ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The good news: Illinois won’t lose next Saturday. The Illini get a week off before an Oct. 27 homecoming date with Indiana at Memorial Stadium.
That’s a relief for a team that enters the open date on the schedule having lost four straight and seems to have been dealt injury after significant injury much of the season’s first seven weeks.
“I don’t know when a good time is (to have an off week),” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “We need to get some guys healthy.”
The latest blow was quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase going down in the second quarter of Saturday’s 45-0 loss to Michigan in front of 110,922 at the Big House. The fourth-year junior hit his head on the turf at the end of a 23-yard run and didn’t return. Beckman said Scheelhaase suffered a concussion.
The Illini were already playing without cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who left last week’s game at Wisconsin in an ambulance with a head injury.
But more than time off for physical recuperation, Illinois (2-5, 0-3 Big Ten) is a team in desperate need of a break to recover from a bruised psyche.
The Illini haven’t been close in any of their five losses, losing by an average of 30 points. A week away from the field coupled with a date against the lowly Hoosiers might provide a lift in the midst of an otherwise lost season.
“We have a week off, so I think it’s really time to find ourselves and figure out what’s wrong with this team, figure out why we’re not playing with heart out there and try to get this thing fixed,” defensive end Michael Buchanan said. “I think it’s a great opportunity. We’ve got a week off then we’re going into our homecoming game and I’m sure everyone will be revved up and ready to play that, so hopefully we can get this thing turned around.”
Saturday was rock bottom. The Illini were shut out for the first time since a 30-0 defeat at Ohio State in 2009. The Illinois offense, which entered the game ranked 101st in the country in total offense and 102nd in scoring offense, never got past the Michigan 32-yard line and totaled 134 yards to Michigan’s 527.
What it amounted to was the largest margin of defeat since Penn State left Memorial Stadium with a 61-14 win seven years ago.
“As I told this football team, this is kind of the crossroads. The film doesn’t lie,” Beckman said. “Our players are disappointed and hurting and our coaching staff is, too. I’m sure Illini Nation is, too. We’re gonna get back there tomorrow, we’re gonna evaluate it and make our assessments.”