Beckman: No pointing fingers
Three items beat writer MATT DANIELS picked up from Tim Beckman’s 17-minute media session Monday:
Against the din of the Penn State student section, Illinois had the ball at Penn State’s 2-yard line late in Saturday’s game with a 17-14 lead. Instead of running the ball or having quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase try a sneak on first down to get some room to operate, offensive coordinator Bill Cubit had Scheelhaase drop back to pass. His toss to tight end Evan Wilson was too high, and back-to-back 1-yard runs forced Illinois to punt. The ball went back to Penn State and ... well, we all know what happened. If Scheelhaase completes the pass, perhaps folks are talking about a 4-4 Illinois team and Beckman doesn’t have to answer questions Monday about the play call.
“Coach Cubit felt we weren’t really running the ball extremely well, and that’s been kind of our Achilles’ heel this football season, so we felt we could get something on a play-action pass, which had worked for us numerous times in prior football games,” Beckman said. “That’s what we went to, and it just fell over the fingertips of Evan Wilson. We’ve got to be able to move that football and get at least half of it. Next thing you know we’ve got to punt. That was one of those points in the football game ... where we have got to make those plays.”
Fans were probably screaming at their televisions. Rightfully so. The opportunity to cut Penn State’s lead in half right before the end of the first half presented itself for the Illini. Poor clock management skills, however, prevented a possible touchdown. And a roughing-the-passer call was the only reason Taylor Zalewski trotted out to attempt a 20-yard field goal that he made. Otherwise, Illinois would have trailed 14-0 at intermission instead of 14-3. The illegal-snap penalty by center Alex Hill obviously hurt that sequence of events, along with Scheelhaase’s time-consuming audible on the play.
“We didn’t manage the clock quite as well as we would have liked to have at that time,” Beckman said. “Not just pointing at Nate, we would have liked to get the ball off a lot quicker to save us some time.”
Not from defenders. More like running into the defenders. The Illinois rushing game has been virtually nonexistent since the Illini left Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., a month ago. Maybe the past greatness of Mike Rozier, Ahman Green and other former Cornhuskers was passed onto Illinois that day. Since Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young rushed for a combined 175 yards at Nebraska, Illinois only has accumulated a combined 187 rushing yards in the three games since. Yes, Scheelhaase attempting a career-high 52 passes like he did against Penn State doesn’t allow many rushing opportunities, but that goes to show how little confidence Illinois has right now in running the football. The confidence should grow Saturday at Indiana. The Hoosiers have the 114th-ranked rush defense in the country — just ahead of Illinois, which sits 113th in stopping the run.
“In the last four football games, we’ve been down early, so again, I think it was a little bit of a catch-up,” Beckman said. “We did run the ball, stat-wise, much more in the second half than we did in the first half after we got back in the football game, but we’ve got to be able to run the football in the Big Ten Conference. You’ve got to feel confident that you can run the football and gain yardage necessary, even when they’re loading the box.”