CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Pressed into action against Arizona State a week earlier, backup quarterback Reilly O'Toole delivered a 54-yard game that hamstrung the Illinois offense in a blowout loss.
With starter Nathan Scheelhaase still hobbled by a sprained ankle, O'Toole was given a chance to rebound Saturday. The sophomore made the most of it.
O'Toole was 26 of 31 for 333 yards and five touchdowns in a 44-0 yawner for Illinois (2-1) over Charleston Southern (0-3), an FCS school playing its first game against a Big Ten team.
O'Toole sprayed the ball around, hitting four different receivers for touchdowns. Ryan Lankford caught two of them, rolling up 97 yards on seven catches to go with them, and Justin Hardee caught five balls for 99 yards.
"We had guys running great routes and they were open, so it makes the game a lot more fun just pitching and catching," O'Toole said, then critiquing his one mistake, an interception thrown too short into the Buccaneer end zone. "Obviously that one interception, it's just important to get the ball out deeper in the corner. Obviously you can get better week to week. There were a couple plays here and there but that was one of the mistakes I had."
The game was a relief for Illinois' defense, too. A week after giving up 510 yards at Arizona State in a 45-14 loss, Illinois held the Buccaneers' option to 125 yards and recorded the first Illinois shutout since a 2007 win over Western Illinois.
"It doesn't matter who you play, it's all about every man on defense doing their job, hustling and being accountable," defensive end Michael Buchanan said.
Charleston Southern coach Jay Mills said his players, even in a lopsided loss, gained experience in playing a team like Illinois.
"Every kid that's ever played football dreamed of playing for schools like this," he said of Illinois. "The next best thing is playing against them. ... We don't care if people are cheering against us, we just like however many thousands are yelling."
The Illini were missing a handful of starters who were injured, including quarterback Scheelhaase, who has missed two games with a sprained ankle.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman didn't directly address whether Scheelhaase will play next week against Louisiana Tech, but O'Toole said he thought the junior could have played against Charleston Southern if needed.
O'Toole connected with Lankford twice in the first quarter for short touchdowns that gave the Illini a 13-0 lead. But the most important play of the game for the Illini might have come from freshman running back Dami Ayoola.
Facing a fourth-and-1 at the Charleston Southern 28, the 5-10, 205-pound Ayoola got the ball and quickly pushed into the center of the Buccaneer line for the first down. But no one brought him down, and Ayoola popped out of the pile stumbling but still on his feet.
He straightened himself out and sprinted to the end zone for a touchdown.
With the extra point Illinois had a 20-0 lead that, even with 2:06 left to play in the first half, looked comfortable. The Buccaneers have yet to score more than 14 points in a game this season.