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October 8, 2012
Second-half struggles: Illinois fades in three straight losses
Illinois is not a bad football team, not on paper anyway. The Illini returned eight defensive starters from one of the nation's top units in 2011, and its dynamic dual-threat QB, plus six more offensive starters. Yet the Orange and Blue are 2-4, losers of three straight and looking to regroup this week.
On Saturday, Illinois actually played well for three quarters, and trailed just 10-7 entering the fourth quarter at Wisconsin, but the Illini lost the final 15 minutes 21-7 and lost the game 31-14.
"You have to finish and we have to be able to respond to plays or situations in a game in a positive manner instead of letting it knock us down," first-year head coach Tim Beckman. "Basically what happened in that fourth quarter.
"Our intention is to move this program forward, learn from our past game, and make ourselves a better football team."
The Fighting Illini defense was gutted by the Badgers in the deciding fourth quarter, surrendering 177 yards and three TDs, with Beckman citing the over-aggressiveness of his safeties as one of the biggest culprits.
"Overcompensating," he said. "One of our problems that we're getting corrected, is we're trying to overdo things as opposed to doing what you're supposed to do, which will take care of the play. In that fourth quarter, that cost us."
The defense is also only one half of the story, though. The offense, which has faced injury problems this season, has scored just 28 second-half points in Illinois' four losses, with the Orange Blue being outscored 86-28 in those defeats. In two wins, the Illini have outscored their competition 31-7 in the second half.
Though there are a myriad of reasons why the offense, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten and 101st nationally averaging 338.8 yards per game (and 12th in the conference in scoring with 21.2 points per game), is struggling, Beckman points to his team's inability to protect its quarterback; UI's offensive line has surrendered 20 sacks in six contests.
"We need to get more people involved in the protection, get more play-action working, our quick game, so we can get [QB Nathan Scheelhaase] the opportunity to get the football off before he's being pressured," said Beckman, who despite the losing streak hasn't lost hope.
"This is new for me. No question it's tough because I've been around winning my entire career. My job is to get this football team better and that's what I'll do."
He sees the resolve in his players needed to believe this program can get the season turned around before it's too late, avoiding the spectacle of the past two seasons when promising starts (6-0 in 2011 and 5-3 in 2010) went south in Illinois finishing 7-6 both years.
"We need to finish - that's the name of the game and that's been a problem the last few years for this team," he said. "We have to address that and change. The senior class will challenge this team, as I do. We have to make this adjustment and move forward.
"I like winning. That's why we do this. I know everyone of our players does. They work extremely hard 12 months a year to win football games, and that's what I want. We're making strides, but we're not there yet because we're not winning."