OSU 60, UI 35: Beckman, Cubit go at it
CHAMPAIGN — So promising one play.
So agonizingly frustrating the next.
The inconsistent nature of Illinois has befuddled many for decades.
This year’s version isn’t much different.
It culminated with less than five minutes left in the third quarter of Saturday’s 60-35 loss to third-ranked and unbeaten Ohio State in front of 44,095 fans.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit exchanged harsh words after Ohio State forced a safety to increase its lead to 37-21. Assistant coaches had to step in between the two and separate them after backup quarterback Reilly O’Toole was sacked and fumbled, causing the safety.
Beckman and Cubit downplayed the situation after the game.
“It was just a heat-of-the moment thing,” said Beckman, who said he has never been involved in a situation like that before during a game. “We both want to be successful. I’m the head football coach, so it goes on my shoulders. Bill and I have gotten along forever, and I respect Bill. Immediately on the sidelines we talked about it and got it straightened (out).”
Cubit — who also said he has never found himself in a situation like that during a game — was tight-lipped about what transpired.
“We took the sack and a couple guys weren’t happy about it,” Cubit said.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase — whose helmet came off when a piece of his chin strap broke — said he didn’t see the disagreement unfold. O’Toole was in the game because of rules that force a player to sit out at least one play when his helmet comes off.
“I was honestly trying to find a large helmet and found one at the time,” Scheelhaase said. “It’s one of those things where emotions are running high in big games like that. Those things happen, I know. Shoot, it happens between us players all the time.”
Even so, television cameras don’t often capture the moment for a national audience, like what happened Saturday.
“All that stuff’s kind of heat of the moment, and we understand,” wide receiver Steve Hull said. “You just kind of shake hands and move on from there, but, honestly, we didn’t know what was going on. We just locked back into the game.”
Illinois now owns the nation’s longest conference losing streak after suffering its 20th straight Big Ten defeat. Kansas held the mark, but the Jayhawks snapped a 27-game Big 12 slide with a win against West Virginia on Saturday.
The Jayhawks keep making this weekend one Illinois supporters will never want to relive.
The discord that built up during last year’s losing slide doesn’t seem to have manifested itself with the Illini players. “The players, we’re actually believing in it, and we’re giving it everything we possibly have,” Hull said. “We’ve got guys fighting through injuries, fighting through things in life, and it’s really special to be around them.”
A special comeback wasn’t in the making for Illinois.
“I feel like it just proves to ourselves that we can play with anybody,” free safety Zane Petty said. “We just have to finish games.”
Illinois will only get two more games this year. Two more times to put together a complete game, a feat Illinois has not achieved since Big Ten play started eight weeks ago.
“We want these seniors to leave winners and to win this football game that’s necessary for them to get this losing streak done,” Beckman said. “We want to win. Nobody likes to lose. We still have two trophies left to play for ... and that’s exactly what we play for.”
Tempers flared on the Illinois sidelines. Carlos Hyde harkened memories of Eddie George and Archie Griffin. Nathan Scheelhaase took a pounding. It had the makings of a blowout loss early, but Illinois showed resilience like it has for much of the season. In the end, the more talented team won. But Illinois prevented Ohio State from earning any style points from the voters and computers, and actually gave the Illinois fans who made their way into Memorial Stadium a glimmer of hope well into the fourth quarter. People may compare this year to what unfolded last season for Illinois based on the Illini’s record, but it’s a far different plot developing in Champaign this time around.
What it means
The losses continue to accumulate for Illinois. The defensive maladies continue to flare up. Tim Banks should probably polish up his resume. The calls for the firing of the Illinois defensive coordinator once again lit up message boards and social media in the aftermath of Saturday’s loss. Illinois will miss a bowl game for the second straight year but could finish with two wins. Purdue and Northwestern are beatable — if the Illinois defense ever figures out how to stymie opponents.
A trip to Joe Tiller’s old stomping grounds. The folks in West Lafayette are probably wishing he would come out of retirement. Next Saturday’s game is one to see whether the Boilermakers or Illini stay out of the depths of the Big Ten Leaders Division. The Illini and Boilermakers will enter Ross-Ade Stadium with 0-6 records in conference play. Perhaps this is where the Big Ten losing streak ends. Then again, perhaps not. Illinois hasn’t won in West Lafayette since 2001, and the Boilermakers have won seven of the last eight meetings in the series. But this Purdue team is bad. Really bad. Illinois is on a six-game losing streak, but don’t be surprised if Illinois enters this week as a favorite. Seriously.