UW 34, UI 24: 'They made strides'

UW 34, UI 24: 'They made strides'

CHICAGO — Can’t win games this way.

By failing to score touchdowns at crucial times in the first half.

And by failing to tackle at crucial times in the second half.

All the positivity Tim Beckman has tried to generate surrounding his program is still there. The second-year coach hasn’t lost that.  

But a 34-24 loss to Washington at Soldier Field on Saturday evening in front of 47,312 presented one glaring, obvious sign.  

Illinois football isn’t back yet. At least on the national stage.

“We have got to get better if we’re going to be contenders,” Beckman said. “Right now this football team is very disappointed after the loss, but I do think that they understand they made strides in this program. We’ve got to continue to make those strides so that when we get into the Big Ten we’re ready to play.”

Illinois showed its rebuilding plan under Beckman, however, is further along than most people anticipated. Being within a touchdown of a ranked nonconference team midway through the fourth quarter is proof.

Playing under the bright lights in an NFL venue helps draw recruits in. Illinois had three-fourths of its 12 commits in the Class of 2014 on hand.

Getting the elite-level, program-changing players, however, is still a meddlesome task. Play like Illinois did after falling behind 31-10 midway through the third quarter for a full game and watch out.

“I feel like we came out the way we practiced this week,” wide receiver Miles Osei said. “We all realized that. It kind of lit up a fire under all of us. We’ll take this and learn from this, but we know for the rest of the season that every practice is important for us.”

The bright side is Illinois has a solid chance of going into October at 3-1. A bye week awaits Illinois before downtrodden Miami (Ohio) visits Memorial Stadium.

“The only thing we can do is get back to the drawing board,” cornerback Eaton Spence said. “All we can do now is get ready for Miami of Ohio.”

The down side is Illinois will start Big Ten play soon. Beating a conference foe hasn’t treated Illinois — losers of 14 straight to league opponents — too kindly in the recent past.

“I thought they fought extremely hard,” Beckman said. “I thought Nathan (Scheelhaase) ran our offense extremely well in the second half. We had a couple adjustments that they made at halftime that you saw pay off for us. This team did meet a challenge at halftime, and I think offensively we stepped up.”

Now it’s just getting both sides of the ball at the same level. The whole game. And making the tackles Washington easily shed — or avoided — on Saturday.

“It all boils down to us not tackling well,” Beckman said. “That’s things that we have to do better as a coaching staff and teaching our football players how to do that better.”

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