BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — A.J. Jenkins blew right past Indiana’s busted coverage. Twice.
Nathan Scheelhaase made the right read and the perfect throw – both times.
The big-play tandem hooked up for scoring passes of 77 and 67 yards in the first half Saturday, rallying No. 19 Illinois from an early 10-point deficit to a 41-20 victory.
“We had to take advantage of that and whenever the defense messes up, you want to take advantage, so that one was a little surprising,” Scheelhaase said. “The other one was just a great route by him getting off press coverage and making a great play.”
This was not just another weekly test for Illinois (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten).
The Illini needed to prove they could win on the road, stay among the shrinking unbeaten ranks and prove that those last three 3-point victories were the aberration, not the norm.
They accomplished all three three by making the Hoosiers (1-5, 0-2) pay for three big mistakes – on the two TD passes from Scheelhaase to Jenkins and a 66-yard fumble recovery for a score that changed the game.
Scheelhaase finished 12 of 22 for 210 yards with three TDs. Jenkins, the Big Ten’s top receiver, had six receptions for 182 yards and two scores.
The victory puts Illinois in position to match the 7-0 start of the 1951 team next week when Ohio State visits Champaign.
“That’s where we wanted to be,” Scheelhaase said. “We wanted to be 6-0 going into this game. We’re excited about the point we’ve gotten to right now, and we’re looking forward to going back home and playing Ohio State.”
Illinois’ success came as no surprise to Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, who had warned his players all week that the Illini would convert mistakes into scores.
The Hoosiers have now lost three straight overall and 13 in a row against ranked opponents, dating to a 31-28 victory over then No. 13 Iowa on Oct. 14, 2006. Now they’ll hit the road for back-to-back road games at No. 4 Wisconsin and Iowa with a still unsettled quarterback rotation.
The original starter, Edward Wright-Baker, missed his second straight game with an ankle injury. Nicked up Dusty Kiel started for the second straight week, but was replaced by true freshman Tre Roberson after hurting his ankle in the second half. Kiel was 6 of 19 for 71 yards with one lost fumble. Roberson finished 11 of 17 for 148 yards with one interception and led Indiana to a late touchdown, the only offensive TD of the day.
“It wasn’t a battlefield demotion as much, I think Dusty was a little nicked and couldn’t put some mustard on the ball. It was nice to see Tre make a few plays,” Wilson said. “Good team, tough loss, same story.”
This one was wild and wacky, though.
Hoosiers freshman Shane Wynn took the opening kickoff at the 1-yard line, found a hole up the middle and sprinted 99 yards for a TD to make it 7-0 just 12 seconds into the game.
On Illinois’ second series, Donovonn Young dropped a handoff near midfield. Brandon McGhee recovered for Indiana and six plays later, Mitch Ewald made a 44-yard field goal to give Indiana a 10-0 lead.
Illinois then took matters into its own hands.
The Illini picked up an all-out blitz, giving Scheelhaase just enough time to loft a pass to the wide open Jenkins, who caught the ball, turned inside of one defender and had nobody else to beat en route to the 77-yard play that made it 10-7.
The Hoosiers were back in field-goal range again on their next series, only this time, Whitney Mercilus stripped the ball from Kiel on a sack, and Tavon Wilson scooped it up and raced 66 yards to give Illinois a 14-10 lead. The Illini never trailed again, even holding the Hoosiers to a field goal after they recovered a fumble at the Illinois 3
“They got 21 points off of three plays, one’s a busted coverage when a guy blitzes that shouldn’t and that’s going to happen some,” Wilson said. “Another’s on a scoop and score when we bust a maximum protection, and the last one they make a nice competitive one-on-one play to a good receiver on a guy that’s playing good for us.”
Then the Illini poured it on.
Scheelhaase found Jon Davis for a 3-yard score midway through the second quarter, and put a pass perfectly on the fingertips of Jenkins, who went 67 yards down the right sideline to make it 27-13 late in the first half.
Scheelhaase sealed the win with a 9-yard TD run late in the third quarter, and all the Hoosiers could muster was a 2-yard TD run from Roberson with 5:29 left in the game.
“We’re a good team,” coach Ron Zook said. “But as I told them to be a great team, we’ve got to do a lot more.”
Copyright Associated Press