Following two straight losses, fans abandon Illini while predicting a five-game losing streak.

 

 Life didn't change much for Illinois sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase Monday, he said, despite a two-game losing streak that initiated concerns from outside the locker room about the possibility of a five-game losing streak on the horizon.

"My teachers were still nice to me,'' he said after practice on the Memorial Stadium turf. "I still had a seat in class. People were sitting around me and talking to me. I didn't feel any differently. In my mind, everyone knows we can bounce back. If they don't, then they'll see.''

Illinois (6-2 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten) plays at No. 21 Penn State (7-1, 4-0) Saturday (2:30 p.m., ABC), but few questions hit on JoePa, Linebacker U., or play-action passing. It was more about confidence in the locker room and confidence quickly shrinking from Joe Illini.

"I'm not paying any attention'' to the mood on the street, coach Ron Zook said. "I've got my own issues. I can't worry about that stuff now. It's hard to insulate (the players). They're out there. It is what it is. What can I do about it?''

Zook reminded his coaching staff and the media Sunday and Monday that Illinois is 6-2. He wouldn't have done that if Zook hadn't heard the sharp criticism following a 21-14 loss at Purdue Saturday. The catcalls began on Zook's way to the locker room, and that bandwagon emptied in a hurry.

"It was new to have people on the bandwagon,'' Scheelhaase said. "It was cool. It was nice. Maybe it was too nice. You never know.

"We're not too worried about what other people are saying. We're used to having kind of an empty bandwagon. It's a little lighter to pull. It's not that bad.''

It wasn't a matter of effort, said offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. His side of the ball needed better execution against Purdue. Defense coordinator Vic Koenning agreed.

"I'm not saying we were electric, but I'm didn't see anybody loafing,'' Koenning said. "The thing about being supernatural and being electric, that's what we all want. That almost has to come from within the team.''

BASKETBALL: Coach Bruce Weber is looking for ballhandlers, go-to guys and perhaps most importantly a leader when the going gets rough.

"Who's is going to step up when times get tough?'' Weber said. "You're going to have tough days when everybody is dead. They're tired. Who is going to step up and be verbal, make people go, have that passion and motivation and that drive, that motor to get everyone going, then still make the play?

"It's got to come from older guys. That's going to be the key.''

Point guard Sam Maniscalco is the logical choice, Weber said, but the transfer from Bradley is still trying to get in game shape while working with an uncooperative left ankle. He occasionally limped during the team's scrimmage Sunday at Assembly Hall.

"If he can't do it, who is going to be the next guy?'' Weber said. "That's the key.''

VOLLEYBALL: After losing for the first time this season Saturday in a four-setter at Nebraska Saturday, Illinois fell two spots Monday in the national rankings to No. 3. The Illini (20-1, 9-1) won the first set but couldn't take the only meeting in the regular season between the two powerhouse programs.

Nebraska jumped from No. 4 to No. 1 in the national rankings after the match played before a crowd of 4,198.

"It was a great environment for us to play,'' Illinois coach Kevin Hambly said. "I'm glad we got that experience. That will only help us down the road because we need to know how to respond to this and do a better job the next time. We pressured ourselves to make plays so we rushed things. We have to be very patient with our style.''

Illinois hosts Wisconsin Friday and No. 15 Minnesota Saturday.

IN OTHER NEWS: The annual Coaches vs. Cancer benefit at the Beef House in Covington, Ind., a few miles east of the Illinois-Indiana border on I-74, is Nov. 2. Tickets are $75 and include auctions and stories from Weber, Purdue coach Matt Painter and the Cardinal family, i.e., Rod and Brian. For more information, call 217-356-9076. . . 

Junior goalie Steph Panozzo earned co-Big Ten defensive player of the week in soccer for the second consecutive week after allowing only one goal in the last two games combined. The wins over Nebraska and Northwestern allowed Illinois (13-4-1, 7-2-1) to remain second in the Big Ten with a seven-game winning streak. Panozzo's 0.67 goals-against average ranked her second in Big Ten play. . .

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.