CHAMPAIGN — Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wasn’t ready to concede the loss, and redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase protested being off-limits to tackles and the possibility of a big play. “I’ll never let (the defense) say they won when I have a red jersey on,’’ Scheelhaase said.
CHAMPAIGN — Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wasn’t ready to concede the loss, and redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase protested being off-limits to tackles and the possibility of a big play.
“I’ll never let (the defense) say they won when I have a red jersey on,’’ Scheelhaase said.
With the football season opener inching closer and the Illini preparing to shift from preseason camp to game preparation, the first-string defense scored a victory Saturday in an intrasquad scrimmage moved from Rantoul to Memorial Stadium because of wet conditions.
Going primarily against the second-string offense, the starting defense allowed 59 yards in 41 plays with nine touch sacks, although it did give up a 41-yard pass from freshman quarterback Miles Osei to wide receiver Jack Ramsey.
The defense also intercepted two passes by Scheelhaase and sacked freshman quarterback Chandler Whitmer in the end zone. It was the best performance by the defense in the preseason.
“It was a step forward,’’ defensive end Clay Nurse said. “We got a few turnovers, made some plays and got some sacks. When you come out of a scrimmage, you want the offense to do well and the defense to do well. It was much better than last weekend. Guys were running around making plays.’’
A week earlier, the defense allowed three plays of 40 yards or more in a scrimmage that was one-sided.
The defense still must cut down on giving up big plays, and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning wants to develop some depth. But he’s ready to get to Missouri, a team he faced as Kansas State co-defensive coordinator last season. Missouri beat the Wildcats 38-12.
“We probably played a little better (in the scrimmage) up front with the (first-string defense) than we did last week,’’ Koenning said. “If you correct the big plays, we’d have been all right last week. We did a little better job with what we did this week.’’
Bandit Michael Buchanan had three sacks to lead the defense. In three series in the red zone pitting the starters on offense and defense, the offense missed a field goal after a three-and-out, Scheelhaase threw an interception and the Illini scored on a 9-yard run. In the other series with starters vs. starters, the offense lost yardage.
“We picked up our intensity, and guys locked into their jobs,’’ Buchanan said. “Last Saturday was a big learning experience.’’
The Illini apparently would begin learning a lot more about Missouri on Monday or Tuesday if the coordinators had their way, but coach Ron Zook said he would push back most of the game preparation until the week prior to the opener against Missouri in St. Louis on Sept. 4.
“Probably early in the week, but that’s the head coach’s decision,’’ Petrino said. “We worked hard and got a game plan on them and know how to attack them. It comes down to when he wants to start practicing it.
“We got a lot better (in camp). We’ve got a lot of offense in there. We have to clean it up and start concentrating on Missouri.’’
Scheelhaase, who spent part of the summer watching all of Missouri’s games from last season, was 4-for-11 passing for 71 yards with the two picks in the scrimmage as the first-string offense scored touchdowns on its first two possessions on drives of 76 and 65 yards against the second string.
“A couple of (the Missouri game tapes) were better than some because those offenses run more of the stuff we run,’’ Scheelhaase said. “We definitely looked at them. Certain parts of the Kansas game, they did some similar stuff to when we spread the ball out. Colorado did some great things. You were able to see things Missouri does and get to prepare for it.’’
Running back Mikel Leshoure had 91 yards on 12 carries, including a 49-yarder for a touchdown. Osei was 9 for 16 with 185 passing yards and two touchdowns and put more heat on Chandler Whitmer for the No. 2 quarterback spot. Whitmer was 0 for 4. Receiver/quarterback Eddie McGee caught three passes for 56 yards and threw a 22-yard pass on a reverse.
The Illini were 0 for 4 on field goal attempts. First-string junior place-kicker Derek Dimke missed one, junior Matt Eller missed two and a botched snap and hold foiled the other try.
NOTES: Zook wouldn’t comment on the status of defensive back WALTER AIKENS, who received a 14-day sentence after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge. Aikens didn’t play in the scrimmage. . . . Fullback/tight end ZACH BECKER played sparingly, perhaps a sign that he has recurring foot pain. He underwent offseason surgery for stress fractures. . . . The Illini returned to campus from Camp Rantoul. Fall semester classes begin Monday.
John Supinie can be reached at 217-377-1977.
AT MEMORIAL STADIUM
Illini scrimmage statistics
RUSHING: Leshoure 12-91, Ford 9-47, Scheelhaase 9-7, Green 11-45, Whitmer 5-(minus-30), Pollard 8-24, Ramsey 1-(minus-2), Golden 11-22, Osei 5-(minus-1).
PASSING: Scheelhaase 4-11-2-71, Whitmer 0-4, McGee 1-1-0-22, Osei 9-16-0-185.
RECEIVING: McGee 3-56, Ramsey 2-54, Fayson 2-33, Lankford 2-44, Jenkins 1-29, Russell 1-17, Millines 1-14, Wilson 1-11, Viliunas 1-10, Hull 1-10.