Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase needs to start making Plays with his Arm



Entering last Saturday, one of the keys to an Illinois upset over #2 Ohio State was for the Illini to attack the Buckeyes defense through the air. Sure, it’s the weakest part of this Illini team, but the Buckeyes are so stout against the run that making plays in the passing game was critical.

The Illini hung with ’em for all but the last couple minutes, but ultimately failed in their upset bid. They made some plays in the vertical passing game during the first quarter, but their final box score showed less than 140 yards passing for the game. And they enter this Saturday’s matchup with Penn State just 113/120 teams in all of FBS in passing offense.

We know that redshirt freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase has a great arm. We now need to see him use it. We’ve seen him beat people on the ground, now we need to see Scheelhaase do it through the air.

By Paul M. Banks


Scheelhaase knows improvement will come with time and experience, not just in the games but with practice too.

“You can never place getting reps,  I just want to make sure each rep I’m using it to get better. I’m taking on every rep as if it were a game rep,” he said.

And the coaching staff knows that Scheelhaase is a project, and he won’t develop into an all-conference QB overnight.

“They don’t as much try to mold us to a certain offense that they have, they mold their offense around what we do, and that’s how you want it as a player. Cuz there’s certain things you feel comfortable with. And if it’s something you love, they’ll work on you with it, so that they’ll feel comfortable with it,” Scheelhaase said.

“Because they do really tailor what they do to how their players play, what their players like, so it’s a players’ dream I promise you that,” he continued.

Maybe it’s time to take the training wheels off in the offensive playbook? Maybe it’s time to get more aggressive and throw down the field more?

Through four games, three of Scheelhaase’s passing box scores have been pretty ugly. The team only averages 130.5 passing yards per game, and Nathan himself averages 122.2. He did however earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors on Sept. 13 after completing 14-of-18 passes for 229 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against FCS opponent SIU. His 221.31 passer rating for that game is the sixth highest single-game efficiency rating in school history. (Obviously, that’s the one good game I was talking about)

He then ran for 115 yards on 15 carries against NIU, marking the seventh-best rushing game by a QB in school history. He also ran for 76 yards on 16 carries in the seasons opening loss to Missouri.

Eventually, #2 needs to be a dual-threat QB, not just a productive runner. And you don’t want your QB taking all those hits from game to game. So far, the coaches have approved of Scheelhaase’s fearless approach.

“They like that I’m out there trying to make plays. Coach Petrino talks about not turning down a hit, picking a side and getting a little lower,” he said.

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino summed up the key to making things happen and not worrying about injury.

“I was an option QB for four years, and if you just play fast and play hard that’s the best way to stay healthy. Be aggressive, that’s the best way to not get hurt.”

Paul M. Banks is President and CEO of The Sports , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox

He also does a regular guest spot each week for Chicagoland Sports

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank


  1. good photo, Paul!

  2. paulmbanks says

    it’s from the illinois official website. after media day. in the miami vice suit

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