For the second week in a row not only will the Bearcats face a Big Ten opponent, but they will face a fifth-year senior quarterback. Rob Henry was a miserable failure in week one. Nathan Scheelhaase will have his chance at conference redemption Saturday in Champaign.
Coming off a pretty impressive individual performance (28-for-36, 416 yards and two TD passes), Scheelhaase will be setting out to prove it wasn't the result of playing against FCS Southern Illinois. He will also be out to prove his 2012 season (4 TD, 8 INT) was an anomaly. He'll get a big test Saturday when the Bearcats come rolling in fresh off their destruction of Purdue.
Unlike Rob Henry, Scheelhaase has proven to be much more capable of avoiding pressure and running with the ball. It's this agility that second-year head coach Tim Beckman is hoping will allow for more big plays on offense from his Illini. Only Oregon accounted for more plays over 30 yards than Illinois in Week One. But, again, they're not facing a Southern Illinois defense. However, despite the Bearcats routinely rotating fresh linemen, they were unable to consistently get to Rob Henry and flush him out of the pocket (perhaps that was a designed tactic?).
Helping Scheelhaase's cause this year is some better weapons, especially in the receiving corps. Ryan Lankford (6 catches, 115 yards) and Josh Ferguson (4-103) give Scheelhaase two pretty good targets. Also helping out (2-64) is Cincinnati (Sycamore) native Steve Hull, who is making a transition in his senior season to receiver from the defensive side of the ball. If you recall (and why would you since it was 6 years ago), Brian Kelly recruited Hull out of Sycamore to play safety for the Bearcats, but Illinois (promising Hull he could play WR) convinced him to come to Champaign...then switched him immediately to defense.
Scheelhaase did throw one interception last week, but otherwise was in control. Two of his other incompletions were thrown away due to pressure. The Bearcats were able to force Henry into some hurried throws last week and it cost him dearly. Scheelhaase will have to avoid these same types of decisions for his team to knock off the Bearcats.