Nathan Scheelhaase watched part of Penn State’s game against Ohio in the first week of the season. The Illinois quarterback also caught a portion of Penn State’s contest against Temple last Saturday.
Between the two games, Scheelhaase noticed something different about the Nittany Lions’ defense.
“They’ve gotten a whole lot better in those first four games. They honestly look like a different team out there on defense,” Scheelhaase said. “They got a lot more confidence, a lot more swagger on the defensive side. They’ve gotten back to playing defense like I’m used to seeing them play.”
Penn State’s defense has allowed a total of just 20 points over its last two games — the team’s only two wins of the season — and the unit is looking to keep that momentum going against Scheelhaase and the Fighting Illini in Champaign this Saturday. Scheelhaase has played in just two games this season after injuring his ankle in the team’s season-opening win over Western Michigan.
He returned last week, but things didn’t go smoothly for the junior. He threw for only 85 yards in Illinois’ 52-24 loss to Louisiana Tech.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman said Scheelhaase would be the team’s starter in the conference opener, but Reilly O’Toole — who started in Scheelhaase’s absence and threw for 120 yards last week — may see some time under center, as well. O’Toole is more of a pocket passer, while Scheelhaase threatens defenses with his arm and his legs, and Bill O’Brien said his defense was spending the week getting ready for both quarterbacks.
“Both guys bring two distinct styles to the offense,” Penn State’s head coach said. “So preparing for this team is very, very difficult, because you have to almost prepare for two types of offenses. So our defense has got a big time challenge in front of it.”
When Ohio visited Beaver Stadium for the opener, it was quarterback Tyler Tettleton who led the team to a victory. Tettleton accumulated 324 passing yards, ran for another 47 yards and totaled three touchdowns.
Though Scheelhaase hasn’t had much success this season (211 passing yards, four rushing yards, three total touchdowns and two interceptions), he ran for 624 yards, threw for 2,110 yards a season ago and plays a similar style of football to Tettleton. Linebacker Mike Hull said the team has been practicing against its weaknesses lately in an effort to not get burned again by a dual-threat quarterback.
“[Illinois] does some options, things like that,” Hull said. “They’re going to try to get the ball out on the perimeter, just like Ohio.”
Penn State’s defense has seen Scheelhaase in the past. In 2010, Scheelhaase accounted for 212 total yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in Illinois 33-13 win over the Lions at Beaver Stadium.
Last year, the two teams again met in Happy Valley, but it was a different story for the Illini. Both teams’ offenses struggled, and Scheelhaase did run for 89 yards, but was held to 63 yards through the air. O’Toole even saw some time as Illinois went home without a win.
Senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said he is hoping Penn State’s familiarity with Scheelhaase will be an advantage for the team this weekend on the road.
“We played Scheelhaase the past two years, so we know a lot about him,” Hill said. “Hopefully that will transition into this game, and hopefully we can contain him.”
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