CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Illinois put on a show for the dads in the building and blew out the RedHawks in a 50-14 victory over Miami (Ohio) on Dads Day at Memorial Stadium. Illinois has scored 40-plus points in three consecutive home games this season for the first time in Memorial Stadium history and its 161 points in the season’s first four games are a school record. The Illini finished with 601 yards of total offense, surpassing 600 yards for the first time since 2007.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase completed 19-of-24 passes for 278 yards and a career-high five touchdowns, including a school-record four TDs in the second quarter. And four of those five TDs went to tight ends, with Matt LaCosse catching two, and Evan Wilson and Jon Davis each grabbing one. Illinois also rushed for 289 yards.
Illinois pounded the ball on the ground to start the game with a series of first down rushes from Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young. Four minutes into the first quarter, Scheelhaase found LaCosse in the end zone for a two-yard touchdown pass, LaCosse’s first career touchdown, putting the Illini up 7-0.
A Scheelhaase interception gave Miami the ball on its own 21 yard line and the RedHawks began to drive, but the Illini defense stiffened at midfield and forced a punt.
After taking over deep in its own territory, Illinois used a flurry of chunk plays to quickly move down the field. Then Scheelhaase found Wilson in the back of the end zone and he made an incredibly athletic leaping catch for an eight-yard touchdown pass. Tim Russell added two with the two-point conversion pass to Davis, putting Illinois up 15-0 on the RedHawks minutes into the second quarter.
The Illini added some trickery on the ensuing kickoff, successfully capturing the on-side kick on Illinois‚ 44. Scheelhaase hit Steve Hull with a 30-yard pass, and then found Ferguson on a screen pass, which Ferguson turned into a 15-yard touchdown with a nifty stutter-step move to avoid a RedHawk defender and push the margin to 22-0.
„It was a quick little screen,” Ferguson said. „(We) slipped out a tight end to block and I just got around a block, and I knew it was just me and that guy and I had to beat him. I didn’t really think about it. I just let the training take over.”
The Illini defense forced its first three-and-out of the game, and then Scheelhaase found Hull again for a 29-yard gain to move into Miami territory. Ferguson followed suit with a 25-yard gain, and then Young took over. Scheelhaase handed the ball to Young for the next three plays, with the workhorse back picking up 31 yards to the Miami 4. The drive was capped off by another Scheelhaase touchdown pass to Davis, giving Illinois a 29-0 lead on Miami midway through the quarter.
„You need to continue to build the program,” head coach Tim Beckman said. „And we talked about coming out fast in this football game and doing what we felt was necessary. There were great touchdowns, and there were great runs and great tackles, but it was the lead-up plays that sometimes don’t get talked about. And those are the plays that this team is making, and that’s what you see as being so successful and winning football games for us, because we’re making those plays.”
With 6:02 left in the quarter, RedHawks’ quarterback Austin Boucher fumbled the ball on fourth down, giving the ball back to the Illini. Illinois didn’t waste any time and after Scheelhaase threw a screen pass to Ferguson, he threw a deep pass down the seam to LaCosse for a 45-yard touchdown to put Illinois up 36-0 with 5:18 left in the quarter. Scheelhaase’s pass to LaCosse marked his 12th touchdown pass on the season.
„I can’t say enough what Nate Scheelhaase has done,” Beckman said. „It’s not just about throwing touchdown passes. It’s about coming in on Mondays and over-studying so he can have the best opportunities to be successful. Sitting with Coach (Bill) Cubit and coming up with a plan that we know we can get adjusted on the football field through Nate. I think that Nate’s really buying into this system and you can see in the way he’s been playing. He grasps it and he loves doing this.”
At the half, Illinois had already accumulated 394 total yards of offense, the third-most in school history and the most since 1983.
„He’s changed the culture of our offense in the past year he’s been here,” Ferguson said of offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. „He’s a genius. He puts us all in the best positions for every single person. We’re just excited to be under his guidance.”
After Miami wasn’t able to convert in their first possession of the second half, the Illini took up the next five minutes with their next drive. Midway through the third quarter, Devin Church rushed for 12 yards and his first career touchdown, putting Illinois up 43-0.
Boucher and Spencer Treadwell went to work for Miami and started to move the ball on the ground. Boucher found Rokeem Williams for a 1-yard touchdown pass in the end zone with 2:09 left in the quarter. The touchdown was reviewed and confirmed, and got the RedHawks on the board, 43-7.
Reilly O’Toole checked in at quarterback for the Illini and had a pass intercepted by T.J. Williams at Illinois‚ 41 yard line. Eight plays later, Miami running back Grant Niemiec plunged in from one yard out to bring the RedHawks within 43-14.
O’Toole bounced back, engineering a drive that milked four minutes off the clock before freshman Aaron Bailey plunged forward for a six-yard touchdown run, making the Illini lead 50-14.
Photos: Fighting Illini