CHAMPAIGN, Ill. | A season ago, Illinois spent nine long weeks looking for its third win. That Illini team never really came close, finishing 2-10.
On Saturday, the 2013 edition made win No. 3 look easy.
Illinois opened up a 36-0 halftime lead and eventually led 43-0 on the way to a 50-14 win over Miami of Ohio.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase led Illinois (3-1) to 29 second-quarter points that broke the game open. He threw for five touchdowns, all by halftime, one short of the all-time Illinois record for scoring passes in a game.
"I can't say enough what Nate Scheelhaase has done, and it's not just about throwing touchdown passes," Illini coach Tim Beckman said. "It's about coming in on Mondays and over-studying so he can have the best opportunity to be successful, sitting with (offensive coordinator Bill) Cubit and coming up with a plan that we know that we can get adjusted on the football field through Nate."
Scheelhaase said the team, which after the game lingered a long couple of minutes in the end zone below the student section enjoying the win, is growing more and more upbeat as it gets ready to start Big Ten play next weekend.
"Yes, I do. I feel like our guys were doing a good job," he said. "I keep jumping over guys and finding a way to get the downs and make more plays."
The RedHawks (0-4) faced their third BCS team in a row and found the going at least as tough as they did in those earlier losses to Kentucky and Cincinnati.
"At the end of the day, you're coming into a Big Ten stadium, playing a legitimate Big Ten team who has a tremendous amount of talent," Miami coach Don Treadwell said. "They made a lot of plays and we did not, and we give them credit for that."
Scheelhaase moved the offense quickly up field on the opening drive, taking a quick 7-0 lead on a 2-yard pass to tight end Matt LaCosse in the back of the end zone with 11:31 left in the first quarter.
"We talked about coming out fast in this football game and doing what we thought was necessary," Beckman said.
But the big second quarter finished Miami. The touchdowns came in waves.
First Scheelhaase hit another tight end, Evan Wilson, from 8 yards. The 6-6 senior jumped high in the back of the end zone, pulling the ball down and just tapping a foot to the turf before falling out of bounds. A two-point conversion pushed the score to 15-0 with 13:39 left in the half.
Then, after Illinois recovered an onside kick, Scheelhaase found Josh Ferguson with a screen pass. The tailback scooted 15 yards, looking like he'd almost stopped before running through a would-be tackle by Brison Burris on the way to increasing the lead to 22-0.
"Ferguson) came to the sidelines I just turned to him, looked at him and said. 'Wow,'" Beckman said. "He didn't show and then next thing you know he hits that gear and goes into the end zone."
Scheelhaase finished the second quarter with two more scoring strikes to tight ends, a 4-yarder to Jon Davis and a 45-yarder to LaCosse that was set up by a RedHawks fumble.
Down 36-0 with 5:18 left in the half, Miami was stunned.
The fumble, as much as any other play, summed up the afternoon for the RedHawks.
Miami was already down 29-0 and badly needed points, but quarterback Austin Boucher lost the snap and the ball bounced behind him. Running back Spencer Treadwell fell on it.
Both the ball and momentum belonged to the Illini.
With the game in hand, Scheelhaase took a seat on the bench in the third quarter, finishing 19 of 24 for 278 yards with one interception.
Eleven Illini caught passes Saturday. Ferguson led them with five catches for 77 yards and the touchdown.
Ferguson also carried the ball eight times for 71 yards. Donovonn Young led Illinois with 80 yards rushing on 11 carries.
For a defense in need of a lift after giving up more than 600 yards in its last outing against Washington, the RedHawks arrived right on time.
Miami finished with a season-high 250 yards. And the RedHawks nudged into Illini territory several times.
But they trailed 43-0 at one point and never really threatened to score until the game had been all but decided.
Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks didn't want to read too much into either the bad day against Washington or the good one against Miami.
"I think we're still obviously a work in progress," Banks said. "We're never as bad as we may have seen and we're never as good as we may seem."
RedHawks running back Jamire Westbrook was carted off the field with a hurt right knee in the first half. Miami sports information staff didn't immediately have information about his injury but he was wearing a brace after the game.
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