Big Ten notebook: Illinois offense coming to life

2013-09-10T23:15:00Z 2013-09-11T00:07:04Z Big Ten notebook: Illinois offense coming to lifeBy BRIAN ROSENTHAL / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Nebraska’s first Big Ten Conference foe suddenly doesn’t look like the pushover many expected.

You can thank Bill Cubit for that.

The first-year Illinois offensive coordinator, with the help of a healthy, fourth-year starting quarterback, has breathed life into the Illini’s once-putrid offense.

Illinois, 2-0 heading into Saturday’s game with No. 19 Washington at Soldier Field in Chicago, has jumped at least 85 spots in the national rankings from last season in passing offense, passing efficiency, scoring offense and total offense.

In Saturday’s surprising 45-17 victory over Cincinnati, Illinois compiled 522 yards of offense, 27 first downs and was 9-of-15 on third downs. Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, a week after throwing for a career-high 416 yards against an FCS foe, threw for 312 yards and tied his career high with four touchdown passes.

That’s exactly how many touchdowns Scheelhaase threw all of last season.

Illinois coach Tim Beckman, in only his second season but already under fire after last season’s 2-10 record, said Scheelhaase battled through a knee injury that “was a lot worse than people thought” last season.

“What Nathan is, he’s a team player and he really tries to elevate his game to top notch for this football team,” Beckman said on Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference. “What he’s done so far this year, he’s proven he’s a very quality football player who can run our offense."

Scheelhaase is the first Illinois quarterback with back-to-back games of at least 300 passing yards since Juice Williams, and Illinois has 13 passing plays of at least 20 yards. Only Baylor has more.

Eleven different receivers caught passes against Cincinnati, so Cubit, head coach last season at Western Michigan, has plenty of options.

Illinois opens Big Ten play Oct. 5 against Nebraska in Lincoln.

Terry time?

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said he’s looking for somebody “to seize the moment” at quarterback.

That somebody just might be true freshman Damion Terry.

The highly touted dual-threat quarterback from Erie, Pa., is listed No. 2 on this week’s depth chart and will receive reps with the top offense in practice, along with sophomore starter Connor Cook.

Terry, who was ill last week then suffered a hand bruise, hasn’t played, and Dantonio said he wants to be “very sure” Terry is ready before burning his redshirt.

“You can’t put him in the game and say, ‘Oh, we made a mistake, he shouldn’t be playing,’ and then lose his redshirt,” Dantonio said.

“Sometimes it’s a slower process than maybe what many people would want to see, but I also believe that when you make a huge decision — and these are big decisions — that you do need to slow the game down in your decision making.”

Dantonio said he’d have to see an “absence of mistakes” in practice from Terry, especially the most elementary of mistakes, before he’ll play the newcomer.

Cook, senior Andrew Maxwell and redshirted freshman Tyler O’Connor have combined to go 29-of-62 passing with no touchdowns and no interceptions through two games. The offense has produced two touchdowns and ranks No. 112 nationally in total offense with 281 yards per game.

Miller’s status

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller threw the football Tuesday morning and was expected to see limited action in practice later in the day, coach Urban Meyer said, after Miller suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee  Saturday.

Meyer said he’d know more Wednesday about Miller’s availability for Saturday’s game at California, but he was “fairly optimistic” the junior would play.

Backup Kenny Guiton “did a very admirable job” in Miller’s absence, Meyer said.

“He’s a coach on the field, he gets you in the right play, he knows what to do,” Meyer said of Guiton, who was 19-of-28 for 152 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over San Diego State. “He distributes the ball very well."

Etc.

* Beckman said he was "totally shocked" at a Sports Illustrated report that claims Oklahoma State players have received improper benefits, including cash payments, over the past 13 years. Beckman was defensive coordinator for the Cowboys in 2007 and 2008.

* Minnesota junior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during Saturday's game at New Mexico State and will miss the rest of the season. Boddy-Calhoun, who started the season opener against UNLV, had an 89-yard interception return in that game.

Reach Brian Rosenthal at 402-473-7436 or brosenthal@journalstar.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBR.

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