CHAMPAIGN — This will be an interesting week as the media try to get an accurate reading on Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase’s physical condition while head coach Tim Beckman presses ahead with his policy of not addressing injuries and keeping team practices closed to the public.
Scheelhaase left Illinois’ 24-7 season-opening victory over Western Michigan in the third quarter with an injury to his left ankle. He was treated on the Illini sideline, then carted to the locker room.
Backups Reilly O’Toole and Miles Osei finished out the game at quarterback. Scheelhaase was not available for postgame media interviews and Beckman was vague in describing his injury.
The obvious question is Scheelhaase’s status for this week’s game at Arizona State. Illinois travels to Tempe for a game that kicks off at 9:30 p.m. (CDT) Saturday. ESPN will televise.
While the media will pursue answers as to Scheelhaase’s status, Beckman is not interested in helping Arizona State with injury updates. Practicing to play against Scheelhaase, a quarterback who poses a definite running threat, would require a different type of preparation than practicing to face O’Toole, who is a less likely running threat. Beckman would probably like Arizona State to have to prepare for both of them, even if he knows Scheelhaase is unlikely to play.
The jousting begins today as Beckman meets the media this afternoon for his weekly press briefing. Based on his remarks to the Arizona State media on Friday, it’s clear new Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham has already been thinking about Scheelhaase.
“Obviously, they have some talented players,” Graham said when asked about the Illini. “They have a very athletic quarterback (Scheelhaase) who can make things happen with his legs. They have fast receivers. They have four defensive players who are big-time players. We’re going to play a very talented football team.”
Graham has no doubt received an inside report on Illinois’ personnel. Two of the Arizona State assistant coaches were on the Illini staff last season. Ron West was linebackers coach at Illinois and this season is Arizona State’s co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Chip Long is coaching the tight ends at Arizona State, just as he did at Illinois last season. So their input will be valuable as Arizona State hopes to build on its 63-6 victory over Northern Arizona on Thursday.
That outcome was a rout from the start. Arizona State led 42-0 at halftime. Sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly completed 15 of 19 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown. Running back Marion Grice carried 14 times for 107 yards and three touchdowns.
Sun Devil fans have been favorably impressed by Graham, who left Pittsburgh after just one season to replace Dennis Erickson. Early reports indicate that Graham’s team is more disciplined and plays with more urgency than Erickson’s teams.
Also a member of Graham’s staff is John Wrenn, the DeKalb native who was a longtime Illinois high school football coach and who coached wide receivers at Illinois for Mike White from 1985-86.