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Posted on Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

Reporter: Michigan should expect strong game from Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase

By Kyle Meinke


Illinois quarterback Nate Scheelhaase jukes a Michigan defender last season, when the Wolverines scored a wild 67-65 triple overtime winat Michigan Stadium. file photo

Not long ago, the Illinois football team was 6-0 and the No. 16 team in the nation. Heading into their game against Michigan on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC), the Illini are trying to snap a three-game losing streak.

"Everything that went right during the 6-0 start has seemed to go wrong during the 0-3 run," Illinois beat writer Bob Asmussen of the Champaign News-Gazettte writes in our weekly Beat Writer Breakdown.

What's going right for the Illini is they had an off week last week. Asmussen said the team look tired in losses to Purdue and Penn State, and that quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will particularly benefit from the week off.

Scheelhaase had a monster game against Michigan last season (211 yards passing, 101 yards rushing), when the Wolverines pulled off a wild 67-65 triple overtime win. Asmussen thinks he could have a better game this weekend.

Illinois has lost three in a row after opening 6-0. Why the derailment?

Bob Asmussen: It's been a combination of things. Against Ohio State, Illinois turned the ball over three times and the Buckeyes had none. In a 10-point game that was the difference. Against Purdue, Illinois fell behind and couldn't fight its way back. Against Penn State, Illinois played very good defense all the way until the final two minutes, then let the Nittany Lions score the winning touchdown on a long drive. Special teams have been a major contributing factor in the Purdue and Penn State losses. Purdue smothered one punt, which led to a touchdown. Penn State smothered another, which led to a field goal that was the deciding score. And Illinois is getting nothing from its return teams. Derek Dimke, who is as reliable as they come, hit the upright against Penn State on the final play. Everything that went right during the 6-0 start has seemed to go wrong during the 0-3 run. And I'm sure the confidence of the players and coaches is eroding some.

The Illini have been surprisingly tough on defense this year, allowing only 17.2 points per game. What's working, and what do you expect them to do to try to contain Denard Robinson?

BA: The biggest surprise of the team, by far, is the line. It lost Corey Liuget a year early to the NFL. It was supposed to be a major weakness. But ends Whitney Mercilus and Michael Buchanan have been big all season.

You knew they were good players, but they have taken an unexpected step. I also think you have to credit coordinator Vic Koenning, who can make his defenses work at times with smoke and mirrors. Illinois will try to make Denard throw, not that that worked last season. But I think the Illinois defense wants to limit the damage he does with his legs. I don't think a mobile quarterback bothers this defense as much as it might have in the past. One other guy I better mention is linebacker Jonathan Brown. He's been playing at an All-Big Ten level all season. And he's just a second-year guy.

QB Nathan Scheelhaase killed Michigan last year, throwing for 211 yards, running for 101 more, accounting for four touchdowns and leading the Illini to 65 points. However, Michigan's defense also is much improved. Do you expect him to have success again this year against the Wolverines?

BA: Nobody on the team needed a week off more than Scheelhaase. He was clearly not himself in the last couple of games. I think a lot of that is the physical pounding he has been taking. He seems to have lost a step in the last couple of weeks. I'm guessing he will be back to his old self. With Jason Ford running better, the lanes should open for Scheelhaase as both a passer and a runner. I think he could be in for a big game, with maybe more passing yards than a year ago and fewer running yards.


Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins.

AP Photo

KM: Where will be Michigan's biggest matchup disadvantage on the field?

BA: I think it's receiver A.J. Jenkins against the Michigan secondary. He's already gone over 1,000 yards and has a knack for finding holes in the defense. If the weather cooperates, he will have a chance for a big game. The advantage grows even more if one of the other Illinois receivers, maybe Spencer Harris, gets off to a good start and draws some of the attention away from Jenkins.

Is Ron Zook running out of time at Illinois?

BA: Maybe. He's got two years left on his contract after this season. So, new athletic director Mike Thomas will either need to move on or add years to Zook's contract. The latter wouldn't be a popular move with some of the Illinois fans, but it might be a more appealing option to Thomas than starting over. Zook has already got the team in a bowl and has a chance for consecutive bowl wins for the first time in school history. That can't be ignored. But Thomas will make a decision based on where he thinks the program is going, not where it's been.

Bob Asmussen's prediction:

Illinois 31, Michigan 30. I'm very conflicted on this one. I was all ready to pick the Wolverines until they lost at Iowa. I think the week off will be big for Illinois, which looked tired against Purdue and Penn State. If Illinois wants to win the game, it can't get off to slow starts like it has in the three losses.

Bob Asmussen covers Illinois football for the Champaign News-Gazette. Follow him on Twitter @BobAsmussen.

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 3:52 p.m.

A loss here for Michigan would bring back the "post-MSU meltdown" claims once again. This is actually the turning point for Hoke's program (although not to the extent it was for Rodriguez). Hoke will be saved for the right reason: even with a 7-5 season, it's his FIRST not his THIRD season. The other saving factor: at least Hoke's Wolverines are showing more steadiness and only seem shaky on the "predictably uneven" offensive side. This won't be a 130 point game as it was last time they met Illinois. But Michigan will be lucky indeed to pull of a win this year. All is not doom and gloom however; Bo's first season was actually no better: the fantastic '69 win against the Buckeyes reversed what was going to be an otherwise "mediocre" start for the New Coach from Ohio. :-)


Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 3:42 p.m.

If Michigan plays offensively like last week then I think the Illini win. Borges and co. simply cannot leave points on the board. Let Denard "nard it" and the Wolverines should win. If he is trying to be the QB that Borges WANTS him to be and he thinks too much, chalk up a L. Go Blue!!!


Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 1:45 a.m.

It's certainly an extremely important game, especially with Michigan having only won one of thier past 3 games. A win here would boost confidence big time a put a stop to UM's mini-slide. Is it a MUST WIN, make or break the season? Yeah, if they can't beat Nebraska or Ohio, then it is a MUST WIN. However, if they can beat Nebraska, Ohio, or BOTH, then this game would no longer be looked at as a MUST win since beating one of the other two teams would be bigger than this one as far as the 'big picture' of the overall season is concerned. Don't get me wrong, this game is very important, the team and fans want it badly, and 100% focus should be on Illinois. But, it can only become a 'must win' in hindsight if UM doesn't win against either of thier last two least in my opinion.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 10:32 p.m.

This will be a very good match up. Maybe our beat writers ought to be telling the IL fans that they should expect a strong game from Denard, as he'll use his feet more, plus watch out for our recievers and our defense.

Wally the Wolverine

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 10:12 p.m.

Extremely high pucker factor for this one. Simply a MUST WIN no matter how you cut it.