he is one of the fastest guys that we’ve seen.”
Shane Wynn, WR
He’s not the biggest. But he’s fast. And elusive. The playmaker has scored nine touchdowns in three different ways this fall for the Hoosiers, with seven receiving touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and one punt return for a touchdown. The honorable mention All-Big Ten pick by the media is on his way to perhaps more postseason accolades. He is only fourth on the team in receptions (26) and third in receiving yards (458), but he could pose problems for Illinois linebackers out of his slot position.
“We had offered him at Toledo, so we know a lot about him,” Beckman said. “He’s extremely quick ... and has beaten some people deep.”
Illinois cornerback/kick returner V’Angelo Bentley knows Wynn well. The two grew up playing youth football in Cleveland and were teammates at Glenville High School in Cleveland.
“He’s a dynamic player,” Bentley said. “He can definitely make a person miss. We talk almost every day. It’s funny because we were talking earlier that we’ve known each other so long and it’s crazy that we’re now playing on this level coming from the same place and same type of struggles. It’s exciting for both of us.”