CHAMPAIGN - Illinois ran by South Dakota State 56-3 on Saturday in the first meeting between the two schools. It was the largest point total for the Fighting Illini at home since 2002 and the largest margin of victory since the WWII era.
"We saw a lot of improvements this week," Head Coach Ron Zook said after the game. "I think the best part about today's game was the improvement from last week to this week in the areas we thought we needed to work on. I'm proud of the guys for working hard in practice and then bringing it to the field."
Illinois did a large amount of their damage on the ground against the Jackrabbits, who play in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Today's total of 364 yards rushing marked the most at Memorial Stadium since Oct. 31, 2009, when Illinois had 377 rushing yards against Michigan.
Troy Pollard led the way with a career high 101 yards, while quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase recorded 93 yards on just 9 carries. Freshman Donovonn Young chipped in with 65 yards and scored his first two touchdowns as an Illini, including an impressive 41-yard scamper off tackle in the second quarter. Another freshmen running back, Josh Ferguson, also saw significant action.
"Both of the young freshman played well today and that's great for their confidence," Zook said. "I'm really happy for Troy though because he's worked so hard here and you love to see all of that work pay off for a great kid."
Overall, Illinois out-gained SDSU 519 to 96. It was the first time since 1998 that the Illini defense kept an opponent under 100 total yards. The Jackrabbits averaged just 1.0 yds per carry on the ground.
"The defense really played well today," Zook said. "They think SDSU only got a few first downs out there when we had our starters in and that's what we need our guys to do. There's no question that next week Arizona State will be a tough test but I like where we're at as a defense."
The Fighting Illini jumped out to a 21-0 lead early and never looked back. After a three and out on their first drive of the game, the Illini marched 80 yards on 10 plays on their next possession, capped off by Young's first touchdown from 2 yards out.
Of Illinois' 12 drives, the Orange and Blue scored touchdowns on eight of them, including seven of eight drives from the first quarter to the third. In just over one half of play, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase connected on 6-8 passes for 102 yards before being relieved by Miles Osei and Reilly O'Toole.
"My hopes were that we could get Nathan (Scheelhaase) out early and we did," Zook said. "I got a little concerned at the beginning of the third quarter when Nathan was taking some shots running the ball but that's just how he plays the game and you don't want to take that away from him. We got to get some young guys out there in the second half and that's going to pay off down the road."
The Jackrabbits passing attack could never get on track, as the Illin harrassed SDSU quarterback Thomas O'Brien, limiting him to just 8-18 passing and two interceptions - one each for Trulon Henry and Supo Sanni.
Illinois is back in action next Saturday versus Arizona State. Kickoff is set for 6:00 pm CT at Memorial Stadium.
Notes and Quotes
Illinois rushed for six touchdowns against SDSU, equaling a mark last reached during the 2006 season, when the Illini tallied six rushing touchdowns against Eastern Illinois.
Illinois' three quarterbacks combined to complete 16-18 (.889) passes, breaking the school record for single-game completion percentage.
True freshman Reilly O'Toole finished a perfect 9-for-9 passing with 50 yards and his first career touchdown .
In two games during the 2011 season, the Illinois defense has allowed only 18 points. That marks the first time since the beginning of the 1999 season that Illinois held its first two opponents to fewer than 19 points.
Senior full back Zach Becker suffered an ankle injury that Zook said could end his season.
After playing the entire game last week versus Arkansas State without a penalty, the Illini were flagged for 5 penalties for 37 yards against SDSU.
Zook will be looking to improve the Illini kick coverage that yielded a 47 yard return to SDSU red-shirt freshman Zach Zenner. In two games, Illinois opponents are averaging 21.9 yards on kick returns, while the Illini have managed just 17.0.
The large marin of victory allowed the Illinois staff to get reps for some of their underclassmen. A few of the young players who saw action were CB Valdon Cooper, TE Matt LaCosse, WR Fritz Rock, LB Ralph Cooper, LB Henry Dickinson, and OL Alex Hill.
Illinois Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase:
"Yeah, we're pumped about it (Playing ASU). All the players wanted to get to this point and be 2-0. We know it's going to be a big week of preparation. We're excited, they had a good game last night (OT win over Missouri) and they're coming into our place. We know it's going to be a hostile environment"
Illinois Free Safety Supo Sanni:
"I always like playing Safety. I've been playing this position for a long time. It just pays off when you go out on the field. I got into a rhythm that I was able to carry throughout the game."
Illinois Head Coach Ron Zook:
"That play (Henry Interception) was kind of the play, to me, that sparked everything, sparked the whole football team. Once again, Trulon just gets better and better and like I said before, Saturday's he plays well."
"Obviously you feel awful for Zach Becker. Here's a guy who's had some tough times and it looks like it's an ankle. You know he's probably going to be out for the year. Tough break, you feel bad for him. I told him in the locker room, that's why you play every play like it's your last because you never know. It's the bad part about the game."
"Winning is a lot more fun than losing and I think our guys feel good about where we are. I think once again the locker room felt good. It's exciting, but they understand that we've got a long way to go and that's the thing I like about them."
South Dakota State Head Coach John Stiegelmeier:
"We came here to try to play our best football. You know it's hard to measure yourself without film. The University of Illinois is a good football team, a very good football team, and its hard, without looking at the film, I don't think we came close to playing up to our potential. Again a huge part of that is Illinois' ability, their coaching, and their players. I'm disappointed for our players but I expect us to rebound because we have a bunch of winners on our football team."
"We never got any momentum today. We got one stop on defense, but after that it was a long day. When they ran the option, I mean holy nutmeg, that's where you start your defense, they average 7,8,9,10 yards a carry."
South Dakota State Quarterback Thomas O'Brien:
"They (Illinois) are a really good defense. I don't know if they necessarily presented anything differently than Nebraska or Minnesota, but when you are facing a team like that you have to capitalize and that is what we didn't do. We can't be defined as a team by what another team does. If they are scoring a bunch of points, we have to do our own thing. We have to do our job"
South Dakota State Defensive Back Skyler Luxa:
"Just too many mental mistakes and we didn't tackle as a team. It has to be better if you play a team like them. They are a great team and we just didn't step up for the occasion."