UFR: Missed opportunity
Paul Klee's read on Saturdays loss at Wisconsin:
— Why did this one hurt? Wisconsin is utterly beatable. This isn’t a classic Badgers squad that pounds the spirit out of an opponent. All four of Wisconsin’s touchdown drives consumed less than 3 minutes. No 14-play drives here. What the Illini needed was something good to happen, and it seemed they found it when Steve Hull intercepted a pass that led to their first touchdown. But when something bad happens — and the fourth quarter was an avalanche of bad — shoulders slump and the snowball effect kicks in. These Illini are in need of A) a lucky break B) a bye week. Neither is on the horizon.
— When the local meteorologist forecasts the weather wearing a Badgers jersey, you know the city stands firmly behind the program. Despite an ominous start to the season, Wisconsin football still is the hottest ticket. State Street bars were packed and vendors on Regent were hoppin’. The student section — massive in comparison to the Block I — left only 19 rows of the west stands unfilled. The atmosphere on game day is what Illinois football dreams of. And while the Illini program seems to operate in constant survival mode, Badgers coach Bret Bielema sauntered around pregame warmups sipping on a cup of coffee, chillin’ out.
— The concern going forward must be the state of the Illinois locker room. The midway point seems awfully early for a players-only meeting, but that’s what took place inside the team hotel Friday night. “We can’t dwell on the bad stuff,” Ryan Lankford said. This Illini defense features a handful of NFL prospects. At the end of the Ron Zook era, coaches privately wondered if some prospects were playing for their draft stock instead of playing within the system. One of Tim Beckman’s biggest challenges will be keeping the locker room together when the Illini could be favored in only two games the rest of the way (Indiana, Minnesota).
— The second guessing won’t come from this scribe. “I think we need to open up the playbook,” running back Donovonn Young said, doing the dirty work for us. Whether the sophomore is right or wrong, that isn’t our place to decide. But it’s certain the tailbacks would prefer to hear their names more often. Young, who runs angry, a great quality in a tailback, glanced at the stat sheet and made note of his line — four rushes, 6 yards — as if to say the running game can’t flourish if it isn’t used. For players not named Nathan Scheelhaase, the running game was almost non-existent — 12 rushing attempts for 24 yards, a meager average of 2 yards per carry.
— In terms of public sentiment, Beckman is entering Bruce Weber Circa 2010-12 territory. Relevant or inconsequential, the coach’s every move is being nit-picked. It is unfair for a first-year coach that has limited depth on his roster, but that’s where we are. Weber was under a microscope for most of his final three seasons at Illinois. The unfortunate spotlight has found Beckman in his first. As Weber learned late in his tenure, it’s difficult to reclaim the faith of a fandom. It will be even harder for Beckman, who won’t have a promising first season to lean back on.
— Love you, Madison. Love your restaurants and your fly fishing and your spirit. Like Boulder or Berkeley, you let us know where you stand, even if we’re not in agreement. In that way, Saturday’s downtown protest wasn’t a surprise; a few dozen sign-waving, peace-sign-flashing, chanting locals marched through State Street and no one blushed. The second guessing part? At least two of the signs denounced Barack Obama. Another called Mitt Romney a bad name. We do need one of them to earn the presidency, correct?
— Glancing over the remaining schedule, Indiana’s visit to Illinois on Oct. 27 appears to be the best chance for an Illini win. And it is. But the Hoosiers are better than the Illini right now and showed it again Saturday despite a 31-27 loss to Michigan State. It marked the second straight week Indiana was competitive. Recent history suggests Indiana isn’t a pushover for first-year coaches. Ron Turner and Ron Zook lost to the Hoosiers in their first seasons.
— Wisconsin’s Joel Stave is a pocket passer that wins with his arm. And it’s a lively arm that has produced three games of 200-plus yards passing in three games. On Saturday at Michigan, Illinois faces a much different dynamic at quarterback. Denard Robinson was listed as the fifth-best prospect on Todd McShay’s draft board — as a wide receiver. Robinson wins with his legs. “We’re going to have to come with a different game plan to stop him from doing what he does best, which is getting out of the pocket and running,” defensive end Michael Buchanan said. Prior to a shaky start, Michigan was billed to be a top-10 team and looked the part in a 44-13 win at Purdue.
In the Stadium
— Oakland Raiders defensive end Matt Shaughnessy participated in the pregame coin toss as an honorary captain for the Badgers. Shaughnessy was a third-round pick in 2009.
— Illinois basketball recruiting interest Malek Harris, a 2014 prospect from Sandburg, was at Camp Randall on an unofficial visit.
— NFL scouts included reps from the Bears, Chiefs, Giants, Jaguars and Seahawks.
— Bo Ryan’s Badgers were introduced during the football game and fired up the student section by dancing to “Gangnam Style.” (Former Badger Joe Krabbenhoft once noted Ryan appreciates a wide range of music and once pulled up to the arena listening to Nelly.) The basketball Badgers have a hefty nonleague schedule with challenges against Florida, Virginia, Creighton, Cal, Marquette and either Arizona State or Arkansas.