Illinois heads to Soldier Field with loads of confidence — and the first two-game win streak of the Tim Beckman era.
The Illini manhandled road favorite Cincinnati 45-17 at a steamy Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The Illini are 2-0 for only the second time since 2006.
Bill Cubit's offense was just as effective as Week 1. More surprising was Tim Banks' defense, which kept the Bearcats under control.
Nathan Scheelhaase passed for 312 yards and four touchdowns.
For the Bearcats (1-1) the loss made worse by quarterback Munchie Legaux’s injury. He left in the fourth quarter on cart with what appeared to be a serious leg injury. Details were not immediately available.
Scheelhaase threw to 11 different receivers. The biggest catch was Steve Hull’s 22-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. It capped a 99-yard drive and put Illinois up 28-10.
That drive was set up by Legaux’s fumble on a fourth-down play at the Illinois goal line. It was first ruled a touchdown but a review revealed Legaux fumbled after a hard hit by Earnest Thomas.
Legaux was 17-31 for 237 yards and a touchdown.
A week after coughing up what had been a comfortable 18-point lead and just hanging on against Southern Illinois, the game was starting to feel uncomfortably familiar for the Illini late in the second quarter and early in the third.
That 21-0 lead turned into 21-7 near the end of the first half when Legaux hit Max Morrison with a pass from the Illinois 1.
The momentum, Illinois’ friend for most of the first 30 minutes, now belonged to the Bearcats.
A field goal by Tony Miliano shaved Illinois’ lead to 21-10 with 11:02 to play in the third quarter.
Just over three minutes later, Cincinnati appeared ready to strike again. With a fouth-and-goal at the Illini 1, Legaux rolled left and barreled toward a hole at the goal line. Earnest Thomas and Mike Svetina closed that gap in a hurry, hitting the 6-5, 200-pound Legaux hard at the goal line. The quarterback appeared to perhaps just get a piece of the ball over the line.
Officials on the field signaled a touchdown, but the review booth caught what was apparently missed by just about everyone in the stadium: Thomas’ jarring hit popped the ball free and forward. Bearcat receiver Chris Moore recovered it but, according to the rules, the only Cincinnati player who could recover it was the man who fumbled it, Legaux.
Just like that, a Bearcat touchdown that would have cut the lead to four became Illinois’ ball at its own 1.
Two plays later the Bearcats thought they had the ball back when Illini running back Donovonn Young appeared to lose to linebacker Nick Temple the Illinois 11.
Instead the play led to another review and another break for the Illini. Young, according to the review, was down before the ball came out.
The deflated Bearcat defense then watched the Illini drive 99 yards — the first 99-yard drive for the Illini since 1971 — to go up 28-10. Hull tucked the ball just inside the pylon for the score.
Illinois also ran the ball effectively.
A year after his worst season in college football, Scheelhaase seems reborn working with first-year offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.
The senior quarterback had as many passing touchdowns Saturday — four — as he had all of last season, a 2-10 nightmare that included a winless Big Ten season.
On Saturday, Scheelhaase had what would have been a career day, if only he hadn’t had one of those just a week earlier, throwing for 416 yards and three touchdowns against Southern Illinois. — AP
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End of Third Quarter: Illinois 28, Cincinnati 17
-- It's a play that will be discussed all week among Illini and Bearcats fans; we're speaking of the fourth-down run by UC quarterback Munchie Legaux from the Illinois 1. At first, it was ruled a touchdown. Then, it was under replay review. Then, it was ruled that Legaux fumbled the ball before he reached the end zone. Replays shown on the Memorial Stadium videoboard while the play was under review didn't appear to be conclusive and it was no apparent that a fumble had occurred. Lots of confusion, but Illini fans were happy when the review went in their team's favor. No TD. A disallowed fumble recovery by the Bearcats. Illinois' ball.
-- It was a critical play, but so was the way the Illini offense responded afterward, driving 99 yards for a touchdown. What could have been a 21-17 game instead turned into a 28-10 Illinois lead when Scheelhaase marched his team all the way down the field. A huge swing of momentum. That 22-yard TD reception by Steve Hull loomed even larger when Cincinnati rsponded with a touchdown drive last in the third period to narrow the lead to 11 points.
-- There are more ways to get the ball into the hands of a receiver than through the air. Bill Cubit's play-calling for the Illini is proving that. Wide receivers Ryan Lankford and Martize Barr have combined for 4 carries for 70 yards. The pitch on the end around will give future opponents something to think about.
-- We're big on second-guesses. Are Illini fans who stayed home second-guessing themselves right now for missing out on a breakthrough victory for Tim Beckman's program.
-- We were curious, so we looked it up. The Illini record book indicates the Illini had their fifth 99-yard drive sincd 1971. The most recent 99-yarder was on Oct. 21, 2009, against Michigan.
-- Wonder if Illini athletic director Mike Thomas is smiling. The former Cincinnati AD has been under heavy pressure for the lack of success in football under his personal pick for head coach: Beckman. Looking like this will be a great day for both of them.
Halftime: Illinois 21, Cincinnati 7
-- Who would have predicted this? If not for a last-minute touchdown by the Bearcats, Illinois would have gone into the half with a 21-point lead. Impressive performance by Tim Beckman's guys, and if they can continue it in the second half, this could be a game-changer in terms of the public perception of this team and of Beckman's leadership.
-- Nifty play call on the Illini's second touchdown, with wide receiver Ryan Lankford take a pitch on an end-around and running it in from 29 yards. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit isn't afraid to open up the playbook.
-- More on-field introductions, with a large group of former Illini basketball players waving to the crowd in the second quarter. Among the folks identified by our veteran columnist Loren Tate: Rick Schmidt, Deon Thomas and Dave Downey. Former Illini coach Lou Henson was holding court in the press box before the game with a good-sized group eager to catch up with one of the most popular figures in school history.
-- We caught up with former Illini sports information director Mike Pearson before the game and will write about what's keeping the recently retired Pearson busy these days. The author of Illini Legends, Lists and Lore had a twitter account that offers loads of Big Ten historical tidbits that Pearson says he updates daily.
-- Nathan Scheelhase, who racked up the No. 10 single-game passing yardage total in program history last week, is at it again. The senior QB is 17 of 21 for 168 yards and two TDs.
-- Remember how Illini fans often lamented how little the tight end was involved in the offense? They should be happy today. TEs Jon Davis and Evan Wilson each have two receptions for a combined 60 yards. Wilson gave Illinois its third TD with a 23-yard catch in the second quarter.
-- Spread the ball around. That's what Illinois continues to do. Already, 10 different Illini have caught passes, making last week's number. Impressive.
-- Can't blame Illni fans if they plan to hold their breath in the second half. Look for Cincinnati to make its best counter-punch. The Illini will need to withstand it to come away with the biggest win of the brief Beckman era.
End of First Quarter: Illinois 7, Cincinnati 0
First of all, let's give the sometimes-maligned Illini defensive coordinator Tim Banks some love. His unit held UC to 66 yards and no points. Of course, it helps when the Bearcats commit four false-start penalties. Gotta be driving Tommy Tuberville crazy.
-- The Scheelhaase-to-Ferguson connection has struck again. One week after the Illini QB and running back hooked up for a 53-yard TD (Ferguson did most of the work on a screen pass), the duo produced a 48-yard TD to five the Illini the lead.
-- We like that UI offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's system, when it's working, really distributes the ball through the air. A week ago, 10 different Illini caught passes. So far, six Illini have been on the receiving end of Scheelhaase throws.
-- Illini fans got to say hello to former Robert Archibald. The former Illini basketball bruiser was introduced during the first quarter. Derrick Burson, the UI's associate director of media relations, says there is an Illini basketball reunion here this weekend.
-- If you know your history,Cincinnati running back Ralph David Abernathy IV should ring a bell. His late grandfather is Ralph David Abernathy Sr., a major figure in the American Civil Rights movement.
-- As promised by Tuberville, UC is using two quarterbacks for this game. Munchie Legaux (love that name!) started, and Brandon Kay came on late in the first quarter. Not much going on with either under center; they're a combined 3 of 7 for 45 yards with one interception.
-- Matt Daniels points out that the interception by redshirt freshman Taylor Barton shouldn't come as a surprise. The free safety had two picks in the spring game.
It's kickoff time
Jeff Huth here, taking over for Matt, and I'll be with you through the game.
Clear skies, lots of sunshine and a crystal-clear videoboard. Maybe I should put on my sunglasses.
Matt tells me the turnout of fans is maybe a little bit larger than for last week's game against Southern Illinois. Still sparse. Illinois has work to do in regaining fan interest. A victory today might go a long way in that regard. At the minimum, a competitive performance.
I saw Tim Beckman last night at the Urbana vs. Champaign Central football game. His son, Alex, is the Tigers' starting quarterback but did not play due to an undisclosed injury. Alex was in uniform and it was a game-time decision on whether he would play.
We're glad the NCAA loosened its policy on coaches being allowed to watch their sons (or daughters) compete in high school without any limits. The coaches want to be there, and so do their children.
Enough on high school football We'll check back in on this game after each quarter or as events warrant.
30 minutes until kickoff
Lou Henson and one of his former assistants, Mark Coomes, made the rounds of the press box a little bit ago. The former Illinois coach is in good spirits as usual.
Speaking of Illinois basketball, it's John Groce's birthday today. The second-year boss turns 42. Maybe Quentin Snider will give him a birthday present with an early commit. We'll see. Snider and his family made their way through the press box around 10:15 a.m. with Groce. Here's a photo
Hopefully you'll checking out WAND-TV's "Inside the Illini," pregrame show right now. Matt Loveless, Steve Kelly and Loren Tate are dropping knowledge on your TV sets. Check it out. I'll be on with Matt and Steve for next week's show.
Looking around the stadium at 10:15 a.m., very sparse crowd. So far. Can't really blame them. It is a warm one out there today, and the Illinois fan base is still trying to figure out this Illinois team, like many members of the media are as well.
And here's a list of predictions from the fourth estate. I've got Cincinnati winning 37-20.
Bob Asmussen, The News-Gazette: Cincinnati 37, Illinois 30
Jeff Huth, The News-Gazette: Cincinnati 35, Illinois 17
Jamal Collier, Springfield State Journal-Register: Cincinnati 38, Illinois 24
Fletcher Page, Scout.com: Cincinnati 45, Illinois 23
Taylor Rooks, Scout.com: Cincinnati 42, Illinois 14
Jeremy Werner, ESPN C-U: Cincinnati 41, Illinois 21
Mark Tupper, Decatur Herald & Review: Cincinnati 44, Illinois 24
Robert Rosenthal, Illiniboard.com: Cincinnati 38, Illinois 28
Steve Greenberg, Chicago Sun-Times: Illinois 38, Cincinnati 34
That's not a typo from Greenberg either.
That's all the updates from me before the game. I'll turn it over to Jeff Huth at kickoff, who will continue with updates throughout the game.
60 minutes until kickoff
Tim Beckman had to deal with some off-the-field issues this week. Running back Dami Ayoola was one of the premier recruits in the Class of 2012, but won't wear an Illinois uniform again. Beckman dismissed him from the team on Tuesday for a violation of team rules. Read what Beckman had to say (not much) right here about the situation. He's the third notable contributor Beckman has dismissed from the team since last May, with Ayoola joining Darius Millines and Darrius Caldwell.
Right guard Ted Karras should make his season debut for Illinois after missing the opener with a left ankle injury. I'd imagine a starting offensive line of Simon Cvijanovic at left tackle, Michael Heitz at left guard, Alex Hill at center, Karras at right guard and Corey Lewis at right tackle. We'll see what transpires, but the Illinois offensive line will need to improve greatly after giving up five sacks last week. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit didn't believe all five sacks were the offensive line's fault.
Plenty of football recruits expected to be on hand for today's game, mainly from the Class of 2015. A few Class of 2014 recruits like offensive lineman Nick Padla should attend, but 2015 quarterbacks like Jimmy Fitzgerald from Centennial and Jack Beneventi from Benet Academy, running back Dre Brown from DeKalb and Jacksonville offensive lineman Gabe Megginson, among others, should be either in the stands or the recruiting lounge tucked inside the north end zone.
Cincinnati specialists came out on the field around 9:50 a.m. in the garish white helmet, white jersey and red pants look. The colors will definitely clash today between the two teams. Illinois ventured out a few minutes later, around 9:52 a.m., with its specialists.
Be back in another half hour with predictions from several members of the media.
90 minutes until kickoff
Big day for Mike Thomas, who's on the front page of The News-Gazette sports section today. The Illinois athletic director is going against his old employer today. He oversaw the resurgence of Cincinnati football, and opened up earlier this week about what his time at Cincinnati was like and what his expectations for Illinois football are.
Should be a nice media contingent here today. A few Cincinnati beat writers came in and were immediately impressed with the size of the Illinois press box and how high up it is compared to what Nippert Stadium is like at Cincinnati.
Nippert Stadium is 98 years old, and will undergo a much-needed renovation next year. That will move the Bearcats to downtown Cincinnati and Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Bengals, before they get back there again in 2015.
Another big weekend for Illinois men's basketball. John Groce has Louisville (Ky.) Ballard point guard Quentin Snider on an official visit to campus this weekend. Snider was originally a Louisville commit before he de-committed from Rick Pitino's program at the end of July. He was at UCLA last week, and our own Marcus Jackson caught up with Snider's dad, Scott, before the Sniders arrived in Champaign-Urbana. Find out what the point guard's father had to say here.
Bob Wischusen and Rod Gilmore with have the call on ESPN2 today, with Quint Kessenich on the sidelines. I checked in with Gilmore on Friday morning for his thoughts on the game. Go here to see those, along with thoughts from Jeremy Werner of ESPN C-U and Martin O'Donnell of WDWS. Good stuff.
Specialists from both teams got on the field around 9:15 a.m. Improved special teams play, mainly with the kicking game, is a point of emphasis for Tim Beckman today. He wasn't too happy with how Justin DuVernois punted at times against SIU and the missed field goal by Taylor Zalewski will raise any coach's blood pressure.
Be back in another half hour.
Two hours until kickoff
Good morning college football fans. Matt Daniels here with you, giving you some news and notes to digest during breakfast. Or maybe you're tailgating. Great day to do that, with the sun out and mild temperatures. It shouldn't be as hot on the Memorial Stadium turf for this game as it was last week against Southern Illinois, where it registered around 110 degrees at some points during the game.
I'll be here right up until kickoff, with Jeff Huth taking over from that point. Bob Asmussen is in tow this morning, chatting up everyone in sight. It's good to have Bob back. Loren Tate is in the building as well. Tune in to WDWS 1400 AM right now to hear Tate and Jim Turpin break down today's game.
Illinois made its way onto the turf at Memorial Stadium around 8:40 a.m., making its traditional Illini Walk, with Tim Beckman leading the way. Had a decent amount of fans awaiting that when I walked past First Street around 8:15 a.m. The team gathered at the 50-yard line, said a quick prayer and then exited into its locker room near the north end zone.
Cincinnati made its way into the stadium at 8:50 a.m., gathering at midfield for a prayer and then heading into its locker room. Have to think the Bearcats feel pretty confident after last week's 42-7 win at Purdue.
Illinois will wear the same uniforms it sported last week against the Salukis with orange jerseys, white pants and its new orange helmets with the navy blue block I. Cincinnati should come out of the tunnel in white helmets, white jerseys and red pants, so don't adjust your TV set at the garish sight. For more on the uniforms and other notes, go here.
In our panel of experts that picks college football games every Friday in The News-Gazette, seven of the eight panelists went with Cincinnati (guilty as charged). The only one who didn't was Martin O'Donnell. Not too sure what the former Illinois offensive lineman sees in picking his alma mater, but around 3 p.m. today he might be the smartest man. Ever. Here is the list of predicted winners.
Steve Hull should have plenty of support in the stands today. The Cincinnati native, who actually grew up just north of the Queen City, said he usually has about six ticket requests for every home game. This week it has grown to between 20-25. To find out more on how the fifth-year senior has adjusted to his new position (wide receiver) and what he thinks of his hometown Reds, check out our Q&A that we did with Hull right here.
It's Band Day here at Memorial Stadium, too. Lots and lots of high school bands from across the state. They took to the field earlier this morning and took part in the Illini Walk. They'll perform, along with the Marching Illini, at halftime. Good opportunity for high school students to see the campus and play a few tunes. The versatile Ed Bond from WDWS has some photos from that. Go here to Ed's Twitter account to check them out.
I'll be back in a half hour with another update.