Nathan Scheelhaase has had an up-and-down career at Illinois, but he proved, once again, how good he can be when things go well against Miami (OH).
The senior quarterback was excellent in the team's third win of the season, which is more than the Fighting Illini had all of last year. He threw five touchdown passes in the first half, building up a 36-0 lead at intermission.
By the end of the game, Illinois came away with a 50-14 win to get halfway to bowl eligibility at 3-1. Scheelhaase finished 19-for-24, 278 passing yards, five touchdowns and only one interception.
Paul Myerberg of USA Today provided a historical look at the performance:
Nathan Scheelhaase with 5 TD passes w/ 5:18 left in 1st half; ties Illini record for TDs in a half, 1 shy of single-game school record— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) September 28, 2013
While he did not break the school record, this was still an excellent showing for the four-year starter. The Big Ten Network provided highlights of the game on its Twitter account:
Clearly, Miami is not the best team in the country. The squad is now 0-4 and has allowed 39.3 points per game defensively. This helped on some of the longer runs after catches to get into the end zone.
Still, Scheelhaase was impressive in the win. He not only made strong, accurate passes throughout the game, but he was making great decisions in the pocket. He went through his progressions to find the open man, and he was confident on play-action passes.
How many games will Illinois win this season?
These are things that the quarterback did not show very often last season. Despite starting in 10 games, Scheelhaase completed only four touchdown passes to go with eight interceptions. In fact, his production has decreased every year since throwing 17 touchdowns in his freshman season.
The key factor for him to have success is taking what the defense gives him. When he struggles, it is usually because he is trying to do too much, and he ends up completing a low percentage of passes. That was on display in the last game when he only completed nine of his 25 attempts in a loss to Washington.
He came back strong against Miami, though, posting a 79.2 completion percentage by finding the open man every time. This was the second-best mark in any game of his career.
If he can continue to do this, Illinois has a chance to do some big things this year. The squad has three high-scoring victories, and Scheelhaase has been great in all of them. Each game featured a completion percentage of over 70 and a combined 11-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
This type of strong play and confidence will keep the offense running smoothly, which gives the Illini hope to outscore a number of tough opponents on the schedule this season. After a couple of disappointing years, this will likely lead to an appearance in a quality bowl game.
Of course, it all comes down to consistency for Scheelhaase. He might not put up five touchdowns every game, but he can take his team far by continuing the same type of confidence, accuracy and decision-making ability that was on display Saturday.
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