CHAMPAIGN — A few defensive stops.
A few deep passes completed.
Illinois showed signs of staying with Wisconsin during its 56-32 home loss Saturday night. The Illini just didn’t sustain those moments throughout.
“We didn’t come out clean at the start,” Illinois defensive end Tim Kynard said. “Guys fought back. Guys were responding. We’ve just got to learn how to bottle up that momentum going into halftime and get a three-and-out on defense to start. We’ve got to figure out our mistakes.”
It sure seems like the Illinois offense will have to score in bunches if it wants to win in the Big Ten — at least with the way the defense has performed in the first two league games.
The next chance comes Saturday, when Legends Division-leading Michigan State visits for homecoming.
“As a defense, we try to stay consistent, and when you don’t do that, you get the wind taken out of your sails,” LEO Houston Bates said. “You gain some momentum, and then you lose it. It’s always better to gain momentum and keep it. We have a problem of doing that right now.”
Wisconsin scored touchdowns on eight of its 11 possessions. The only time Illinois forced punts on back-to-back drives helped the Illini trim their three-touchdown deficit to 21-10 midway through the second quarter. But when Illinois needed the defense to hold in the second half, Wisconsin scored on its first two series to stifle any chance of a comeback.
“It’s on me. I’ve got to coach better,” UI defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “Ultimately, they’re going to feel better about themselves when they get it done. No different than us as coaches. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. We are who we are, so we’ve got to find a way to get better playing and coaching to get this thing turned around.”
Nathan Scheelhaase continued his solid play this season at Memorial Stadium, completing 20 of 27 passes for 249 yards. But running backs Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young combined for 37 rushing yards on 12 carries.
“Because we got behind, we had to throw the football and try to get points on the board as fast as we can,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “We’re more successful when we move fast. We’d like to get the ball into (Young) and (Ferguson’s) hands more, but I think the situation of the football game probably took a couple carries out of their hands.”
So did the first-quarter struggles. Illinois has been outscored 35-0 in the first quarter through its first two Big Ten games, and that leaves offensive coordinator Bill Cubit puzzled.
“We need a better start,” he said. “It just seems like in some of these games we go out there and we’re trying to feel things out. It worked against us again.”