SAN FRANCISCO –
With Illinois starting running back Jason Ford academically ineligible for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the UCLA defense knew the primary rushing threat for the Illini would be quarterback Nate Scheelhaase.
They did not expect him to be covered in soap.
But Scheelhaase found the creases and eked out the extra yard, finishing with 110 rushing yards on 22 carries in Illinois’ 20-14 win over the Bruins on Saturday afternoon at AT&T Park.
“He was slippery,” said UCLA sophomore linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, who led either team with nine tackles. “He was giving us some trouble, that’s for sure. I don’t think we expected him to run as much as he did. It was kind of hard to drop back into coverage and then have him get through.”
Scheelhaase was at his best late in the game, when the UCLA defense grew fatigued after chasing him around all day. Scheelhaase had a 37-yard gain on 2nd-and-5 from the Illinois 39-yard line to open the fourth quarter, the run leading to a Derek Dimke 37-yard field goal that put the Illini up 13-7.
“We knew he was a guy who loved to run,” junior defensive end Keenan Graham said. “As a defensive line, we knew he had to try to contain him – not run rainbows, not get up field – but we couldn’t.”
On Illinois’ next drive, though, Scheelhaase switched it up and burned UCLA deep.
On 3rd-and-8 from the Illinois 40-yard line, Scheelhaase hit A.J. Jenkins up the middle for a 60-yard touchdown to put the Illini up 20-7, and the Bruins stumbled on the ensuing drive, which began with a Whitney Mercilus 8-yard sack of Kevin Prince.
“They had a few plays where we broke,” junior cornerback Andrew Abbott said. “We ask for perfection, but are we going to get it? It’s tough. You work so hard, and then it’s just like, “Awww.” We have to get to where it’s, ‘They got that one, but let’s go out now and stop them.”