CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Illinois coach Ron Zook joked last week that if there was a way to stop 6-foot-8 Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler it might involve a stepladder.
It turns out Illinois had a plan, and it consisted of throwing just about everything but that ladder at him.
The Illini (3-0) sacked Osweiler six times and forced a pair of interceptions on their way to a 17-14 win over the No. 22 Sun Devils (2-1) on Saturday night.
“I kept telling (defensive coordinator Vic Koenning), ‘Don’t worry about it, they aren’t going to beat us running the football,”‘ Zook said. “The pressure was great; they kept coming.”
Osweiler echoed Zook.
“They brought a lot of pressure,” Osweiler said. “Shoot, it seemed like every snap.”
Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said Illinois pressured Osweiler in ways the Sun Devils didn’t see in wins over UC-Davis and Missouri.
“We didn’t protect very well,” he said. “It wasn’t anything we didn’t know was coming. There was a lot more pressure than the first two football games, and there will be a lot more pressure the next 10 football games.”
Nathan Scheelhaase delivered the win, turning one of those sacks into a 16-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Jenkins with less than 10 minutes left.
With Illinois trailing 14-10, defensive end Whitney Mercilus hit Osweiler in the back and knocked the ball loose to linebacker Ian Thomas. Four plays later, Scheelhaase found Jenkins for the winning score.
Scheelhaase was 11 of 15 for 135 yards. He threw one interception but also ran for 67 yards. Jenkins had six catches for 103 yards.
The Sun Devils outgained Illinois 362-240. Each team had three turnovers.
Osweiler completed 25 of 45 passes for 256 yards. He ran for a touchdown and threw for another, but also tossed two interceptions.
Mercilus had two sacks, and Jonathan Brown had an interception and a sack that led to another interception.
After two quarters of mistakes, the game turned on two drives in the second half.
With Osweiler under pressure, and the Sun Devils failing to get anything from two drives that started in Illini territory, they decided to keep it on the ground late in the third quarter. Arizona State started at the Illinois 45 after the defense stuffed the Illini at their 4.
Cameron Marshall, who spent much of the second quarter on the bench because of a leg injury, bounced outside to the right for 16 yards. Two plays later, he carried 265-pound defensive end Whitney Mercilus for 7 yards up the middle.
That set up Osweiler with a first down at the 15.
The quarterback dropped back and then ran through an opening on a draw. No one touched him until he bounced off Illinois cornerback Tavon Wilson one yard deep in the end zone. That gave the Sun Devils their first lead, 14-10, with 14:54 left in the game.
“We had enough opportunities on offense to win the game, and we didn’t do it,” Erickson said.
After the Sun Devils held the Illini and got the ball back, Illinois turned the quarterback pressure on again.
On second and 13 at the Arizona State 41, Mercilus delivered a hit to Osweiler’s back and the ball to Thomas at the Sun Devil 41.
Scheelhaase then connected with Jenkins for the winning score. The ball was behind Jenkins who stopped to catch it, then spun to his left around a quickly closing defensive back before tiptoeing three yards down the sideline and into the end zone.
The game had more than its share of big plays, big mistakes and near misses.
With The Sun Devils trailing 10-7, but driving deep in Illini territory late in the first quarter, Illinois forced Osweiler into an interception when he was blind-sided as he threw to his right.
The wobbly pass bounced off the back of offensive lineman Dan Knapp and fell into the hands of defensive tackle Glen Foster. No one was more surprised than Foster, and the threat ended.
Illinois returned the favor just over three minutes later when freshman running back Donovonn Young coughed up the ball at the 50. Bo Moos recovered at the Sun Devil 47.
Late in the second quarter, Arizona State had a first down at the Illini 15, but after a close call on a catch in the end zone was ruled incomplete, the Sun Devils were forced to try a 32-yard field goal. Alex Garroutte missed wide left.
With about five minutes to go in the third quarter, Ryan Lankford tried to field a punt by Josh Hubner at his 36 but missed it entirely. The ball bounced off the front of his helmet and right into the hands of Chris Coyle.
But the Sun Devils failed to move the ball and punted after a sack by Thomas.
“You can’t have bad plays, you can’t have turnovers. I had three of them alone,” Osweiler said. “The margin for error is tiny on the road.”
Illinois talked all week about the test Arizona State offered, and the chance to prove the Illini belonged.
“Enjoy it,” Zook said. “I think it makes everybody understand that maybe Illinois is a little better than people think.”
The Illini will play their fourth straight home game next Saturday against Western Michigan. Arizona State will start Pac 12 play at home against USC.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)