Tate: How low can they go?

Tate: How low can they go?

If you can paint a pretty face on this one, be my guest.

Penn State is supposed to be the beleaguered program. But on Saturday, the only sad sacks at Memorial Stadiuim were the Illini. And in less than a quarter, the one unit that had avoided disaster previously — special teams — joined the other two units in the doghouse.

Not even two minutes had elapsed when Penn State swarmed on a muffed punt by Tommy Davis, setting in motion a one-sided 35-7 Nittany Lions romp.

Last week, in a 52-24 loss to Louisiana Tech, six turnovers and secondary breakdowns led to the fans’ early withdrawal from Memorial Stadium. This time the problems were elsewhere, and between penalties (eight) and miscues, coach Tim Beckman hardly knows where to start.

Following Saturday’s fumbled punt, special teams kept messing up: (1) UI freshman V’Angelo Bentley struck Sam Ficken on a field goal try, giving the Nittany Lions a first down on the 3, (2) Penn State’s Evan Lewis shook free on a 26-yard punt return and (3) Illini Taylor Zalewski missed a 26-yard field goal try. On this day, the Illini returned to the last two years when they had arguably the worst special teams in the country.

Zalewski’s FG misfire marked one of three ventures inside the Penn State 10-yard line that netted zero points.

“We didn’t finish,” UI co-coordinator Chris Beatty said. “And we missed a fourth-and-1 sneak when it was 14-0 (at the Penn State 28). When those things happen, before you know it the game has changed.”

Linebacker U
Perhaps at some point in future years, when Penn State’s 65-player limit and related sanctions have taken affect, Illinois may match the physical tenacity and self-assurance of this program.

But that wasn’t the case Saturday. The Nittany Lions’ defensive front penetrated from all sides, closing down the pocket on Nathan Scheelhaase’s pass attempts and limiting his movement. The Illini rushed for just 74 yards, 52 of it on a breakaway by Donovonn Young near the end of the first quarter.

And, true to their heritage, the Lions ruled with four veteran linebackers — Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Glenn Carson and Michael Yancich — who combined for 31 tackles, not to mention two interceptions by Mauti.

By contrast, Illinois started camp in Rantoul with four promising linebackers who, due chiefly to injuries, spent most of the day on the sideline while raw freshmen Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina played.

The visitors saw their opportunity with a series of off-tackle slants, their five running backs and QB Matt McGloin outrushing the Illini 212 to 74.

Return to form
Scheelhaase, who played just three of the season’s first 12 quarters, appears back in form. He absorbed one fearsome high-low tackle that sent him gasping to the sideline, but he returned after one play. He ran with former abandon when he could find room.

As happened last week, his early passes were weak and underneath the coverage. But he began to open up as the game progressed, and Illinois twice appeared poised to cut into a 14-0 deficit only to come up short. After it reached 21-0, Scheelhaase pushed Illinois to the 4-yard line where his fourth-down pass was intercepted (and nearly returned for a touchdown).

It is noteworthy that in the final 33 minutes, 12 of his passes netted 10 yards or more, indicating a renewed willingness to push the ball downfield. The Illini caught the Lions napping on their lone TD, halfback Josh Ferguson taking a lateral and pitching 22 yards to an unguarded Spencer Harris in the third quarter.

“We are not playing well, and it’s all three phases,” Beckman said. “We have to regroup. The penalty situation is not good. We’re not getting it done.”

UI fans, now accustomed to leaving early, won’t be asked to return until Oct. 27 when the Illini host homecoming against Indiana, the only Big Ten team less impressive than they are.

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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PeterE wrote on September 30, 2012 at 9:09 am

If throwing two interceptions is back in form, then suspend him from football team ASAP.

AZ intererst wrote on September 30, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Loren- this Illini football situation is as much Mike Thomas's fault as it is Tim Beckman's.  Beckman is just not ready to coach in prime time, Big Ten football.  He is in way over his head, and it shows.....in his selection of assistant coaches (very weak), the total lack of discipline on the field of the team, the inability to get the simple things right, the utter confusion on the sidelines (coaches have no idea what plays to signal in, thus resulting in delay of game penalities, or a totally confused and rushed QB).  This is just flat out embarassing. It is a weak group of coaches who don't know about winning at a major college program level.  Luke Fickel would have been better.  It may not really be their fault, ie, I really believe these guys, and Beckman in particular, just are not ready for the Big Ten.  They have turned the Fighting Illini into the Embarassing Illini football program.  It is not fair to the players, who I believe are trying very hard but just do not have the proper coaching to help them succeed.  I mean, take a look at the backgrounds of these coaches--NONE of them have ever played at a Big time level, and one of them never even played football at all-ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  REALLY?  Thomas should swallow his ego and make plans to replace this guy now, before we get deeper into the recruiting season and allow him and his staff to do any further damage.  It was a bad choice, let's just admit it and own up to the fact that mistakes can be made and it is how you deal with your mistakes that will ultimately define a program.  Next thing you will see in the "Tim Beckman Era" is nobody in the stands to watch the games, which will kill recruiting.  Beckman's bush league move of sending 8 coaches onto the Penn State campus is just about as poor a decision as anyone could make.  It netted him 1 lineman who may never play at Illinois, but also netted him major bad press for the program.  Just a rookie error by a guy that should not be in this position.  Was Urban Meyer, or Les Miles, or Nick Saban, or Mack Brown camped out in College Station doing this amateurish move?  Answer is NO.  Wonder why?


Bear8287 wrote on September 30, 2012 at 3:09 pm

> Was Urban Meyer, or Les Miles, or Nick Saban, or Mack Brown camped out in College Station doing this amateurish move? Answer is NO. Wonder why?

Because, the only major U that I know of in a location called College Station is Texas A&M and Penn State is in State College?  :-)

All in all though from a publicity standpoint, how we allowed the abusers to be turned into the victims is astonshing (in a really bad sort of way). 

There's a reason why the NCAA handed down sanctions to the PSU program.  Why does this seem to be lost in the messaging?  After his initial move, Tim Beckman could've doubled-down and said that PSU deserved worse for their egregious ethics violations, but ... the Illini now appear to be the bad guys.  Really?  How could he have let that happen!?  Does any one really believe that people should be feeling sorry for Penn State?


OKOMIS wrote on September 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm

i agree... plus the talent Saben, Miles etal have is 10X's as good as anything PSU had so why would they take a step down.it was a dumb statement by that guy, i can see not liking the job Beckman's doing, but he did nothing wrong there. PSU aided and abeted a serieal child rapists. the things that Saben and Miles (and Lane Kiffin when he was at Tenn) do on the recruiting trail would make your stomach turn.. Meyers bolted the SEC, practicly had a nervous breakdown over the dirty pool they play while recruiting...these guys ALL use every trick in the book .. giving kids an option is nothing to be ashamed of...

bernies wrote on September 30, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Another Saturday, another successful prediction of the Illini's demise. Penn State did a little better than I predicted (35 points instead of of 27). The Illini did a little worse (7 points instead of 14). How I wish that my predictions were way off base, but I have to be realistic!! (My father played for Illinois in the late 1930s, and I am a life-long Illini fan). :-(

Illinois impressively holds Penn State to three-and-out at the beginning of the game. Looks good! And then the subsequent unforced muffed punt pretty much summarized the way this season has gone. The Illini coaching staff appears to have lost whatever semblance of control they ever had. Sad!

jjohnson wrote on October 01, 2012 at 10:10 am

From where I sat, almost directly across from the punt receiver, I could not see a coach on the field; which of them dropped the punt? I don't get it.

blmillini wrote on October 02, 2012 at 9:10 pm

You have to throw our punter into the discussion as well.  While we have had some long punts, I don't think hang time is ever more than about 2 seconds.  Not hard to figure out why our opponents return yards are bigger than ours.  We simply need to eliminate the mistakes to be competitive.