Illini Take Down Salukis, Win Game They Should Have

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In the end it was a win that the Illini HAD to have.

Given the events of September 11th, 2010, it was far from a sure thing.

Though the Illinois Fighting Illini
brought home a 35-3 win Saturday night against Southern Illinois, it
wasn't like they did so with any particular panache. Still, with
Minnesota and Virginia Tech losing to 1-AA teams, and Washington State
needing 16 unanswered 4th quarter points to win by one, the win itself
is the most important part.

There were some impressive numbers, like Mikel Leshoure's 115 yards on just 15 carries. A. J. Jenkins furthered the thought that he was Nathan Scheelhaase's favorite target,
snaring 5 balls for 114 yards. Scheelhaase himself was fairly
impressive, throwing for 2 TD passes and 229 yards, all while completing
78 percent of his passes.

Still, you were left with the feeling after the game that Illinois
not only hadn't done much impressive during the game, but that Southern
Illinois had burned a whole lot of chances. In fact, the Salukis were in
the Illinois red zone 5 times during the game, and still could only
manage 3 points.

"Obviously, it's like I told the team in the locker room, it's hard
to win a football game," said master of the obvious, Illinois head coach
Ron Zook. "Games are hard to win. A lot of people don't realize that.
Do we have a long way to go? Absolutely. But the thing I thought was
very encouraging is the guys got better. And that's the thing we've got
to continue to do, to continue to get better.

"Defensively, we're getting more and more confidence. Offensively,
the offense, I think we're just a little, little bit away from really,
really taking off there," Zook continued. "I think that you all got to
see some of the things that we see Nathan do all the time. You know
where he looks like he's going to run out of bounds, and then throws a
touchdown pass right before. Or, when he's running past the line of
scrimmage and then pitches the ball of to Mikel on the option. I think
as he gets experience, he'll just get better and better."

While Zook continued to say a whole heck of a lot without saying much at all, the team was much more forthcoming.

Whitney Mercilus, starting in place of the suspended Michael
Buchanan, had a big game, recording his first career sack, two tackles
for a loss and forced a fumble.

"We're definitely giving the offense more looks, and that seems
confusing to the offense," Mercilus said. "They have to read a new
defense on every down. It's allowing us to play more aggressive than we
have been."

Practicing against the Illini offense is a big part of why this defensive unit is having success, Mercilus thinks.

"Oh wow, Coach Petrino, he is a genius," Mercilus said. "He gives you
so many different looks, it forces you to keep on your toes. It gives
you a lot of respect for his offense."

For Petrino's part, as long as we see the continued development of
young Scheelhaase, the offense will get even more diverse as the season
goes on.

"I think so, yeah, the more we improve and get more experience with
the quarterback and trust him, then yes, we'll continue to do that,"
Petrino said.

In all, it was a win. Nothing more.  Nothing much learned.

Perhaps, when Illinois puts its 12-0 record against the directional
Illinois schools on the line again next week against Northern Illinois,
we'll learn more.

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