CHAMPAIGN — The postgame Illinois locker room can be a dangerous place after a win. Coach Tim Beckman got a little dinged up after his team's 44-0 win against Charleston Southern on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, but he insisted he wouldn't be joining the growing number of Illini in the athletic training room.
"Heck, no! Our injury list is big enough," he said.
Indeed it is, Coach.
The Illini sent the FCS Buccaneers to their 15th straight loss without the services of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (ankle), center Graham Pocic (knee), running back Josh Ferguson (concussion), linebacker Houston Bates (leg), safety Steve Hull (shoulder) and safety Supo Sanni (knee). If that wasn't enough, receiver Darius Millines walked off the field with his left arm in a sling and place-kicker Nick Immekus left early with a muscle pull.
"I haven't slept at all," Beckman said. "It is challenging. You look out there and you see you've got young men who are injured and they don't want to be injured. It's just one of those things that you have to adapt to and you have to push your young players to perform."
The Illini got some quality performances from their underclassmen Saturday, the best of the bunch being sophomore QB Reilly O'Toole. The Wheaton native set a school record, completing 83.9 percent of his passes (26 of 31) for 333 yards, and became the first Illini signal-caller since Juice Williams in 2008 to throw five TDs.
"It was fun," O'Toole said. "When you have guys running great routes and they're open, it makes the game a lot more fun because you're just pitching and catching."
True freshman Justin Hardee caught five passes for 99 yards, and classmate Fritz Rock caught four for 46. Sophomores Jon Davis and Donovonn Young caught TD passes, and another true freshman, running back Dami Ayoola, escaped a pile on fourth down for a 28-yard touchdown scamper. Kicker Taylor Zalewski made all four PAT attempts and hit a 47-yard field goal.
Defensively, true freshman linebacker Mason Monheim intercepted a pass in his first career start and registered five tackles. Freshman cornerback V'Angelo Bentley broke up three passes and sophomore Ralph Cooper tied for the team lead with six tackles.
"That's what this program's going to need and that's what it's always going to be. It's going to be a lot of young players coming in and playing. We do not have a bunch of depth," Beckman said.
The old guys did their thing, too, led by junior Ryan Lankford's career day (seven receptions, 97 yards, two TDs).
With Louisiana Tech coming to town next week, Illinois is going to need everyone, young and old, to contribute with the competition level increasing.
"We've got to get healthy," Beckman said. "We have to get healthy and it'll be a challenge unless we're healthy."