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Facing Illini, Cincinnati goes for 2 over Big Ten

September 6, 2013

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Tommy Tuberville says his Cincinnati Bearcats and the Illinois team they’ll play Saturday are in what he calls a youth movement.

The similarities may end there.

Cincinnati (1-0) is on the outskirts of the Top 25 after rolling over Purdue, 42-7. The going was easy enough that the Bearcats had to take only a shallow dive into their playbook in week one.

“We got into a situation where we found some things that worked and we didn’t expand,” Tuberville said. “I thought the same thing defensively, we found some things that worked on defense and we didn’t go past that point.”

Illinois opened with a win, too, but the Illini (1-0) held on by their fingernails for a 42-34 squeaker over a Football Championship Subdivision school, Southern Illinois.

“It might not have been the prettiest thing,” coach Tim Beckman said, “but it’s a W, in the long run.”

The Illini also dealt with turmoil during the week when Beckman kicked one of his top signings, sophomore backup running back Dami Ayoola, off the team for violating unspecified team rules. Five things to keep your eye on Saturday when two teams meet:

WHICH QB WILL IT BE? Tuberville has extended his quarterback competition into the opening weeks of the season. Incumbent Brendon Kay was in line to start until he developed a sore passing shoulder in camp, sidelining him for a lot of practices. Munchie Legaux, who lost the job to Kay last season, started against Purdue and accounted for a pair of touchdowns. Kay’s shoulder is better this week and Tuberville decided to wait until late in the week to pick a starter, who won’t be announced until game time. Legaux is more of a running threat, but Kay is a more consistent passer. Both are likely to play.

DEFENSIVE LIABILITIES: Cincinnati leaned heavily on the run against Purdue, piling up 221 yards. But Illinois’ struggles last week against the pass probably aren’t lost on the Bearcats. The Illini gave up 341 yards and three passing touchdowns. And Illinois barely got a hand on Salukis quarterback Kory Faulkner. He wasn’t sacked once. The Illinois secondary is young, inexperienced and vulnerable to big plays.

“It’s the same anthem,” defensive coordinator Tim Banks said, listing a now-familiar set of things his defense needs to do better. “We can’t have repeat mistakes. Obviously taking away the deep ball when it’s appropriate, and just doing a good job getting off blocks.”

REMEMBER SCHEELHAASE THE RUNNER? As Illinois looks for a ground game — SIU held the Illini to 49 rushing yards — it won’t be looking much to senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. He ran for 868 yards in 2010, his first season as a starter. But running often left him banged up the past two seasons, and last week none of his seven runs (for minus-27 yards) were planned.

“We need to keep him healthy — he’s going to take some hits in pass protection,” offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said, referring to the four times Scheelhaase was sacked last Saturday. “Just to run him down the field, sometimes it’s just not worth the risk.”

IF ILLINOIS THOUGHT LAST WEEK WAS TOUGH: Illinois will put its running fortunes in the hands of Donovonn Young, the starting tailback, and Josh Ferguson. The latter had 49 yards on nine carries against a smallish SIU defense, but Young, running behind an ineffective offensive line, had just six yards on nine carries. And Cincinnati will be bigger, and likely more physical.

“They came in and, you know, kind of gave a few shoulders and elbows and kicks to the shins of Purdue,” Illini running backs coach Tim Salem said.

Young has his eye on one Bearcat in particular, 6-1, 251-pound linebacker Jeff Luc. Young, joking, said he’s long hoped he’d never face Luc.

“I remember watching him on ESPN, and I’m talking about a monster,” Young said. “I’m like, I would never want to play that guy.”

AAC PRIDE: Cincinnati opens the season with games against struggling Big Ten teams, a chance to get a little attention for their new conference. The Bearcats weren’t able to flee the Big East for a bigger conference, and are bristling at the way their new American Athletic Conference is getting downgraded. The Bearcats moved up to the 30th-most votes in the latest AP poll after drubbing Purdue. This week there’s another chance to beat a Big Ten team and get a little more notice.

“That holds weight,” Legaux said. “Around the country, we are looked down on as the AAC. People don’t take us real serious.”


Follow David Mercer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/davidmercerap

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