Northwestern 37, Illinois 34: 'We've got to win more'

CHAMPAIGN — Some shed tears.

A few walked slowly. Heads down. Shoulders slumped.

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas was there, doling out handshakes and hugs when needed before the Illinois players jogged or walked into the locker room.

When the 15 seniors who were honored prior to Saturday’s 37-34 home loss against Northwestern return again to Champaign, they’ll do so as spectators.

“Weird,” quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said after he completed 33 of 45 passes for 307 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in his 48th and final game at Illinois. “I’ve been in every single part of it. I’ve seen everything. All of a sudden, I’ll be detached and only see what everybody else sees. It’ll be tough, I’m sure, to get adjusted to. This hasn’t been what defines me  but made me who I was, and now it’ll be something new I’m adjusting to. Next year will be crazy not to be a member of this football team.”

Corey Lewis handed out elbow pads and Nick Forzley distributed his gloves to young fans in their final game at Memorial Stadium, brightening their faces. But there was no brightening the mood for Illinois after Saturday’s season-ending defeat.

“My whole career here at Illinois is coming to an end,” linebacker Jonathan Brown said. “That’s something you talk about, but it’s not really real to you until it actually happens. I enjoyed the ride, so that’s really what I’m trying to process.”

The next Illinois football game is 273 days away. Steve Hull won’t play in it, but he’ll watch with anticipation. To see if the program, like Tim Beckman has said all season, moves forward.

“We’re really excited to watch the games and see who steps up to be that leader and go-to guy,” the wide receiver said. “When we see that, it will be a sign of great maturity by the rest of the guys. I just really wish this team continues to be resilient and tough and persevere. I think this team can continue to improve year in and year out.”

The announced attendance was 37,058, but maybe one-half of that total was in the stands at kickoff and maybe one-fourth of that total was in the stands at the final whistle.

Despite the low turnout, Beckman’s program is in better shape at the end of this season compared with last year, according to the Illinois coach.

“In every facet of this program we’ve gotten better,” Beckman said. “We challenged this football team to progress. If they don’t want to accept that challenge, well, then they’re probably not going to be here. We’re going to take this program one step further each and every day and make it better.”

He’ll do so without names like Scheelhaase, Brown and Hull, among others. The senior class spent its first two seasons going to bowl games. And its last two missing out on bowl games.

“Each one of those young men put their lives into this last year to try to build this program that was at the bottom,” Beckman said. “They did a great job, I thought, this year of competing. Sorry for the senior class because I wanted them to be as successful as they possibly could. As we talked to each one of those guys, we talked about what they’ve done ... and (of) bringing an attitude of competing and the attitude of making this program better in everything they do.”

Scheelhaase evoked a bit of John Groce when assessing future teams at Illinois.

“The first thing that you want to talk about is just the mentality of togetherness,” he said. “That’s so important. As I’ve watched this program through the years, when that’s there, things are usually clicking. When that’s not, there’s a little bit of (uncertainty).”

Uncertainty will hinge on some staff members, notably defensive coordinator Tim Banks, of their future at Illinois. The heat and pressure will fall on Beckman’s shoulders to avoid a third straight losing season under his watch in 2014. Easier said than done.

“We’ve got to win more football games,” Beckman said. “We all understand that. We all know it’s about the (wins).”

Comments

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IMAN wrote on December 01, 2013 at 8:12 am

If Beckman is not fired, Thomas should be.     Beckman has decimated our program and set us back five years.   All you had to do was look at the stands yesteray to realize how bad he is hurting the University both financially and with recruits.   We can not wait another year to start the turn around.    The board needs to committ to getting a real head coach and they will have to pay to do so.  Take some of the $25MM we get from the BTN every year and invest in a coach and our program.

ChiefIlliniFan wrote on December 01, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Agree fully! Have trying to say this since the day he was hired.

tonyjb37 wrote on December 01, 2013 at 10:12 am
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Tim Beckman is telling more lies! He knows that things are not going to get better so he lies and sugar coats things so that he gets another year. Tim Banks should never have been hired in the first place. Tim Beckman and Mike Thomas need to be fired just on the Tim Banks Hire alone. The board needs to fire everyone and bring in some big time coaches with big time names. I will continue to stay away from the games until there are significant changes in Champaign. There were 37 thousand idiots at the game yesterday if they had never showed up they would have realized how serious the situation is and would change accordingly. Until the stadium is completely empty on game days they will never understand.

ChiefIlliniFan wrote on December 01, 2013 at 5:12 pm

There is a group of us that have given up our tickets and do not go to the games since the day Beckman was hired. The group tripled in size this season over last. apparently the group will grow substantially next season if Beckman is the coach.

Our thinking is we only want it to register as one TV viewing the game and no ticket sales. We hate this for the kids but the ONLY way for change is to not go to the games and have less TV views. While the TV views will not change compensation it will be ranked lower.

Plus we can watch other games that are interesting and "tailgate" all day.

Bottom line is we agree and have been doing that already.

PortlandIllini wrote on December 01, 2013 at 11:12 am

Mike Thomas' most important job is to fill Memorial Stadium because, as we all know,  football ticket sales are a major source of revenue for the entire athletic department.  Based on attendance,  you have to rank Thomas'  performance as an athletic director as 'does not meet expectations".

IMAN wrote on December 01, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Amen brother.    Thomas has made a shambles of the football program and should be terminated immediately.  Beckman is the worst hire in the history of Illinois Athletics and Thomas bears full responsibility for the precipitous drop in revenue.    This must be remedied immediately, not not next year.    We will not win anymore games next year and recruiting will only get worse because no recruit wants to come to a 25% full stadium and to where they know the coach will be fired the following year.

 

ChiefIlliniFan wrote on December 01, 2013 at 5:12 pm

And here is another "Amen"! Two thirds of the people in a poll on the Chicago Tribune site said Beckman has to go!

tonyjb37 wrote on December 01, 2013 at 9:12 pm
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Who cares about personal accomplishments? All that matters at the end of the day is Wins and Losses. Winning isn't everything, it's the ONLY thing! Tim Banks and Tim Beckman and all the defensive players need to go they are the one's who are responsible for an embarrassing season. Tim Beckman and Tim Banks and these defensive players have brought the worst defense that we have ever seen here in Champaign. If Mike Thomas can't get real coaches in here to coach then he needs to be fired immediately to. If I was Mike Thomas I would hire Jim Tressel immediately, I have not heard if he is working somewhere or not. I would never choose to come and play football here at Illinois this football program sucks and is not making progress in anyway,shape or form. I wan't to play my football for a winner! I would never ever choose to waste the best 4 years of my life by playing football for the Illini. It is madness and career suicide to play football here.

jjohnson wrote on December 01, 2013 at 10:12 pm

You are all entitled to you anti-opinions, no matter how silly they often are. You are right about the economics, but why would people come to a Saturday-after-Thanksgiving game that doesn't mean anything? (For that matter, several of us there yesterday were surprised at how into it the fans, most of whom obviously are die-hard, were into the game and enthusiastic.) How many of them have there been? The only other one I remember was my junior year, 1962 (Dick Butkus was on the team, Grabowski was on the team). There was some snow in the stands, and only 16,000 people were there. Illinois had ended a 15 game losing streak (only 9 games a year were played back then) at Purdue a few weeks earlier. Illinois stunned a favored Michigan State 7-6 to end up 2-7. Awful, eh? Fire Pete Elliott, who after three years had a record of 7-20, as I recall.

Ooops. Illinois' last Rose Bowl win was achieved after the next season.

This team does not have the talent that Elliott's '62 team had, most probably, but it shared the lack of experience that we often saw hurting us in this year's defensive mental mistakes.

Y'll say "Hire a new coach," but who would work for a school that would only give a coach 2 years to win? How comfortable would a kid being recruited be that the coach would stay there?

Objectively, the PSU and NU games may have been lost because of coaching mistakes: not going for an early 4th quarter field goal at PSU, which would have forced Penn State to score a TD and not tie with a field goal, as they did, and the decisions made at the end of the first half against NU when Nate rushed a second down play with lots of time on the clock and no indication NU was expecting to be able to use its time-outs. Just think what 6-6 would have meant!

Last year there was never the opportunity to say what I just said; we were never close enough. It  may not be horseshoes, but to deny that there was real improvement as those above do is horse . . . . 

ChiefIlliniFan wrote on December 01, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Possibly suggesting that some of us are not die hard fans would be a mistake. there were an average of 90 people at our house for the games according to my wife. We just choose to vote with the only way that is available to us and that is monetarily, tickets, donations, etc.. We do take that money and put it into a fund to give when the AD makes a decent hire. If we were not we would not be so passionate for a real change for the better, mostly for the kids but the program as well. Can appreciate you going all the way back to the 60's to make a point. All of us not matter what side of the fence we are on can find an example in history.

As you the example you made in your "objectively" paragraph. (There were a lot more games for examples) If the coaches were qualified to be in the Big10 we would be in a bowl game this year, maybe even last year. The coaches are clearly under qualified which is why not to wait and wait to come to the inevitable conclusion that he needs to be replaced, that my friend is a real waste of money and more importantly reputation.

Case in point we know that this year might not be a good year for the basketball program, no worries to us because we have a first rate coach in Groce. Have all the confidence in the world for the future of the program. He is not over his head, that is so easy to see that Stevie wonder could see it. Just as easy Stevie can see Beckman is never going to be at that level.