CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois coach Tim Beckman said earlier this week he has a hard time imagining his injured starting quarterback playing much at Arizona State this weekend if he couldn’t practice. On Wednesday, Nathan Scheelhaase cleared that hurdle.
Beckman said he hasn’t decided yet if or how much Scheelhaase can play — and almost certainly won’t announce his decision when he makes it — the coach said the junior quarterback’s left ankle was much improved Wednesday.
“He’s much better than he was yesterday,” Beckman said. “He said he felt pretty good. I think any time you have an injury to the ankle, it’s going to progress — and it’s been progressing and we’ll have to make that decision on Thursday after practice.”
Beckman said backups Reilly O’Toole and Mile Osei shared snaps in practice this week. He said neither has an edge if Scheelhaase can’t play.
“I thought Reilly and Miles probably are neck and neck right now,” Beckman said. “And we’ll see how Nathan progresses. Of course, Nathan hasn’t had that number of reps.”
None of the quarterbacks was available after practice Wednesday.
The Illini (1-0) play both O’Toole and Osei as part of their game plan. Osei, a junior, can also play at receiver or as a back in Beckman’s offense.
O’Toole came on at quarterback when Scheelhaase left last Saturday’s 24-7 win over Western Michigan in the third quarter. He sat on the sideline icing the ankle before eventually having to be carted to the locker room.
But the offense stalled with O’Toole, a sophomore who played in 10 games last season, at the controls.
O’Toole was 2-of-3 passing for seven yards and guided Illinois to just one first down in more than a quarter of play. Up 17-0 at the time, Illinois weathered a Broncos comeback thanks largely to a defensive touchdown.
“I really think that we controlled the ball well, and then when Nate went down we hit kind of a slump, there’s no question about it, Beckman said. He doesn’t want to have to count on his defense to win the game alone again this week at Arizona State (1-0).
“We’ve got to know that, regardless of whoever’s taking the snaps, that we’ve got to be able to respond,” he said.