Tate: Ugly start takes its toll
Coaches are human. They’re schooled to maintain a stiff upper lip, to never let their disappointment show. But they have the same emotions, the same highs and lows, as the rest of us.
In just five games, Tim Beckman already is feeling the pressure. He sees his Illini playing poorly. He is aware that the fans are leaving Memorial Stadium early. He, like you, knows what he’s facing at Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
And if you want to know how he feels, he has a simple request. Ask him.
Before Wednesday’s news conference, he asked that if media members wanted to know his feelings, come to him and not his assistants.
This stemmed from the previous day’s interview with assistant Alex Golesh, as first published by Rivals.com. Said Golesh in an honest response to the question:
“I think it’s tough on him (Beckman) because expectations were maybe a little bit higher than we’ve achieved so far, especially probably defensively. The expectation’s been that we’re a Top-10 defense. Offensively, I think our expectation was to win time of possession, not turn the ball over, and win with defense. Right now, we’re not doing that.
“I think if it’s not tough on him, you probably got the wrong guy. He lives, breathes and walks around thinking about this nonstop. It’s been hard on him. It’s been hard on everybody.”
Later in the open interview, the recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach again spoke frankly:
“We (coaches) can’t go play for them. Prime example, our job is to put our kids in one-on-one matchups. They have to win those one-on-one matchups, whether that’s up front or at the skill spots.
“If they can’t win those matchups, then we have to go recruit. We have to recruit better players. But if we don’t put them in the right one-on-one situations, then that’s our fault.”
Straight talk that we all understand, but it is apparent Beckman would have handled the same subjects with more delicacy.
More of the same
Running back Donovonn Young was equally candid:
“As a playmaker, you want the ball in your hands,” the Texas sophomore said. “I play physical, and I need the ball. That’s how it is for all the playmakers, Josh (Ferguson), Darius (Millines), all the guys we have. Can this offense run the ball? Definitely. I mean, if we couldn’t, that’s a knock on me, so I’m confident that we can run the ball. I got it six times last week (gained 63). So it’s like ... I mean, you can’t run the ball when you don’t have the ball.”
Referencing the offensive line, Young said:
“I feel like the line has played well despite all the turmoil that’s going on ... so much change. The only person that’s really been in one position has been Teddy Karras (right guard), and the rest of the line has shifted around, played different positions, people have been thrown in. So due to the lack of consistency up front, like the same people, I feel like we’ve done well.”
“I’m done talking about it,” Young said. “We need to go out and handle business. We keep getting our butt kicked. It upsets me because I go out and play hard, and I know all my teammates do. It’s frustrating at the end of the day looking up at the scoreboard. Like, we went 7-6 last year, but, man, most of those games that we lost were not as bad as what has been happening.
“I feel bad for the fans. I look up in the stands, and they’re leaving after the third quarter. It hurts when I’m on the sideline because I put in the work during the week, extra work, all the time I put in, and we get beat like we do. In the fourth quarter there’s like nobody up there, and it hurts and I feel bad for the fans because they want us to do good. They come out and support us, but it’s just like, I mean, what can you do?”
Big — or bad — Badgers?
It is appropriate for Illinoisans to be disappointed over being outscored 132-45 in the three losses, but it should be noted that Saturday’s foe hasn’t exactly set the woods on fire. In short order, coach Bret Bielema has fired new offensive line coach Mike Markuson — a spread advocate who didn’t fit the Badger system — and discovered that the latest quarterback transfer, Danny O’Brien, is no Russell Wilson.
If you credit Wisconsin with a strong effort in Saturday’s 30-27 loss at Nebraska, that doesn’t change the fact the Badgers weren’t impressive in four-fifths of the season.
The Badgers escaped 26-21 against Northern Iowa (now 1-4). They had 35 yards rushing in a 10-7 loss at Oregon State. They squeaked by Utah State 16-14 when a 37-yard field goal try went wide on the last play. They beat UTEP 37-26 with a 21-20 edge in first downs. And they looked good in building a 17-point lead before Nebraska rallied.
In five games, the Badgers have four fewer first downs than their opponents, 198 fewer yards gained and roughly the same time of possession. If Utah State had drilled an easy field goal, the Badgers’ record would be the same as the UI’s ... with one difference: Wisconsin’s losses are close. Illinois’ are not.
Regardless of graduation and injury losses, the folks up north expect excellence. They’ve come to demand it and turn out in large numbers to encourage it. Bielema replaced Barry Alvarez in 2006 and won 17 of his first 18 games as coach. He has won at least nine games on five occasions. He’s 27-1 in nonconference games, and his Badgers prevailed in the Big Ten’s first playoff game.
The Northerners believe Wisconsin will gather momentum and send Montee Ball flying through the line like Ron Dayne. The Badgers haven’t shown it yet, but it is expected. At Illinois, the folks don’t know what to expect, and they’ve never been less optimistic.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.