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updated: 9/7/2012 5:21 PM

Illini QB a game-time decision against Sun Devils

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  • Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase runs with the ball last Saturday against Western Michigan in Champaign.

      Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase runs with the ball last Saturday against Western Michigan in Champaign.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The football programs of Illinois and Arizona State are under new management, and the meeting of the two teams Saturday night is supposed to be the first serious test for both first-year coaches.

But the Illini may be playing without their usual No. 1 quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase, a 27-game starter. Even if he does go, he could be hobbled by the left ankle he injured in last weekend's 24-7 victory over Western Michigan.

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Coach Tim Beckman said Scheelhaase's participation is a game-time decision. If he doesn't go, Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei are the backups. Beckman won't say which is the top alternative, only that they "are probably neck and neck."

Scheelhaase threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Lankford and ran 4 yards for a score last week before leaving the game with the injury in the third quarter. The junior quarterback is sixth in Illinois career total offense and ninth in completions and yards passing.

"He's doing everything he can to be able to play," center Graham Pocic said. "If he can't play, it's not his fault."

Pocic said the offense played "just good enough to win" in the opener.

"As a group we really weren't happy with the way we played," he said. "We left a lot of points on the field."

Arizona State's offense did just fine in its first game, but the Sun Devils are stepping up the level of competition considerably after routing Northern Arizona 63-6 in Todd Graham's debut as Sun Devils coach.

"I think the first five games of this season are so critical to us as a program," Graham said. "Obviously, they get harder and harder. It jumps up a whole bunch harder this week."

The Illini "allowed" minus-6 yards rushing in their season opener. The Sun Devils, led by Cameron Marshall, rolled up 305 yards, their most in 11 years, on the ground against outmatched Northern Arizona. The confident Illinois defense promises there will be no lighting up the scoreboard by Arizona State this time.

"I guarantee they won't have a game like they did in the first game," Illini defensive end Michael Buchanan said.

Illinois would love it to be a low-scoring, defensive struggle in the desert, especially if the team is without its quarterback, who is a threat to move the ball through the air and on the ground. But the Sun Devils want to speed things up, an aspect of the game that disappointed Graham in the opener.

"It was the worst thing about week one," he said. "Our tempo was very, very, very slow. We are waiting on the defense. It's like we are being courteous to them and letting them line up."

That worked well against Northern Arizona. It won't against the veteran Illinois defense.

"They know what it is to play Big Ten football," Beckman said.

The Illini intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble against Eastern Michigan.

It will be a far more severe test for Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly, a redshirt sophomore who completed 15 of 19 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown in his debut last week.

"Illinois' defense is special," Graham said, "probably four players that I think are really dynamic and all 11 players are very explosive. (They have) a very good back end, a very good linebacking corps and a very, very good defensive line."

Beckman was equally praising of Arizona State.

"Anybody that can score that many points can be pretty darn good, regardless of who you're playing."

With different coaches in different systems, the team's played last season at Illinois, with the Illini pulling out a 17-14 victory. It was their first win over a Pac-10 (now Pac-12) team in a decade.

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