Illinois now faces its first adult-sized dose of adversity following Saturday’s 39-19 football loss at Nebraska.

Losing to Washington at Soldier Field was not adversity. It may have been the first loss and it may have been disappointing, but the loss was expected. And on the offensive side of the ball, the performance was encouraging.

Other than the excellent play of Josh Ferguson Saturday, there was little to feel encouraged about.

The defense, as I expected, got man-handled by a very good and veteran offensive line. Ameer Abdullah took advantage, exploiting Illinois sub-standard talent level, inexperience in the secondary and their very poor tackling. He carried 20 times for 225 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was fantastic.

The defense also didn’t do much to cover the Nebraska receivers. Nebraska didn’t throw much. Didn’t have to. They got by easily with two backup quarterbacks.

The reason Illinois left Lincoln, Neb., feeling really disappointed was that for the first time this season the offense failed to generate big plays, failed to get the passing game going and failed to excite us.

It was quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase’s worst game. He never looked comfortable, with the wind, with the pass rush, with the pressure from Nebraska’s blitz and even when he did have receivers open, he often didn’t find them or connect with them.

They’ve got to get Ryan Lankford back involved.

The good news is that I believe Bill Cubit and Scheelhaase will attack this adversity together and I believe they’ll find solutions. From a personnel standpoint, Illinois is much better equipped to deal with the adversity.

Defensively, however, there simply are not enough experienced players to fake their way through this. The tackling and sub-standard pass coverage and lack of a pass rush are real problems that can’t be fixed by changing personnel. There are no other personnel.

Illinois took a step backward Saturday. They didn’t play well on either side of the ball.

They’re off this week, then host Wisconsin. I cringe thinking about that defensive front trying to slow down the Badger running attack. Could be ugly.

But there are other, winnable games coming up. And with three victories already in the bank, another one would be good, another two would be very good. Other Big Ten teams have issues, too.

To win some of these, Illinois will have to win shootouts. That means the offense has to get reasonably back on track. That means Scheelhaase has to rediscover a comfort level and Cubit has to equip him with plays that make him comfortable.

If it means quicker plays and less downfield throws, that’s fine if it results in first downs, extended drives and touchdowns.

Illinois may haves to reinvent itself as Big Ten play progresses. That could be what we call Cubit II. Or it could be a struggle.

It’s going to be the story of the Big Ten season and it will test our patience when they get run over by teams like Wisconsin.

(3) comments


Mark, our recruiting has been terrible for a while now, and you are correct, we can't change personnel because there isn't better talent waiting to get a shot. Once that picks up, then we can compete with those that have the horses.

Basketball Jones
Basketball Jones

Personnel is only part of the problem on defense. Tim Banks or Beckman neither seem to know how to coach defense. opponent recievers are so wide open all over the field, and when the opposing running backs get past the defensive line are defensive backs like to follow them and watch them run. Let's face it, Nebraska is not one of the best teams in the country, so you can see how far down we are. I'm tired of everybody making up excuses for this football program. If the powers to be in Champaign want to win games, then they need to offer better coach's more money to come here. Good coach's are not afraid to come here, but it's gonna take some work to get this thing turned around, and a good coach wants to paid good money to do it. Who is that right person? I don't know, but there out there. I'm pretty sure what we have is not the answer!

Red in a blue state
Red in a blue state

In reality we are not there yet. Not sure either if "yet" is even on the horizon. There are some good things like Fergusons play to focus on. Perhaps an even more consistent offense next season with Lunt and Bailey along with a veteran O-line.
Obviously winning games in the B1G is the true measure of improvement, the real challenge, at home against a Wisconsin and especially on the road at sell out stadiums like Nebraska. It was difficult for Zook and will be for Beckman too I'm afraid. It's just the reality of Illinois football. What I hate about it is that there never seems to be an answer.

Beckman makes a mill and a half or so. What will it take two mill or three for a promising or well established head coach to risk his future career (kill it) on the Illini ? Where are all our past head coaches today? Nuff said!

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