MADISON, Wis. — Just before the opening kick between Illinois and Wisconsin, the ABC/ESPN cameras caught Illinois coach Tim Beckman inserting a wad of chewing tobacco into his mouth, which sparked an Internet firestorm.
The reaction on Twitter and beyond was unfavorable toward the first-year Illini coach.
“That’s a bad habit of mine, and I apologize for that. I guess it’s the stress,” Beckman said. “There’s no excuse for that, and that will be stopped. It shouldn’t have been done, and I take full responsibility for a habit that I’ve had, and I apologize for that.”
Chewing tobacco is on the NCAA’s list of banned substances. “The use of tobacco products is prohibited for coaches, game officials and student-athletes in all sports during practice and game competition,” the NCAA rulebook states. “A student-athlete who uses tobacco products during practice or competition is automatically disqualified from the remainder of that practice or game.”
Ohio State self-reported assistant football coach Mike Vrabel’s use of smokeless tobacco on the sideline during games in 2011. A violation of the rule is considered a secondary NCAA violation. Beckman said he was unaware of any penalties he might be assessed as a result of his offense Saturday.
Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown missed much of the second half of Illinois’ loss to Penn State last week with an ankle injury. Brown didn’t play the first series of Saturday’s game, but he was on the field for much of the remainder of the game.
“Jonathan Brown played injured today, and he played hard for a young man that had an injury. I thought he did a great job,” Beckman said.
Brown finished with a team-high nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss.
“He’s banged up, but he gave us everything he had,” defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “He tried to contribute, tried to lead and do whatever he could to try to will his team to a win. At the end of the day, it obviously wasn’t enough.”
True freshman Mike Svetina got the start alongside classmate Mason Monheim at linebacker.
“I was still hurting a little bit, but I had to do what I had to do,” Brown said.
Illinois played without safety Supo Sanni. Sanni, who missed the first four games of the season with a sprained left knee, injured his shoulder last week in his season debut against Penn State.
“We’ve got to get (Sanni) back. Supo did not play today to help our secondary out a little bit with depth,” Beckman said. “We’re getting guys back as healthy as they can be.”
Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne left the field in an ambulance midway through the third quarter after delivering a big hit on Wisconsin fullback Derek Watt.
An Illinois spokesperson said Hawthorne was alert and moving on the field and was taken to the hospital as a precaution.
Hawthorne’s CT scan was negative, and he flew back to Champaign with the rest of his teammates after the game.
“I blocked it out, tried to finish the game, and after everything Coach said he was fine, so when he gets back, I’ll talk to him,” said defensive tackle Akeem Spence, Hawthorne’s roommate. “It’s just something you’ve got to learn to block out. Injuries happen, that’s football.”
The Illini, who came into the game ranked 11th in the Big Ten in rushing (130.6 yards per game), picked up 106 Saturday. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had 84 yards rushing on 22 carries.
Running backs Josh Ferguson (11 yards on seven carries) and Donovonn Young (5 yards, six carries) didn’t factor much into the running game.
“Obviously, we’d like to get them the ball a little bit more,” co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales said. “The quarterback power, the tailbacks were coming to the outside with it, opening up the middle and the read was there for the quarterback to keep it. He had a good game rushing the ball. Bottom line is, we’d like to get the ball to Josh and Donovonn a little bit more.”
A big part of the problem has been the inconsistent play of the offensive line.
“We can get a couple yards, there’s always 3 yards out there for us,” Young said. “Other than that, it’s nothing past that.”
The only team behind the Illini in rushing in the league was Wisconsin (125.6). The Badgers got 173 yards Saturday.
Receiver Darius Millines saw his first action since Week 2 at Arizona State. The junior had been sidelined with an ankle injury.
“It felt great,” Millines said. “I was just waiting, practicing hard. It’s always a great feeling to get back out there.”
Millines was Illinois’ leading receiver Saturday, hauling in five passes for 54 yards.
“It was tough seeing our team taking a downfall, not being able to help, and that’s always tough.”
Scheelhaase opened the scoring with a 5-yard touchdown run but made a bit of an error shortly thereafter when he tried to high-five back judge Mike Brown, who ducked out of the way of the quarterback’s advance (check out our IlliniHQ.com Facebook page for the video).
“I was trying to give a high-five to the ref. Our deal is to hand the ball to the official, but somehow the ball got loose — I probably, like, threw it a little bit — and in apology, I tried to give him a high-five. I almost knocked him over; he almost tripped,” Scheelhaase said. “I don’t think they can do that. One of the refs told me they weren’t able to do that.”
Steve Hull came to Illinois as a receiver. But days before he was to make his collegiate debut as a redshirt freshman, Hull was moved to safety to offset a litany of Illinois injuries at the position. He’s been there since, and he caught a ball for the second time in his career Saturday.
Hull intercepted Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave and returned it 17 yards to the Badgers’ 28 to set up the game’s first score.
“I remember how to catch, it’s just like riding a bike,” Hull said. “It felt great. Any turnover is great for a defense, and I was lucky enough to be in the right place. Terry did a great job, and a lot of credit goes to him. It was good to get the interception and for us to turn it into a touchdown.”