Illini offense off and running
CHAMPAIGN — It shouldn't come as a surprise that Illinois is among the national leaders in scoring. Or that it reached a point total after two games (89) matched only once in the last 63 years.
That's basically the goal.
"What I was proud of the other day was they took the field every single drive and expected to score," Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said.
The Illinois offense wasn't perfect in a 56-3 win against South Dakota State. On the first drive, receiver A.J Jenkins dropped a third-down pass and the Illini had to punt.
But the first-string offense scored every drive after that, putting a smile on the coordinator's face.
"That's being disciplined and being focused enough to just stay concentrating the whole game," Petrino said.
After points, Petrino said the statistics that matter most on offense are red-zone conversion and third-down conversion.
In two games, the Illini lead the nation in third-down conversions at 72 percent. That's 21 out of 29. In the red zone, Illinois is tied for first nationally, scoring all 10 times.
"When you have the ability to run the football, then you're better in the red zone," Petrino said. "You see all these gimmick, spread offenses that struggle in the red zone because they can't run the football.
"One thing we've done a good job of this year is getting to third and short. We had nine in the first game and six in the second game. That really helps you move the football."
When Petrino was on the staff at Louisville in 2004, the Cardinals averaged almost 50 points a game to lead the nation. He would like to do it at Illinois, too.
"First of all, our goal is to win," Petrino said. "As an offensive group, our goal is to always lead the nation in scoring. That's something we're going to strive for and always believe we can reach it."
This year's start is a continuation of last year's finish, Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. In the final seven games of 2010, Illinois scored at least 38 points five times.
"We talked about how much we progressed at the end of last year," Scheelhaase said. "Coach (Ron) Zook talked about how that bowl game, in our minds, it wanted to be the first game of the next season. It wanted to set the tone for what would happen. And if you look at what we did that game, it kind of has."