UI 45, Cincinnati 17: Notebook
CHAMPAIGN — Houston Bates waved frantically.
He knew it was bad. Instantaneously.
The Illinois defensive end was in on the gruesome injury suffered by Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux, who was transported to Carle Hospital from Memorial Stadium with a severe left knee injury.
Cincinnati spokesman Ryan Koslen said Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock and coach Tommy Tuberville visited Legaux at the hospital — where Legaux was kept overnight — and said the senior was in good spirits.
Illinois defensive end Tim Kynard hit Legaux’s knee on the play in the third quarter, causing Legaux’s leg to bend at a grotesque angle.
“It was pretty horrific,” Bates said. “I played against him in high school, and we’re friends. I was talking to him right before that play happened. It’s just the game of football and one of those freak accidents.”
Cincinnati players knelt on the field in prayer minutes after the injury, with Illinois players doing the same on their sideline while a hushed Memorial Stadium crowd looked on. Replays of nearly every play are shown on the scoreboard in the south end zone. Not on that one, though.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman was one of the first people to rush onto the field and check on Legaux after both training staffs went out.
“I saw immediately it was definitely one of those injuries that you’ve seen on (Joe) Theismann and those types of injuries,” Beckman said in reference to the former Washington Redskins quarterback breaking his leg. “I wanted to get out there to him as quickly as I could. He was in pain, there’s no question, but they took care of him. We’ll all pray that he’s healthy.”
Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks coached at Cincinnati during Legaux’s freshman and sophomore seasons. He didn’t recruit Legaux but the injury affected him and his wife, Robin.
“I’m going to go see him,” Banks said. “No one wants to see anyone get hurt, particularly a kid that you know how hard he’s worked and you know him personally. I know what a great kid he is. It really breaks my heart. My wife was crying after the game, so we’re going to go spend some time with him.”
Bates said he planned to call Legaux on Saturday night.
“I didn’t hear a pop,” Bates said. “I just heard him screaming, so I knew something wasn’t right. It’s definitely emotional. I got a little emotional on the sidelines just knowing our history and playing against this guy before.”
Cincinnati wide receiver Anthony McClung is a roommate of Legaux.
“What happened to Munchie,” he said, “you don’t wish that on anybody in the country.”
Tuberville didn’t know after the game how much time Legaux might miss.
“It doesn’t look good,” Tuberville said. “I feel bad for him. He was in pretty good pain on the field. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
Nathan Scheelhaase hadn’t thrown four touchdowns in a game since 2010.
Another Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honor might find its way to Champaign after Scheelhaase (26 of 37, 312 yards) had his second four-touchdown game at Illinois.
“We have the ability to go out there and be a great offense,” Scheelhaase said after Illinois accumulated 522 yards of total offense. “I thought we practiced great and practiced fast all week. We really knew the game plan once we got out there.”
The six touchdown passes he has through two games are two more than he had all of last season. A healthy Scheelhaase, coupled with Bill Cubit’s offense, seem to have meshed well early.
“The kids like playing in this thing here,” Cubit said.
Cubit said his time spent at Division III Widener from 1992 to ’96 probably best served his coaching career.
“Back then, nobody was going to fire me,” Cubit said. “I said, ‘I’m just going to have fun with this thing and enjoy it.’ ”
Beckman is enjoying the early returns from the offense.
“Bill is an outstanding offensive mind,” Beckman said. “In my opinion, that’s why I brought him here. He’s the best I’ve been coaching against or been around.”
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
A few weeks ago, Beckman didn’t have much of an opinion about replays shown on the Memorial Stadium scoreboard.
When numerous replays showed Legaux fumbled and was stopped short of the end zone midway through the third quarter, Beckman — after glancing up at the scoreboard in the south end zone — emphatically waved his arms across his body, indicating no touchdown.
After officials initially ruled a touchdown on Legaux’s 2-yard scramble, they overturned the call following a lengthy review, indicating Legaux fumbled the ball before he reached the goal line. Illinois took over on downs with its 21-10 lead still intact.
Beckman said he intended to challenge the play if it wasn’t reviewed, and had a good sense the call would end up reversed.
“I didn’t think he got in,” Beckman said.
Earnest Thomas made the first hit on Legaux, with Mike Svetina, Mason Monheim and V’Angelo Bentley cleaning up at the end.
“I thought V’Angelo came in there with the third hit that really forced the ball out,” Beckman said.
Tuberville was not in favor of the reversal.
“You know, replay has got to be conclusive and nobody could tell,” he said. “I mean, (Legaux) said he got it across and one of their guys ripped it out in the end zone. It’s just unfortunate something like that happens.”
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
Those extra tickets Steve Hull had to wrangle were worth it.
The Cincinnati native excelled against the college team that played a few miles from his home, making three receptions for 53 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown catch to cap off Illinois’ 99-yard, 12-play drive in the third quarter that put Illinois up 28-10. It was the first touchdown catch of Hull’s college career.
“My passion for each game is the same,” Hull said. “People were blowing this out of proportion all week about it’s mixed emotions for me. Each time I get out here to play, it’s a chance to glorify God and praise God for the blessings he has given me. The fact that I’m playing football is a great blessing. My passion to see this team succeed is just as high as it was (Saturday) as it is any Saturday.”
Hull said the touchdown catch was off a play Illinois had run all week and was similar to a play Purdue ran against the Bearcats the previous week.
“We saw the corner and safety back side where we saw a little vulnerable spot,” Hull said. “I kind of knew what we were looking for. The only trick was hiding underneath the linebackers to sneak in there.”
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
Linebackers sneaking in on the Cincinnati backfield was common.
Jonathan Brown led Illinois for the second straight game in tackles, making 14. It was the eighth double-digit tackle game of Brown’s career. Monheim also had double-digit tackle totals, making 10, including a sack.
“We’ve got great coaches,” Brown said. “They scout these guys like no other. We’ve got tip sheets. They prepare us well. We just went out there and made plays that we needed to make.”
Free safety Taylor Barton said having a presence like Brown brings much-needed confidence for the younger players on defense.
“He’s really the leader of our defense,” Barton said. “He’s a real vocal guy. He teaches everybody on the defense. He’s a big part of this defense, and it’d be a big deal if he wasn’t there. We like having him out there.”
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson ended up with the top two rushing totals for Illinois. Young had 64 yards on 14 carries and Ferguson finished with 47 yards on nine carries.
But wide receiver Ryan Lankford jump-started the run game with a 29-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter off a reverse. Not to feel left out, wide receiver Martize Barr added a 24-yard gain on a jet sweep in the second half.
“Prior to the game, we knew we were going to be able to get the ball to the outside on reverses (and) with the jet sweeps,” Beckman said. “Nathan made a couple of those calls. We give a senior that’s been here and understands the game of football, we give him the opportunity to utilize his football smarts. He put us in some good opportunities for some plus plays.”
Lankford said he saw some Illinois offensive linemen in front of him and had a feeling he was about to break a big play.
“That got me excited because I grabbed onto my linemen and just rode their hips,” said Lankford, whose rushing score was the first of his career. “I looked back and didn’t see anybody there, so I just turned it on.”
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
Evan Wilson’s eyes went wide with joy when talking about Cubit’s system before the season.
His eyes were probably that big when he found himself all alone for a 23-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
It was his first touchdown catch in 20 games. His 43 yards on two catches eclipsed his season stats from last year.
“The ball had that shining moment where it just kind of glowed up there,” Wilson said with a laugh. “We’d been killing them with the same route all day. Coach Cubit said, ‘Hey, we’re going to run this, and it’s going to be wide open.’ Sure enough, it was.”
Facing a third and 2 on the play, Scheelhaase quickly brought Illinois under center before executing a picture-perfect play-action fake, which had the desired result.
“He controls the tempo of the game very well,” Wilson said of the Illinois quarterback. “He just has a great understanding of everything that’s going on, and he knows how to get us in the right spots on the field. He’s really just an extension of Coach Cubit on the field.”
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
Illinois won the turnover battle Saturday, a key emphasis for Beckman. Barton had Illinois’ first interception of the season and first of his career. It was the lone takeaway on either side.
“It was more because of the rest of the defense,” Barton said. “The defense forced (Legaux) to throw a tough pass. It really forced him to throw it right to me. It was just a good call and good all-around defense.”
Barton saw the pass coming the whole way.
“He overthrew the guy coming down the middle of the field, so it was really right to me,” Barton said. “I just had to get down on my knees because it was a low ball.”
Seeing Barton force a takeaway left Thomas with a sense of pride.
“The entire summer and since the season started, I’ve been real hard on Taylor and the corners,” Thomas said. “I know they can be really good if they do their job and line up where they’re supposed to line up. I was happy for him and extremely proud of him that he was able to get an interception. When you see that happen, it’s almost like, ‘Yeah, we’re moving in the right direction.’ ”