CHAMPAIGN -- It has been a long time since Illinois fans witnessed a defense this unyielding.
Illinois’ 44-10 win over Purdue on Saturday means the team surrendered just 23 points the last two weeks.
The last time Illinois held consecutive Big Ten opponents to a combined 23 points, Butkus Award winners Dana Howard and Kevin Hardy led an all-star linebacking corps that included Simeon Rice and John Holecek. That 1994 crew bounced No. 17 Ohio State 24-10 before pounding Iowa 47-7.
Of course, Purdue didn’t exactly present the biggest challenge. The Boilers didn’t have their top two quarterbacks and their best running back and several top-flight receivers. In fact, they lost another receiver for the year with O.J. Ross went out in the first half and headed straight for Illinois' X-ray room.
Not that it matters to the Illini. Their confidence takes a quantum leap every week. This week, they unearthed some new players as Purdue double-teamed junior defensive tackle Corey Liuget more often than not.
“I’d say 60-40,” said Liuget, who settled for 3 tackles and an uncredited quarterback hurry.
Liuget’s double teams freed up fellow defensive tackle Akeem Spence, a redshirt freshman, for a career-high 8 stops. Freshman LB Jonathan Brown, who returned an interception for a score last week, subbed in for Ian Thomas when the game still mattered and added a career-high 8 tackles.
Eight players contributed tackles for loss while cornerback Justin Green came up fast and cracked running back Al-Terek McBurse to force a fumble that turned into a TD.
SCHEELHAASE’S CAREER DAY
Redshirt freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase piled up 195 passing yards, threw for 4 touchdowns without an interception and also ran for a career-high 118 yards.
But his biggest achievement Saturday might have been his consistent recognition of Purdue’s zone blitzes and other schemes. On several occasions, Scheelhaase audibled the Illini into the right protection and then hit the right receiver when the blitz came.
“With their blitzes and the things that they did,” Scheelhaase said, “if I was able to get into the right checks and get us into the right things, it was going to be a big help against them.
“We changed a lot of protections and even a lot of run plays. That’s kind of my responsibility.”
Scheelhaase tipped his cap to offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and tight ends coach Chip Long, who were up in the press box relaying the schemes between possessions. Petrino said Scheelhaase made the right calls most of the time.
If it seemed like the majority of Scheelhaase’s completions came on crossing patterns, that’s because they were. Purdue’s blitzes and other coverages lent them to such throws.
“A couple times it was because they were in man coverages and we were trying to get ‘rubs’ off of people,” Petrino said. “And a couple times they had zone blitzes and Nathan got us to the right protection check. And when you zone blitz, you void places. Usually, if you get the right checks, you can beat it. If you don’t, you get your quarterback killed.”
Scheelhaase got drilled once and took 3 sacks on the day, but bounced up every time.
Dan Dierking practiced little during the week due to a neck stinger, but the senior came off the bench to contribute 50 yards in 10 carries.
The Wheaton Warrenville South graduate leads the Boilers with 403 rushing yards. He’s averaging 6.0 yards per carry.
For Illinois, true freshman Austin Teitsma continued to sit out his redshirt year…but he maintained his victory tradition and did a postgame roundoff with offensive lineman Craig Wilson as they headed off the turf.
If you need a visual for your brain, that’s a 320-pound guy and a 240-pound guy looking like a pair of Shawn Johnsons in pads out there.