O'Toole paces Illinois to blowout over Charleston Southern

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O'Toole paces Illinois to blowout over Charleston Southern

CHAMPAIGN Reilly OToole was locked in on Saturday. Starting in place of injured quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, the sophomore completed his first 10 passes against Charleston Southern University en route to a school-record 83.8 percent completion rate.

OToole was so locked in he didnt even realize it, though.

Its pretty cool to have the record. I didnt notice that, he said. When you have guys running great routes and theyre open it makes the game a lot more fun because youre just pitching and catching.

After Illinois 44-0 drubbing of CSU, the Wheaton Warrenville South product was remarkably calm. Against the Buccaneers, OToole completed 26 of 31 passes for 333 yards, including five touchdowns. The anxiety and excitement of his big day had not shaken him, or changed his priorities after the game.

OToole said he would probably celebrate the win with his parents, in town to watch him play, rather than hitting the town.

Im not much of a dancer, he said with a laugh.

After uneventful first possessions for both teams the OToole show started. Freshman Mason Monheim picked off CSU quarterback Derek Hatcher to set the Illini up on the Bucs seven yard line. Three plays after the pick OToole capitalized on the visitors mistake, finding Ryan Lankford on an out route in the back corner of the endzone from four yards.

On the next Illinois possession coach Tim Beckman showed a good deal of faith in his young quarterback. Just a week after a nightmarish trip to the desert to play Arizona State, Beckman put the ball in OTooles hands on fourth down and four to go from the CSU 19.

OToole rewarded his coach by hitting Lankford on a 10-yard pass to set up the Illini inside the 10 yard line of CSU. Three plays later OToole and Lankford connected again, this time on a five-yard pass to the left side for a touchdown.

Lankford was OTooles favorite target early in the game and just before the end of the first quarter the two connected for a 23-yard reception. Then, on the first play of the second quarter, OToole went over 100 yards passing as he found the junior over the middle for a 45-yard completion.

In the second half the Buccaneers paid a little more attention to Lankford, mostly taking him out of the game. OToole did not let it disrupt his passing game, though.

OToole looked for new targets, and on Illinois first play of the second half he hit Justin Hardee over the middle on a 48-yard completion. Two plays after the deep pass, OToole found Spencer Harris cutting through the middle of the field for a 24-yard touchdown.

OToole went on to find two more receivers for touchdowns. Late in the third quarter he and Jon Davis connected for a 20-yard score, then shortly into the fourth Donovonn Young got on the receiving end of a 23-yard touchdown pass. Having so many weapons to turn to was just one of the blessings OToole had on Saturday, though.

Reilly had great protection, Reilly had receivers that were getting open and Reilly will probably be the first one to tell you that too, Beckman said. Im proud of the way he came in. He performed. I think our offensive staff did a great job of enabling to hit some people that were open.

It was a team effort, he added.

There was just one mistake for OToole against CSU. After his 48-yard connection with Hardee he put a little too much air on a pass to the endzone and was picked by Bucs cornerback Charles James.

Even with the interception OToole had a great day, though. A school record for completion percentage and a career high in receiving yards could not guarantee OTooles status as starting quarterback, though. After the game Beckman gave no indication of who would feature behind center for the Illini against Louisiana Tech next week, commenting that the job must be won in practice.

Its about competition. Nathans won football games also, but Reilly keeps getting himself better, he said. Thats why we compete on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Despite his uncertain status OToole remained respectful. He emphasized his commitment to the team, but indicated he would be ready to take advantage of every opportunity given to him.

Scheelhaase and I are preparing every week like were going to play, so nothing changes for next week. Were all just getting in the film room, helping each other and trying to get better for next week, he said.

Week Three Notebook

- The Illini's wideouts are high on confidence after their big day against CSU. With 365 of Illinois 479 yards coming through the air, the performance might be hard to repeat, however. Just three of the ten players to make a reception on Saturday were upperclassmen, but because of their hard practices OToole thinks the young players could continue to perform well for Illinois moving forward.

It really helps us out a lot that we go against a great defense day-in and day-out, he said. We saw Fritz Rock make a few great plays, and Kenny Knights in there. Then Justin Hardee a true freshman came in and made a few huge plays today.

- The only Illinois rushing touchdown of the day came on a fourth and one rush by Dami Ayoola, midway through the second quarter. The freshman running back plowed into the Bucs defense to get the yard he needed and never stopped moving his legs. He broke free of the pack and saw nothing but space between him and the endzone. Ayoola finished the 28-yard run easily to score Illinois third touchdown of the game. The hard run from Ayoola impressed Beckman.

He runs with great passion when he runs the football, and hes not a quitter, he said. Im proud of the way he performed and did what he needed to do to get in the endzone.

Ayoola finished the game with 55 yards on the ground. Illinois had a total of 114 yards rushing against CSU.

- The Illinois defense struggled to communicate last week, with some defenders following dummy calls from the sidelines and running the wrong play. The communication issues were a point of emphasis for Illinois in practice this week and the preparation paid off, as the team had no problems with play calls on Saturday.

No question communication was better today, Beckman said That was a problem last week and that was fixed. We made sure that wouldnt happen again.

- The Illini went for it three times on fourth down against CSU, converting twice both times with OToole under center. Beckman said the aggressiveness on fourth down was something he brought with him from Toledo and something he expects to continue doing.

Were trying to make the Fighting Illini better, if that means going for it on fourth down then that means going for it on fourth down, he said.

- Though CSU is an FCS team, the Illini did not take anything away from their opponent after the win. Beckman credited his 19 seniors with the win on Saturday, praising them for challenging the rest of the team to play better.

Senior defensive end Michael Buchanan said this win was important because it would help the team as they move onto bigger opponents.

It doesnt matter who you play, its all about every man on the defense doing their job, hustling and being accountable. So it doesnt matter who we play, we have to execute and handle our business the right way, he said.

- Next weeks opponent does appear to be a step-up for the Illini in terms of competition, though. Beckman pointed out how fast Louisiana Tech plays, noting they had 101 offensive snaps in Week 2 against Houston.

The Illini appeared ready to move on and prove they are better than the group who lost at Arizona State, however.

This game definitely gets the ball rolling, Lankford said. We knew that we could come in and play well today and right back on track. We lost last week but were not far from our goal.

We prepare like were playing the New York Giants every week, and nothing is going to change with our film watching or practicing. Well be ready to play. OToole added.

Monday on CSN, CSNChicago.com: Bulls introduce Denzel Valentine

Monday on CSN, CSNChicago.com: Bulls introduce Denzel Valentine

The Bulls will introduce first round draft pick Denzel Valentine on Monday at the Advocate Center, and CSN has you covered all the way.

Tune in to CSN Chicago or catch a live stream on CSNChicago.com at 11 a.m. as GM Gar Forman and head coach Fred Hoiberg introduce Valentine, the Michigan State senior whom the Bulls selected 14th overall in last week's NBA Draft.

Valentine, last year's AP Player of the Year, became the first player in NCAA history to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in a single season. The shooting guard's versatility and ability to shoot from the perimeter will make him a perfect fit in Fred Hoiberg's system, and his passing will help in the wake of the Bulls dealing Derrick Rose to the Knicks.

Check out our coverage of Valentine and the rest of the Bulls draft:

Bulls 'absolutely thrilled' to land Denzel Valentine

Gar Forman shoots down Jimmy Butler trade talk

How the NBA cap spike will affect the Bulls

Bulls get 'a well-rounded player' in Paul Zipser

How the Bulls' Central Division foes fared in the 2016 NBA Draft

White Sox Road Ahead: Heating up on the South Side

White Sox Road Ahead: Heating up on the South Side

CSN's JJ Stankevitz and Siera Santos discuss the struggles of James Shields while also going over a difficult upcoming series for the White Sox in this week's Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana Honda dealers.

On the back of Chris Sale and his 13th win, the White Sox are back to .500 after taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays.

The South Siders have now won five of their last seven games, and won back-to-back series for the first time in nearly two months. They're now 2.5 games behind the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot and are playing much better baseball as they head toward the All-Star break.

Hear what JJ Stankevitz and Siera Santos had to say about their big week, as well as their upcoming three-game series against the Twins, in this week's Honda Road Ahead video above.

White Sox win consecutive series for first time since late April

White Sox win consecutive series for first time since late April

The White Sox have been adamant the baseball they’ve played the past six weeks isn’t far removed from their torrid start to the season.

Now they have something to show for it.

Courtesy of a 5-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox have back-to-back series victories for the first time since they swept the Texas Rangers and Toronto two months ago. With five wins in their last seven tries, the White Sox improved to 38-38 as they head into a much-needed day off.

“It’s huge,” said outfielder J.B. Shuck, whose second homer in as many days provided an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. “You feel kind of a weight lifted off the shoulders in the clubhouse. We’ve been grinding. Even some of our losses, we’ve been in games. We’ve come back, we’ve given ourselves a chance and one thing here or there kind of led us to losing and now it’s starting to work for us a little bit.”

A week ago the White Sox were coming off yet another demoralizing road sweep against an AL Central opponent. They had played well in two of three contests against the Cleveland Indians but came up empty. That sweep followed one at the Detroit Tigers earlier in the month and another previous one during a hellish May weekend in Kansas City.

But starting with an extra-innings win at the Boston Red Sox on Monday night, the White Sox have started to put things together more consistently than they had of late.

They capitalized on good pitching in the first two victories over the Red Sox and then the offense did the heavy lifting in an 8-6 win on Wednesday. Though they didn’t close out a sweep of Boston, the White Sox carried it over to their home series against Toronto.

“We need some of those,” said closer David Robertson, who retired the side on 10 pitches in the ninth to convert his 20th save. “When you get your butt kicked and you get swept in places, you gotta come home and win some games. We’re playing a lot better baseball. We’re pitching better. Hopefully it continues and we stay strong.”

Sunday’s victory was full of quality play in all aspects for the White Sox.

-- Chris Sale was dominant for seven of eight innings and earned his 13th victory in 15 decisions.

-- Robertson’s inning aside, Sale gave the bullpen another critical day of rest.

“It’s kind of relaxing,” reliever Zach Duke said.

-- Beginning with Adam Eaton’s major-league leading 10th outfield assist in the first inning, the defense turned in several big plays behind Sale, including double plays in the fourth and seventh.

-- The offense provided several timely hits, whether Melky Cabrera’s two-out RBI single in the third or Shuck’s solo homer to increase the lead back to three runs in the eighth.

Now the White Sox have a day to rest before they continue their homestand on Tuesday with the first of three against the Minnesota Twins.

“I like the way we're playing,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think offensively, we're swinging it a little bit, doing some things, and playing defense along with it. That's a good sign for us to be able to continue to do that. Pitchers are getting back to being healthy and getting after it. I like the way this is headed. I like the fire that these guys have shown and bouncing back in some tough situations.”