Tate: Illini must turn bad mojo

Tate: Illini must turn bad mojo

Positive momentum is believed to be psychologically inspirational to the hot team.

It’s called the “snowball effect.” Conversely, it can complicate efforts for repeated losers.

The snowball issue became a concern this week for Tim Beckman’s Illini football team. For two decades, Illini coaches have visited and revisited the task of halting losing streaks. With two consecutive lopsided losses at home, the Illini are two-TD underdogs as they invade Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium. And if they lose, it’ll will mark the 16th time since 1996 that they’ve dropped at least three in a row, those tailspins in individual seasons reaching 11, nine (twice), seven and six (twice).

Acknowledging his awareness of the UI past, Beckman said Monday: “We talked about last season (a six-game losing streak) and what we have to do.

“The last two weeks have been really, really tough, not just for the program but for Illini Nation. Now we face a very physical football team. Overall Saturday, Penn State was more physical than we were. This is Big Ten football and we have to step up our intensity to match what the Badgers have.

“This must be a new process. We have to find out what the problems are and fix them.”

Constantly battling injuries and player adjustments, Beckman said:

“We are going through some growing pains and we have depth issues, which I mentioned earlier, and we haven’t been healthy.”

The team has reportedly lost the equivalent of 23 full games by established starters. Longtime center Graham Pocic, previously sidelined, started at tackle Saturday to replace ailing Hugh Thornton.

“It was different, playing tackle for the first time since high school,” Pocic said. “You’re blocking quicker defensive ends with pass-rush moves whereas, at center, you’re blocking bigger guys. Wisconsin has powerful linemen, and their linebackers, 44 and 53 (Chris Borland and Mike Taylor), are two of the best we’ll face all year.

“In previous years here, we played the same linemen at the same positions. But I don’t think it makes much of a difference to move guys around. It depends on the players.”

OK, Graham, where will you play this week?

“I don’t know yet,” he replied.

Thinking positive

An encouraging aspect Saturday was the unhampered return of Nathan Scheelhaase, who ran without hesitation and completed 28 of 46 passes for 270 yards. An inability to finish three drives inside Penn State’s 10-yard line made the score more lopsided than it might have been. Illinois was held to seven points by Penn State for the second straight year.

“It is important that we finish those drives when we get down there,”Scheelhaase said.

“I am definitely getting my legs under me, not only designed quarterback runs but in moving out of the pocket. It is important to put pressure on the defense from the quarterback position.”

Scheelhaase was the central figure in an opening six-game win streak last season, as well as the closing six-game losing streak.

“We can’t be thinking ‘Here we go again.’ We don’t want that in anybody’s mind-set. We know what the issues were last year, and we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. There’s still a lot of season left,” he said.

The Badger-Illini series displays another of those snowball looks. Illinois lost just once from 1978 through 1992. Wisconsin has an 11-3 (one tie) edge in the last 19 years. A year ago, Illinois led the Big Ten champions 17-7 at halftime but fell 28-17. This 3-2 Badger team has thus far disappointed the home fans, barely beating Northern Iowa 26-21 and Utah State 16-14, but displaying promise in Saturday’s 30-27 loss at Nebraska.

“They’re coming off a tough loss and trying to find their identity,” Scheelhaase said, “and we’re the same way. It’s going to be a matter of who can execute and focus.”

Tate’s tidbits
— Mason Monheim had 11 tackles and a forced fumble Saturday, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. Said Beckman: “He’s made great strides. We had to take Jonathan Brown out, so we had two true freshmen (Ohioans Monheim and Mike Svetina) side by side most of the game. I’m proud of them. I knew Mason was a fine player when I watched him two years ago in high school, but I didn’t know how quickly he would grow up mentally. He’s made great strides.”

— Defensive tackle Jake Howe, who has played in all five games as a backup for Akeem Spence, has been lost for the season with a fractured arm. Beckman said he’ll promote a freshman to the depth chart.

— Sophomore safety Earnest Thomas has been cleared for the Wisconsin game after being ejected Saturday for a helmet-to-helmet hit. Said Beckman: “It was a judgment call and I respect the official’s decision. I talked to the Big Ten office about it. It wasn’t intentional. The concussion rule is there to protect the student-athletes, and I fully support it. Earnest was simply trying to make a play.”

— Louisiana Tech not only picked up wins at Illinois and Virginia but took in $775,000 from the UI and $825,000 Saturday. Tech is the exception to the rule that defense wins games, having permitted 148 points in a high-scoring 4-0 start. Watch for the makeup game with Texas A&M on Oct. 13.

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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geriatricillini wrote on October 02, 2012 at 9:10 am

Lets' see..."searching for an identity, we've got to get it fixed, injuries, growing pains, depth issues, they're a "physical team", we don't want "it" to happen again..." seems like I have heard all this before..year after year with different players and different coaches, but it doesn't seem to help much...reminds me of when I was a kid playing 45rpm records on an old turntable in my room and the old man would open the door and want to know why I played the "same damn song over and over". I said, "But Dad, they are different songs." and he said "It sounds like the same lousy stuff to me."

bookworm24 wrote on October 02, 2012 at 9:10 am

Hopefully you didn't pay $775,000 for each lousy 45rpm. 

geriatricillini wrote on October 02, 2012 at 9:10 am

They were $1.00 a piece in the 60s and I still have about 70 or so of them...maybe I should check out what they would bring...

walker wrote on October 02, 2012 at 9:10 am

Wisc. coming back to Madison off a tough loss is not good for us.   When does BB practice begin?

kzimmer001 wrote on October 02, 2012 at 9:10 am

What's funny, Loren, is you couldn't wait to see Zook run out of town.

We knew the offense would be a work in progress, but the Illini have some NFL caliber talent on the defensive side of the ball.  The coaching staff has been nothing short of awful so far. 

illinifaningeorgia wrote on October 02, 2012 at 10:10 am

What's with the love affair with Scheelhaase?  Nice completion percentage and total yards but  "An inability to finish three drives inside Penn State’s 10-yard line made the score more lopsided than it might have been. "  

THAT is the bottom line and unfortunately nothing new.  See the last 6 games from last year as the beginning of futility inside the Red Zone.

aaeismacgychel wrote on October 02, 2012 at 4:10 pm

I don't think Tate is wrong here. I said after the game that I thought Scheelhaase was one of the few bright spots for Illinois, especially in that first half. I thought he played a solid game against a good defense. Yes he had 2 picks, including one on a 4th and goal on a called slant that did not fool Mauti at the end of the half. But whether you throw a pick there or sail the ball out of the endzone, it's still a turnover. The 4th quarter pick was certainly on him, but at that point, the game was already over. He didn't play a flawless game or a great game, but he played a good game. And when most everyone else had an abysmal game, Scheelhaase's effort really didn't look bad at all. With better playcalling, especially in the redzone, I think Illinois would've had more success. They were hesitant to move Scheelhaase out of the pocket though, and considering that's his greatest strength and his ankle looked good, I think you have to cater to it.

While the quarterback usually gets a large part of the blame in a lopsided loss, I think he did what he had to do to give Illinois a chance in this game, especially considering how handcuffed he was with the playcalling. It's just a shame very few of his teammates or coaches could say the same about their play

bernies wrote on October 02, 2012 at 10:10 am

I just read where the Illini recently received a commitment from a recruit who had been passed over by two MAC schools. He had been hoping to get offers from these two MAC schools, but neither one offered, so he went with Illinois. Sure, the Illini need to get their mojo back, but I'm not sure this is the way to go about it. Hopefully the kid is a diamond in the rough and the Illinois offer will be vindicated.

illinifaningeorgia wrote on October 02, 2012 at 12:10 pm

The sad part is that his ONLY D1 offer was from Illinois. (recruit's name is Tyler White, a TE from Michigan)

bernies wrote on October 02, 2012 at 2:10 pm

The "mlive" web site said:

"It was the first Division I offer for White, who also had scholarship opportunities with Division II Grand Valley State and Ferris State, as well as Siena Heights of the NAIA."

Like I said, I'm hoping that the kid is a late-blooming diamond-in-the-rough (and he may well be) but it seems odd that a Big Ten team is competing with the likes of Grand Valley State, Ferris State, and Siena Heights.

aaeismacgychel wrote on October 02, 2012 at 5:10 pm

“This must be a new process. We have to find out what the problems are and fix them.”

Hmmmmmm... If only we had an idea why this has happened. Okay... It's a "new process", and let's see, it started this year... Garsh, if Illini Nation could just put all our heads together and figure out what this significant event that happened in the past year is and how to fix it... Golly gee that's a tough one... I mean criminy...

Well, none of the players are dead, so I'm pretty sure it's not a serial killer, though I don't think we can cross this off the list just yet... Okay, okay, hmmmmm, maybe it's mono, but teamwide mono? That seems a bit too coincidental...

AHA! I GOT IT! When Illinois killed off the Chief, Memorial Stadium became a burial ground, and now the team is cursed because they are playing right on top of it! That's got to be it!

Wow that was a tough one- shame it wasn't as easy an answer as a subpar new coaching staff coming in and absolutely failing in all facets of their job...

-Deputy Barney Fife

bernies wrote on October 02, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Looking at the bright side, at least we don't have to worry about our hopes getting raised and dashed like last season. :-)

There won't be 6-0 start, a national ranking, and then an 0-6 finish.