CHAMPAIGN — The criticism toward Illinois first-year coach Tim Beckman has come from everywhere.
Media. Message boards. Even fans a few rows behind the Illini bench were giving the coach the business as Indiana put the finishing touches on a 31-17 win Saturday to spoil homecoming at Memorial Stadium.
Publicly, Beckman hasn’t said much about the backlash. But when asked how he was holding up after his team’s fifth consecutive loss, Beckman was candid.
“Awesome! How do I look?” he said. “I’ve lost 22 pounds. You think I like losing? I haven’t been around it. I hate it. We just continue to go and plug forward. I’ve learned a lot.”
For the sake of their coach’s health, the Illini better find a way to win a game soon, but that appears to be a daunting task. No. 9 Ohio State is up next, followed by an improved Minnesota squad, a Purdue team that took Ohio State into overtime last week and a visit to bowl-eligible Northwestern.
The best bet for a win appeared to be Indiana (3-5, 1-3), but the Hoosiers used the steady play of backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld (two TD passes) to end an 11-game conference losing streak.
If the Illini (2-6, 0-4) need reassurance that things can get better, they should just look across the field at the program that extended their Big Ten losing streak to 10 games Saturday.
The Hoosiers are operating under a second-year coaching staff, and though they haven’t been winning games, they’ve been competitive. Illinois has not been. During their five-game losing streak, the Illini have been outscored 194-62.
“You’re looking at some programs that have built some continuity, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Beckman said. “You want it to happen fast, just like everybody does. You want to be successful as fast as you possibly can, but right now, we’re not. We’ve got to evaluate the things again that we’re doing and create things that can help our players be successful and this program be successful.”
Eight penalties for 81 yards, including two personal fouls, didn’t help that cause. Neither did two turnovers.
“We can’t do those things,” Beckman said. “We’re not a good enough football team — or anybody’s a good enough football team — to do those things. That ended up biting us, and we ended up losing the football game.”
The Illini did get the offense going some, a game after racking up 134 total yards at Michigan. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (208 total yards) threw a touchdown pass to Eddie Viliunas and ran for another. Donovonn Young rushed for 124 yards, the second time in his career the sophomore has eclipsed the 100-yard mark.
For their part, the players have recognized their coach’s struggle.
“He does his job and he counts on us 18- to 22-year-olds, and when I try to look at it from his perspective, I feel like that’s a tough job,” Young said. “We’re not always accountable, and he’s putting all his trust into us, and I know that’s tough for him. He believes in us, and we’re going to keep believing in him.”