CHAMPAIGN — The few fans who remained in their seats after Louisiana Tech's 52-24 win against Illinois on Saturday at Memorial Stadium were treated to a fireworks show.
Those who left early saw plenty of fireworks during the game, courtesy Tech's high-powered offense.
The reigning WAC champion has the look of a team that might be knocking on the BCS door in December. Illinois is a team searching for an identity.
And with the Big Ten opener against Penn State a week away, that's a problem.
"I haven't been through many defeats like this one, or the one prior to," Illinois coach Tim Beckman said.
The defense, touted as the team's strength and loaded with NFL talent in the front seven, has looked rattled and simply outclassed in games against quality teams.
Two weeks ago, Arizona State shredded the Illini in the desert. On Saturday, the visitors from the South found little resistance from Illini defenders, racking up 403 yards in front of an announced 46,539 fans. The 52 points are the most the Illini have allowed at home since another WAC foe, Fresno State, scored 53 in beating Illinois in 2009.
"It's tough, it hurts, extremely disappointing," defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. "We gave up some big plays, and the thing we talk about is in order to be successful you can't beat yourselves and you've got to eliminate the big plays. We weren't able to get that done tonight."
Against a Louisiana Tech defense that entered the game allowing an average of 43 points and 585.5 yards per game, the Illini offense was a mess, turning the ball over six times.
"It goes back to the way we played and turning the ball over. You can't turn the ball over like we did no matter who you're playing," Beckman said.
And though quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase started Saturday's contest after sitting out the last two with an ankle injury, he didn't finish the game. And it wasn't because of an injury.
Scheelhaase threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Lankford in the first quarter but followed that up with an interception and a fumble later in the quarter before being replaced by Reilly O'Toole.
"We weren't moving the ball, so we felt as a coaching staff to give Reilly an opportunity and he got in there and moved the ball a little bit for us," Beckman said.
The coach, however, wouldn't commit to a starter at that position for next week's tilt against the Nittany Lions. O'Toole was 19 for 25 for 120 yards.
"We'll just keep competing, I think that's the way the game of football should be played," Beckman said. "We'll see how we progress. ... We'll make sure we've got the one that performs throughout the week and performs the best on the football field."