Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase 'back to himself,' still presents danger for Michigan
ANN ARBOR -- Lately, Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase hasn't looked like the player who has thrown 30 touchdowns and ran for 11 more over the past two seasons.
Bothered by a bum ankle early this season, the Illini dual-threat quarterback looked rather one-dimenional over his first three appearances of the 2012 campaign.
He missed two games due to injury, and in his first three contests, he rushed for just 11 yards on 20 carries.
But after an 84-yard game on the ground last week at Wisconsin, the Illini finally believe they've got their old signal-caller back -- the same one who has created matchup problems for Big Ten defenses since beginning his career in 2010.
"Nathan is back to himself," said Illinois coach Tim Beckham, who will lead his team into Michigan Stadium on Saturday to take on the 25th-ranked Wolverines (3:30 p.m., ABC). He's back to Nathan Scheelhaase."
Scheelhaase's ankle may be healed, but Illinois' pass-protection isn't. The Illini have allowed a league-worst 20 sacks through six games this season.
Some of that, Beckham says, is on the offensive line. The rest of it, however, is on Scheelhaase.
"We, as an offensive football team, have got to protect Nathan and he's got to feel a bit better in the pocket when the pressure is on him," he said. "We've got to create better opportunities for Nathan and we've got to protect him better."
Last year against Michigan, Scheelhaase was successfully bottled up by a Wolverine defense that turned in arguably its best overall performance of the season. The quick-footed Illini quarterback ran for just 14 yards on 16 carries, and went 16-for-31 with zero touchdowns and one interception through the air.
A far cry from 2010, when he accounted for four touchdowns in a crazy 67-65 overtime Michigan victory in Ann Arbor.
He's had injury issues this season, his offensive line hasn't been great and Michigan had his number a year ago.
However, the Wolverines aren't sleeping on him.
Bad starts don't mean everything.
"He's a tough guy to defend," Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "He's a competitor. If no one's open, he's going to take off running. He doesn't look like he's a 4.5 (40-yard dash) guy, but he always seems to get the yardage necessary to get a first down.
"He's the kind of quarterback, that as a defense, you'd better make sure you're playing. He's a tough, competitive football player."