Big day for Illini offense overshadowed by loss at Indiana

Big day for Illini offense overshadowed by loss at Indiana
November 11, 2013, 8:30 pm
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Vinnie Duber

You just knew that type of game was coming.

Saturday's Illinois-Indiana matchup was just the latest in a long line of shootouts at the IU corral this season, and with the way the Illini offense was playing, it was pretty obvious that type of contest was coming. Unfortunately for the Illini, the high-scoring battle didn't end their way, and in fact they lost by almost 20 points.

But don't heap too much blame on the Illini offense. That's the unit that's ranged from pretty good to great all season long, with only a couple of games where it was ineffective. Saturday was no exception to the general trend, with the offense posting 35 points on a whopping 612 total yards. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 450 yards and two touchdowns, rushing in for another score, and wide receiver Steve Hull had a monstrous day, catching nine passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.

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Hull, who switched from the defensive side of the ball during the offseason, wowed the most. But the big day didn't surprise his quarterback.

"It was a great game. Obviously he had the two real big touchdowns, and any time you can do that as an offense, get a quick strike, it helps you out a whole lot," Scheelhaase said during the team's weekly media availability on Monday. "It saves bullets, and you're not having to run a lot of plays to get points on the board. So that helps.

"He just stepped up and made a lot of plays for us, but in all honesty it's not something that is a surprise to me. I think when he moved over to the offensive side of the ball this winter, I knew he was going to be a playmaker for us and be able to help us out in big ways, not just in a couple catches here and there but in big ways."

Hull's big day was one for the record books. The 224 yards receiving are the second most in a single game by an Illinois receiver, second only to A.J. Jenkins' 268 yards, done on 12 catches vs. Northwestern in 2011.

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But perhaps lost in Hull's performance was the one of Scheelhaase, with the 450-yard day ranking as the fifth best single-game output in Illini history. Thanks to a lack of injuries, as well as Bill Cubit's revamped offense, Scheelhaase is having a great season even if it hasn't seen a lot of wins.

"The first thing is that I think he's healthy," head coach Tim Beckman said. "Last year, this only being my second year, he was not healthy. He was fighting to be the best player that he could be not being 100 percent. This year, Nathan Scheelhaase is 100 percent. I think the dedication he's shown through the summer of building his arm strength continues to impress me with what he's doing for us out there throwing the football. Schemes help, we can all see that and there's no question about that, but some of the credit has to go to Nathan and what Nathan's been doing personally."

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When it came to describing his personal accomplishments, Hull was modest, brushing aside his big day because his team didn't walk away with a win. And, in a way, that's a pretty good encapsulation of this Illinois season. The offense has been a big story, totally transformed from one of the nation's worst a year ago by new coordinator Cubit. But, while the numbers have looked great, while the performances have at times looked great, the offense's success hasn't changed the Illini's overall situation: They're still searching for their first conference win in two years, and it's very unlikely they'll reach the postseason.

"It wasn't me only," Hull said. "I know full well that without the guys up front protecting, without the other receivers throwing blocks, running good routes and Nate putting the ball on the money and Josh being such an attraction, there's no way it would've been the way it worked out. At the end of the day, my personal accomplishments don't mean anything without a win.

"That's really what it's about."