After a two-season stretch that saw Illinois football lose 16 out of 18 games, the team has raced off to a 3-1 start. To silence some of its doubters, second year coach Tim Beckman's spread attack has produced over 40 points per game. Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, in particular, has looked very comfortable at the reins of the offense, leading the Big Ten conference in total offense and passing efficiency thus far.
As the team heads to Nebraska this Saturday, Scheelhaase is the key to the team's success as it aims to compete in conference play one year after going winless.
The Illini offense is absolutely humming—just ask Miami (Ohio) or Cincinnati. And the team has already won more games than it did all of last season. But last year, the team started off 2-1 before losing its final nine games of the season, so what's different? Why won't this team lose out the rest of the year?
The difference is Scheelhaase. Through four games, Scheelhaase has played every bit the part of a star quarterback. He's completed 67.2 percent of his passes with 9.53 yards per attempt. His passer rating of 174.8 is best in the Big Ten and is 10th-best nationally. His 12 touchdowns are three times the amount he threw for last year, and he's finding ways to attack defenses in a number of ways: seven different Illini receivers have found the end zone.
But the most telling aspect of Scheelhaase's play has been his confidence. Unlike a year ago, he is firmly entrenched as the starter in Beckman's offense, and he's shown no signs of giving his spot up. The senior is the go-to guy in the offense, and he has made all the right plays. His level of comfort in the spread offense, in its second year, can't be overstated.
The team has the benefit of playing its top opponents (Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin) all at home this year, where Scheelhaase has been lights-out. It even mixes in winnable road games against Penn State, Indiana and Purdue. The schedule looks promising for Illinois' outlook, as they feel like they can put up points anywhere.
This Illinois football team is one looking to make a statement that its losing ways are a thing of the past. Thanks to its quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase, they might just be able to hold their own in the Big Ten.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com, and videos provided by Illini Productions.