UI football coach doesn't have a handle on how good his team is after five games.
It’s reaching critical mass for Tim Beckman, and he’s fully aware.
Are the Illini making progress? Maybe, and yet ... Cincinnati’s loss to previously winless South Florida confirms the Bearcats aren’t as good as preseason notices ... Illinois gave up an unconscionable 615 yards to Washington and 521 at Nebraska ... and Big Ten coaches on Tuesday’s teleconference couldn’t stop raving about the physical nature of the UI’s next two opponents, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
With a week off, Beckman is working to patch the holes.
“We have been evaluating ourselves,” Beckman said. “We only put three coaches on the road (recruiting). We need to find more speed on the field.”
Washington and Nebraska combined to rush for 608 yards while completing 39 of 55 passes. In between those games, Illinois routed Miami (Ohio), but those numbers are immaterial because the Illini won’t play another foe nearly that weak (coach Don Treadwell was fired Sunday).
“We should get Teko Powell (6-foot-3, 295-pound sophomore defensive tackle) back by the end of the week,” Beckman said. “That’s a positive. We were outmanned up front at Nebraska.”
Concerned the Cornhuskers used blitzes with man coverage to squelch the UI’s third-down passes, Beckman said:
“We had the calls. Our receivers have to change routes and get open and, in some cases, they were open but Nathan (Scheelhaase) didn’t get the ball to them.”
Look for Beckman to take a hard look at the wideouts after four seniors — Ryan Lankford, Steve Hull, Miles Osei and Spencer Harris — failed to make a catch at Nebraska. The tight ends had four catches after scoring four TDs against Miami.
Question for Pat Fitzgerald: Can Northwestern’s Wildcats peak again at Wisconsin after spending months emphasizing — and nearly upsetting — Ohio State?
“Short of the BCS, we haven’t played in a game with that much hype,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re bitterly disappointed. But we have a good team, and we’ve won a lot of games. We moved the ball against Ohio State. We simply have to execute in the moment.
“We’ll move inside today to get accustomed to the noise. Communication will be key at Camp Randall. All our players have to be on the same page.”
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen calls Northwestern’s two-quarterback rotation — Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter — “as good a pair as we’ve faced ... the Wildcats flip upside down depending on what they want to do. Colter is a talented athlete on the option and has a good concept of his role. My biggest worry is when they’re both on the field together.”
No Badgers coach for two decades has spoken long without emphasizing the importance of the running game. New coach Andersen follows suit:
“No. 1 with us is always to run the ball and to stop the run. If you can’t stop the run, it’s difficult to play in this league.”
Green with envy
Spartan Nation fully expects three more wins against Indiana (homecoming), Purdue and Illinois before hosting Michigan.
“We are chasing excellence,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said of a defense that ranks first in the nation. The Spartans permitted 78 rushing yards by Notre Dame and 23 by Iowa.
“That’s impressive. Our front seven has exceeded expectations,” he said. “As a staff, this is our 10th year together, and (defensive coordinator) Pat Narduzzi knows how to make adjustments. It starts with that, and we have veteran players who have had previous success. We take a systematic approach to every game, and we recruit to our scheme.
“We need fast corners with good hip movement to play press coverage and tackle in space.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said strong defense “has become part of the culture at Michigan State” and pointed to middle linebacker Max Bullough as the leader.
No. 3 Ohio State has a week off to straighten out a pass defense that appeared shoddy in the 40-30 win at Northwestern.
“We were good against the run,” Urban Meyer said, “but our pass defense was alarming. That’s No. 1 on our hit parade ... the pass rush in combination with our coverage. We gave up 100 yards to Northwestern on missed tackles after two completions in our secondary.”
Meyer offered a scouting report on two UI opponents after handling them.
“Wisconsin is devoted to stopping the run. They use press coverage on the outside and force you to go over the top.
“Northwestern is softer on the corners, and we were not able to throw downfield because they won’t let you. We won because of Carlos Hyde (168 yards rushing) and our offensive line. The line is the strength of our program.”
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.