CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) – Indiana is scoring 34 points a game this season but Illinois coach Ron Zook says he hopes to find a way to avoid getting into a shootout with the Hoosiers on Saturday.
His best bet, he told reporters Tuesday, may be keeping the ball away from Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell, who’s throwing for 310 yards a game.
After facing Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Zook called Chappell the best quarterback Illinois has seen this season.
“You try and mix things up and hope they drop a few,” Zook said. “The biggest thing is we want to keep the ball away from them. … The best way to stop that offense is our offense.”
But Illinois’ offense didn’t look exactly like a ball-control machine in last weekend’s 26-6 loss to No. 8 Michigan State.
The Illini (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) had just 255 yards, and turned the ball over four times. Three of those were interceptions by redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who was 15-27 for 141 yards. Illinois led 6-3 at halftime but watched that melt.
The undefeated Spartans held tailback Mikel Leshoure to a relatively modest 83 yards on 23 carries, just the second time in six games this season he hasn’t rushed for at least 100.
But, defensively, Indiana (4-2, 0-2) is no Michigan State. The Hoosiers gave up 42 points to Michigan, 38 to Ohio State – both losses – and 34 in a two-point win last Saturday over lightly regarded Arkansas State. The Hoosiers give up 401 yards a game, close to 200 of it on the ground.
Zook, though, didn’t sound Tuesday like he was ready to turn over his offense to Leshoure and the ground game. He said he’s still sold on Scheelhaase, despite his seven interceptions in just 125 attempts.
“You’re going to see Nathan continue to improve,” he said. “What he’s done and what he’s accomplished to this date is phenomenal.”
Chappel is more accomplished, and a headache for Zook.
While Scheelhaase was picked off three times by the Spartans, the Hoosier senior has been intercepted just three times in 230 attempts over six games.
Chappell also has passed for 16 touchdowns. Good protection helps – the Hoosiers are allowing one sack a game – but Zook says the quarterback himself deserves much of the credit.
“He’s hard to get to because he’s got such a quick release,” Zook said. “You just can’t get to him.”
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