Asmussen: One more year for Beckman (at least)
In the grand scheme of things ...
College football writer and AP voter Bob Asmussen’s musings after the 10th week of the season:
— It’s the Loren Tate-old question (Happy No. 82): Would you rather lose a close game or a blowout?
There is no answer at Illinois. Not after Saturday’s devastating loss at Happy Valley. That makes it 18 consecutive Big Ten losses. Not the worst streak in the nation among major conferences (thanks, Kansas). But close enough.
Tim Beckman continues to look for his first conference victory at Illinois. And he is running out of time.
Four games left, but only three realistic chances for the Illini to end the streak. If that.
Illinois is not ready for Ohio State, which shut out Purdue on Saturday and is looking for style points. The Buckeyes visit C-U in two weeks, and Urban Meyer won’t take pity on Beckman just because he used to be a part of his coaching staff.
Beckman’s guys tried against Penn State. But they also made mistakes. The kind that have been omnipresent during the losing streak.
An early interception by Nathan Scheelhaase. A penalty that wiped out a touchdown. Poor clock management at the end of the first half. An ill-timed personal-foul penalty that led to Penn State’s first touchdown. An interception on the final play of the game. In overtime. As Illinois took a shot to retie the game.
“We went for a win,” Beckman said afterward. “It was my decision, and a decision we’re going to live by. These players want to win in the worst way.”
The very real question, the dinosaur in the room, is how much longer the decisions will be Beckman’s to make?
He already has more wins this year than with his first team. The Illini have been more competitive in Beckman Part II. Should be enough to buy him at least one more year.
But the public is losing patience. Listen to the talk today at church or at the doughnut shop or at your favorite breakfast spot. The sport on everyone’s mind is basketball, which is a week away from the start of its regular season.
Football is on the back burner. Way, way back.
Try to get a football conversation going with family or friends and it’s a nonstarter. That is a problem.
Two years ago, Illinois fired a guy who put the team in consecutive bowl games.
Coaches don’t get seven years to build a program. More like three or four. If that.
A quick hook is rarely the right thing to do. You have to give the new guy time to establish his brand. There were walls and habits from the old regime that needed to be torn down. That takes time.
Maybe the smart thing to do is pat Beckman on the back for a job well done Saturday. He took his team into a difficult environment against a team that looks bowl bound. And he made it into overtime. Not a win, but a small step.
Next time, maybe the rookie defensive back is able to hang onto the interception try. Next time, maybe the opposing kicker misses the short field goal in the closing seconds. Next time, maybe the star running back doesn’t get knocked from the game.
But that’s a lot of maybes.
— Soft-spoken but opinionated Mark May let the Illini have it during ESPN’s halftime show. The analyst couldn’t believe the way Illinois botched a last-second drive. Instead of scoring a touchdown, Illinois was forced to settle for a field goal when it ran out of time. And only a late-hit penalty by Penn State allowed the Illini field goal try.
May went off, then Rece Davis and Lou Holtz followed with a version of “what do you really think?”
Holtz wanted to hear a halftime interview with Beckman but instead got a taste of grumpy Bill O’Brien.
Beckman did have an answer afterward. Sort of.
“It comes down to scoring points in the red zone,” Beckman said. “Not field goals, but touchdowns. The teams that are winning football games are taking care of the orange in the red zone.”
— The long flight home gave the Illini time to consider the one that got away. They will reconvene this week with the idea of ending their pain against Indiana.
There is a precedent, the last Big Ten win by the Illini coming against the Hoosiers.
Scheelhaase had a big game that day. Just like Saturday. But the senior quarterback would trade all those meaningless yards against Penn State for one more point in regulation.
— Where were you for Joe Paterno’s last game?
Scheelhaase was on the field, trying to prevent the legend from becoming the all-time winningest coach in Division I history. Then an Illini sophomore, Scheelhaase almost got it done.
Illinois lost 10-7 when Derek Dimke’s field goal hit the right upright as time expired.
Days later, the game lost most of its significance in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Earlier this week, Scheelhaase talked about being part of history.
“You had no idea (what was coming),” Scheelhaase said. “Who would have thought? It was one of those things you never know the magnitude of the games you are playing in. Looking back on it now and in years to come, saying you played against Joe Paterno in the last game he coached only a select few can say.”
Scheelhaase played two games against Paterno, going 1-1. He shook hands with him after both games. Scheelhaase ends his Beaver Stadium career at 1-2.
— Jeff Rice knows the Penn State program. Inside and out. He first got acquainted as a student. Then continued his Nittany Lions studies as the beat writer for the Centre Daily Times. Today, Rice covers Penn State for Lions 247, a sports website dedicated to all things Penn State.
Rice saw the transition from Paterno to O’Brien on the frontlines. The controlled Paterno era has given way to a more open approach.
“I think the biggest thing is the freshness, the idea that innovation is everything,” Rice said. “O’Brien and his staff are always searching for ways to be better, where Paterno and his staff were simply working to maintain and uphold what had worked for so long. The other is philosophy of how to win — Paterno wanted his defense and special teams to lead the way and thought of his quarterbacks as game managers. The team’s best athletes usually wound up on defense. O’Brien wants to outscore people and apply pressure on defenses with both the pass and the run and by changing tempo. To him, the quarterback is the most important player on the field, and it goes from there.”
The big question is how much long-term damage Sandusky did to the program. Rice said it is too soon to tell.
“But we’re far enough removed that people are starting to realize that time, though it does not heal all wounds, can help the recovery process. From a pure football standpoint, getting the scholarship restrictions reduced was enormous.
“As it is, I think Penn State could be back to full strength by 2016 or 2017, where before it might have been 2020.”
The outside world is noticing the recovery.
“I think it’s real; people are aware that something unspeakable took place and they’re more alert not only to prevent awful things from happening but also aware of how they’re perceived by folks in other places,” Rice said. “That can drive change as much as any internal motivations.“
A BCS bowl could one day be in Penn State’s future. That idea seemed far-fetched two years ago.
“Certainly. I don’t know if it will be any time in the next five years, and I don’t know if Bill O’Brien will be the guy that gets the Nittany Lions there, but this is a program with tremendous tradition, one of the largest alumni bases in the world ,and it is still, in many ways and for whatever it’s worth, arguably the premier football institution in the Northeast. Ohio State will be a formidable roadblock whether it’s Meyer or someone else running the team, but Penn State will be back, sooner or later.”
O’Brien tried to play nice with reporters. For a while.
“He had opened one practice per week last season but shut that down in September after a reporter handled something in a way he did not like, and we haven’t been back since,” Rice said.
Other than the media ban, Rice has been impressed with O’Brien.
Penn State was “extremely fortunate to wind up with a leader like O’Brien, who has continued to stand firm in what have been unprecedented circumstances,” Rice said. “What he’s done on the field has been impressive, especially for a rookie head coach. But what he has done behind the scenes to be a leader not just for the program but for the athletic department and the university as well has been incredible.”
On the Big Ten
— Wisconsin moves back into The News-Gazette’s Top 25 after a dominating win against Iowa. First-year coach Gary Andersen continues to impress as Bret Bielema’s sub. Not sure if the fans would have Bielema back if he came begging.
— Purdue is a real strong bet for this week’s Bottom Five. Now 1-7, the Boilermakers have been blanked twice in a row and have been outscored 210-41 in their last five losses. Yuck.
Good news, Illinois comes to town later in the month.
On the rest
— I.T.G.S.O.T. has another possible destination for former coach Ron Zook: Florida Atlantic.
The Owls need a coach after the messy firing of Carl Pelini earlier in the week.
Pelini and an assistant were dropped after allegations of illegal drug use.
What the school needs now is a coach with a spotless reputation. And other than his fondness for Natural Light, Zook is that guy. Florida Atlantic has an interim coach for the rest of the season but will look to make a quick hire.
Zook is obviously a strong candidate at his alma mater, Miami (Ohio).
— ESPN’s Lee Corso put on his old Florida State uniform No. 20 during ESPN’s “GameDay” show at Tallahassee, Fla. The stuntmaster, who wrestled with Bill Murray a couple weeks back, proudly wore the colors of his alma mater.
Big Ten fans might want to boycott records by country star Jake Owen, who dissed the league during his “GameDay” segment.
Is it just me, or does “GameDay” lean heavy on the country music industry? Guess it beats that weird Brent Musburger interview with Eminem.