TEMPE, Ariz. — About 45 minutes before Illinois faced Arizona State late Saturday night, the fear became fact: Junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase wouldn't play because of a sprained ankle suffered in last week's win against Western Michigan.
What the Illini didn't know at the time was that its vaunted defense wouldn't make an appearance, either.
Arizona State carved up Illinois' defense for more than 500 total yards en route to a 45-14 victory at Sun Devil Stadium.
How dominating was the Sun Devils' offense? Arizona State scored touchdowns on four of its first five drives and fumbled at the Illinois goal line on the other. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence caused the turnover with a jarring hit on Sun Devils tailback Cameron Marshall, and free safety Pat Nixon-Youman recovered.
But that was the only bit of good news for Illinois. Arizona State quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank completed their first 14 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
It's not that Arizona State's quarterbacks were threading completions into tight coverage, either. Illinois consistently lost track of the Sun Devils' receivers and in particular tight end Chris Coyle, who had more receiving yards in the first half (101) than he did all of last year.
This from a unit that, after the Western Michigan rout, led the nation in rushing defense, was 14th in scoring defense, 24th in total defense and 33rd in passing efficiency defense.
The defense didn't get much, if any, help from the offense. The one thing Illinois couldn't afford to do was get off to a slow start on the road with a backup quarterback, yet that's exactly what happened. In his first career start, sophomore Reilly O'Toole had trouble getting Illinois' offense orchestrated at the line of scrimmage. The Illini were whistled for two delay-of-game penalties in the first quarter alone, and one of those came after a kickoff return.
Illinois' first-quarter passing yards: minus-3. The score after one period: Arizona State 14, Illinois 0.
Junior Miles Osei replaced O'Toole on Illinois' third possession, as planned, and provided an immediate spark. Using his legs (15 rushing yards) as well as his arm (3 for 3, 31 yards), he led the Illini on a 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a 17-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Donovonn Young to cut the lead to 14-7.
But Osei's effectiveness was short-lived. He threw interceptions on each of Illinois' next two possessions — both to linebacker Carlos Mendoza — and the Illini trailed 28-7 at halftime.
Little changed in the second half. O'Toole threw an interception on Illinois' first possession, and Arizona State scored two plays later to take a 35-7 lead. O'Toole finally got Illinois in the end zone late in the third quarter when he hit tight end Eddie Viliunas for a 5-yard score, capping an eight-play, 80-yard drive.
O'Toole and Osei finished a combined 14 of 24 for 101 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions.
The one bright spot for Illinois' offense was the play of redshirt freshman running back Josh Ferguson, who pounded Arizona State's defense for 101 yards on 14 carries. Ferguson broke tackles, spun off defenders and showed off a burst when he got into the open.
Illinois returns home to face Charleston Southern on Saturday. It's uncertain whether Scheelhaase will play.