Tate: You missed a good one

Tate: You missed a good one

CHAMPAIGN — It was a perfect day for football.

An early-morning rain sank the black rubber pellets deeper into Memorial Stadium's glistening new artificial turf, and it stopped two hours ahead of kickoff. Excellent drainage prevented any on-field slippage. As the clouds steadily parted, the sun blasted through in the fourth quarter.

Something over 20,000 brave souls left their couches. There's "sand" in the song but not in our hearts.

To be fair, you couldn't blame stay-at-homers, particularly those facing long journeys, from being spooked by the Isaac forecast. We have, after so many Illini disappointments, become a timid clan. We are not to be confused with Michigan's hardy, demanding followers, nor a real football state, Ohio.

The Buckeye legions would clear out their basements and meet Isaac with defiance and a raincoat. Michiganders have learned to scoff at snowstorms.

We wouldn't last 15 minutes in the SEC, where football comes first and personal inconvenience a distant last. Missouri is making that venture at the risk of annihilation. They better be ready.

Maybe we're smarter. There is some value to a level head. But in the Big Ten, we're up against maniacs, and you'll never win that battle with indifference.

So Tim Beckman is discovering: There's a lot more to this Illini project than trying to shut out Western Michigan. The good fans are frail. Not all of them, but there are those carrying a TelePrompTer in their brain with a concession speech ready. They need a kick in the butt because, face it, sales of 43,441 (most of them discounted) are barely better than MAC numbers. These are Indiana numbers.

This isn't me telling you to come to the game if you don't want to. But this is me telling you that no program will excel at the major college level without a few more fanatics rattling the cages, a few more unwilling to risk getting their ball caps wet.

Positive signs

The Illini did what was asked of them Saturday, 24-7. They took advantage of Western Michigan's shortcomings, the Broncos fouling their early possessions with a blown coverage, a penalty, a drop, an errant snap, a shanked punt and an interception.

The veteran UI defense made the Broncos appear erratic and inept. Tim Banks' gang held Western Michigan to minus-6 yards rushing, encouraged six fumbles and picked off three passes. They made future pro Alex Carder look like an amateur, particularly on a throw that Ashante Williams returned 60 yards for the fourth-quarter clincher.

Offense is another matter. On the UI's fourth play of the game, on a call that co-coordinator Chris Beatty anticipated from his knowledge of the Bronco defense, Nathan Scheelhaase ran a play-action fake and fired deep to an unguarded Ryan Lankford for a 64-yard score. That took the pressure off, and Illinois controlled the day.

"We caught them in something (a 3-3-5 defense), and we thought we'd strike up the band early," Beckman said.

Illinois' future will revolve around the ability to complete more of those vertical passes. They need a downfield threat to open up the running game.

After the fourth play Saturday, the Illini completed one pass over 10 yards (tight end Eddie Viliunas' 13-yarder set up the second TD). Scheelhaase threw for more yards on one play than he did the rest of the day (64 to 62), and that was Lankford's only catch. When Scheelhaase left in the third quarter with a sore ankle, Reilly O'Toole produced two completions for 7 yards. Illinois managed one first down in the last 22 minutes, and that came on a 4-yard interference call.

Special(er) teams

A word on special teams. It was better, OK ... but.

Justin DuVernois punted well with the wind and, no surprise, poorly against it. New kicker Nick Immekus missed a 45-yard field goal and made a 43-yarder. Coverage was mediocre, Western Michigan's Jaime Wilson returning three punts for 31 yards.

"We need better placement of the punts," Beckman said.

Of O'Toole, he said: "We stuck to the same game plan when Reilly came in, but he made some adjustment calls that didn't work.

"Defensively, a couple of seam routes hurt us. But overall we got good pressure up front, and the linebackers covered well. Michael Buchanan is a heck of a player."

Buchanan, who had an interception on a deflection, said: "I'm working on some new pass-rush moves, trying to work the tackle upfield and make a counter move back inside."

Beckman continued to rave about Williams, who plays a hybrid position called "star" and is coached directly by Beckman much of the time.

"He's a leader. He's been that way for the eight months I've been here," the coach said.

The biggest gains are usually made from Game 1 to Game 2, and that's what Beckman is counting on when the Illini travel to Arizona State. That late-night affair is one of seven tossup games marked on my calendar, the Illini being favored in three others and facing underdog roles on the trips to Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State.

Tate's tidbits

— Biggest surprise: Jon Davis didn't catch a pass but was effective on six runs up the middle, gaining 54 yards.

— Substitution: It wasn't quite what we expected in the offensive line. Graham Pocic started his 27th consecutive game at center, and coach Luke Butkus kept the same five linemen in on every offensive snap.

— Scheelhaase's lone interception originally was ruled out of bounds in the end zone but was changed on video review just prior to halftime.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports


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tonyes7 wrote on September 02, 2012 at 9:09 am

Hear hear!!  Its time for "fans" to stop complaining about attendance and look in the mirror.  Understandably, no one can make every game, but come on.  If you're not at the game, you're part of the problem. It's a two way street. 

Loren is right, we reap what we sow.  If we want a successful football program, we must attend like one.

P.s. I dream of the day when the fans that do attend the game put more energy into cheering, making noise rather than complaining or booing the first slip up by OUR team. The shtick is tired!!

Denbert wrote on September 02, 2012 at 10:09 am

I went to the Florida vrs Georgia cocktail party in Jacksonville a few years back and saw for myself what SEC football fans are all about. Be like throwing the Christians to the Lions if the Illini fan base were to face off an SEC crowd.  Think back to the 1920s when the Illini faithful filled Memorial Stadium to its capacity.  Those were still horse and buggy days with far fewer people in central illinois yet they still made the trek. I grew up in Champaign and it always bothered me that so many folks in the area were such lame fans and didn't show more pride and respect for such a great university. Hail to the faithfull few and Go Illini!

BS M.E. 1972  

DaisyJ wrote on September 02, 2012 at 10:09 am

I am sorry to see Scheelhouse is still running so much from the shotgun. He is not ever going to take us to the top of anything. Osei and O'toole have better arms. Time to put Scheel on the bench for good. Going forward with someone else is needed. He is just not ever going to be even a Jason Verdusco, and he was only 5'7. If you cannot pass down field against Western Michigan then why be in there. The arm strength on the one long pass was a flutter ball. A 100 years ago, we had the QB runn 80% from the line of scrimage. We are still in the past with Nathan.

Whisox1 wrote on September 02, 2012 at 10:09 am

And here I thought that people wanting O'Toole to be the qb were also exposed yesterday along with The Weather Channel and Weather Underground...

illini4fan wrote on September 02, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Really? O'toole is O'terible! Nathan can throw the football if the coaches will call a passing play. I would like to see more of Osei but  the ugliness of the offense was'nt Nathans fault. Just like when we were backed up against our goal line. 1st down run!, 2nd down run!!, 3rd down run!!! Coach throw the damn ball and try to get a first down! ugh..

DaisyJ wrote on September 03, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I fan..4 . So Nathan just needs a chance, well he is not quick enough to read the D and then the arm is not strong enough to send it. Nathan has shown us time after time on passing plays that he is incapable of staying in and throwing. Not a coach problem but a Nathan problem

Cool Hand Luke wrote on September 02, 2012 at 10:09 am


Comparing IL to UM, OSU, Iowa and SEC teams. lol.

Last year OSU lost 7 games for the first time in over 100 years!


Why is this so hard for some to understand?

Blaming Illinois fans for the state of Illini football is the same as crediting North Carolina fans for the state of Tarheel basketball.

Hey Tate! Do I get credit for the 2004-05 basketball team? If so, please notify the DIA so I can get my trophies and ring.

Bear8287 wrote on September 02, 2012 at 12:09 pm

>  UM, OSU, Iowa and SEC teams

One of these things is not like the others...

(Hint: it's the one that "crushed" Northern Illinois 18-17 on Saturday)

Cool Hand Luke wrote on September 03, 2012 at 1:09 am

Iowa -- like it or not -- has been a very good football program for a long time. Certainly quite superior to Illinois. Iowa has appeared in the final Top 25 ranking 15 of the last 31 years. They have nearly a .620 winning % in the last 31 years including a .590 win % in the Big Ten. That includes a bad stretch in Fry's last year and Ferentz's first year when they went 4-18 (2-14). They have appeared in 24 bowl games in the last 31 years.

Take a look at Illinois' numbers in the same time period and you'll understand why it's ridiculous to compare Illini fans to Hawkeye fans. It would be akin to comparing Iowa basketball fans to Illini basketball fans. It's why it's preposterous to talk about fandom as if it has any bearing on a successful program. It would be akin to blaming Iowa fans because their basketball program isn't up to standard. Winning comes first. Fans follow. Are there exceptions? Sure. But very few. Fans want winning teams almost without exception.

Does anyone honestly believe if Illinois won at the rate Wisconsin has the last 20 years we'd only have 40,000 fans per game? Does anyone honestly believe Wisconsin's stadium was packed full with 82,500 rabid fans when they were a worse program than Illinois for decades?

Wake up, people. Stop blaming the fans and start pointing the finger at the people who run the University. You want better teams and better fan support? Demand it from THEM.

Bear8287 wrote on September 05, 2012 at 12:09 am

Comparing Iowa to UM, OSU and SEC teams. lol.

illini73 wrote on September 02, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Blame the fans, huh? How long would a TV producer last if he blamed the fans for his bad product? Do you really believe that MICH, OHIO ST, all SEC teams,etc., run their programs the way Guenther, the top school administrators, and the season ticket administrators, and others have for the last 10-20 years? There has been nothing but amateurs running ILLINI sports in recent years. This is common knowledge among most of the alumni I know, but not with the powers that be in Champaign. And, of course, if you know this Loren (do you?), you certainly don't want to offend the people in Champaign; they might not talk to you anymore. I guess it is better to get along than to win, at least in Champaign County.

DaisyJ wrote on September 02, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Hold a good meeting and people will come. Hold a good game and people will come. The

jury is out regarding the holding a good game.

Keep up the QB runs and the jury will have come to a verdict.

How come our QB cannot set up behind center and drop back. They do not

appear slow. Makes me want that coach from Texas Tech ( I think now at

Washington State)  who knows what a passing offense looks like. Oh for

Mackovic and White and the QB's that were actually QB's and not running

backs which is what Nathan only is.

eugene wrote on September 02, 2012 at 4:09 pm

At some point you may want to learn about the spread offense. Illinois is running it now. Drop back passers do not work in the spread, sorry. You will not see any drop back passers in Champaign any time soon. You are going to have to wait until another coaching change is made to see a drop back passer, unless Coach Beckman decides to change his plan. 

DaisyJ wrote on September 02, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Eugene tells me I may want to learn about the spread offense. Did I say I did not know what a spread was Eugene. Eugene tells me that they are running it now. Did I say I did not see then run the spread offense now.

As to whether I see a drop back passer, well that is not likely of course until they change the offense. Thank you Eugene for enlightening me on this.

Jam wrote on September 02, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Loren is aiming straight with his column.   The effort by the team is being made, the coaching staff is working hard, so where are the fans.  They will come to. Loren i do wonder if you spelled "hardy effort"wrong.  Should it be "hearty effort".  Just wondering.  Thank you Loren for your interest in Illini sports and for the good work you do.

Dann001 wrote on September 02, 2012 at 3:09 pm

The thing that stood out to me was how easily they picked our secondary to pieces. This bodes very badly for the Illini going into the rest of the season. If not for all of those turnovers we would have been soundly beaten! 

eugene wrote on September 02, 2012 at 4:09 pm

You think that 260 yards of passing is picking the defense apart??? Not even close!! When the defense holds a team to negative yards rushing, they are going to pass and pass a lot. Holding WMU to less than 300 yards is a good start. After next week in Tempe we will know if yesterday's performance on D was a fluke or if the D is for real. Picking off 3 passes is not luck, turnovers are generated by being aggresive. 

ASU is in the same boat we are, new coach, new scheme, but they have a new QB. If the defense is for real, they probably score another defensive touchdown on an INT or fumble scoop and score. 

Dann001 wrote on September 02, 2012 at 5:09 pm

I have to admit that I only saw the second half, but what I saw was woefully scary. 200 of those yards came in the 2nd half!

bharal wrote on September 02, 2012 at 9:09 pm

You have to remember, Illinois lost more than half it's fans, especially alumni, when they decided to become politically correct and get rid of the Chief. They are now dealing with the consequences.

Cool Hand Luke wrote on September 02, 2012 at 10:09 pm

And those people are idiots and not actually football fans. If the Chief is keeping people away then Illinois has zero chance of ever becoming a decent program and those people do not deserve a decent program.

(HINT: Illinois was terrible and struggled to fill Memorial Stadium even when some kid danced around the field at halftime. Something tells me that's not the problem.)

eyemanbill wrote on September 05, 2012 at 12:09 am

Right on bharal.  Are you paying attention Mike Thomas?

TheChiefLives wrote on September 02, 2012 at 10:09 pm

I usually don't bash Tate much, but this column is ridiculous.  Wait until we have a few winning games with the new staff and the fans will come.


These stupid newscasters and forecasters didn't help much.  Who the hell was going to make the trip to Champaign with Robert Reese predicting the stadium would float away due to ten foot ground swells in the assembly hall parking lot?

Even the News Gazette was playing it up.  All these idiots were wrong!  LETS BASH THE FANS THOUGH!