Illini offense goes missing against Minnesota

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Illini offense goes missing against Minnesota

CHAMPAIGN It has been 398 days since Illinois last won a Big Ten game. It will be at least seven more before the Illini have another chance to end that streak.

Lack of offense and costly penalties led to a 17-3 defeat in a very winnable game against Minnesota. The loss was the seventh straight for the Illini (2-8, 0-6) and head coach Tim Beckman did not try to couch his disappoint after the game.

Early in the game we had a couple opportunities to take big strikes, to take big hits, and we overthrew wide open receiversso we dont get points out of that. Things like that you have to make if youre going to be successful and our players arent making those plays right now, he said. We were on offense very, very inconsistent, and to be honest, the worst Ive been around.

The Illinois offense came out with a roar. On the first play from scrimmage running back Donovonn Young broke off a 16-yard run. On the ensuing play Young took the hand-off from Nathan Scheelhaase and flicked it back to him, allowing the quarterback to find Spencer Harris streaking over the middle for a 49-yard reception.

Illinois continued moving the ball, but got held up at the one-yard line and had to settle for a 20-yard field goal from Nick Immekus.

Going down the field to stalemate at the one is tough, I dont know what it is I cant point fingers, Young, a sophomore, said.

Weve got to get off the football, bloody some mouths, and get us a yard when we need a yard, Beckman said, venting frustration about settling for a field goal. We cant put the ball on the one-yard line for three downs and not get the ball in the end zone. This is college football.

Stalling out at the one would be a turning point, and the Illini would not crack the red zone again in the game. A couple of holding penalties at inopportune moments later in the half killed drives before they could gain momentum.

On defense, Illinois held firm whenever Minnesota got across midfield. The Illini limited the visitors to just 18 passing yards in the first half and held them scoreless until late in the second quarter.

Without many passing options, the Gophers looked to the run. Midway through the second quarter Minnesota got the ball at their own 32 and Donnell Kirkwood wasted no time getting his team into Illinois' territory with a 38-yard run.

The Illinois defense held up once again, this time holding off the Minnesota offense on the three-yard line, forcing a 20-yard field goal from Jordan Wettstein with 3:30 left in the half. The teams would go to the locker room at halftime tied 3-3.

After a quiet start to the second half, Minnesota marched into Illinois territory late in the third with their first completion since the opening quarter. After a few good plays from the Illini defense, the Gophers looked stymied. A hands to the face penalty on Akeem Spence gave Minnesota a fresh start, setting the visitors up with a first down from the Illinois five yard line.

Two plays after the penalty Kirkwood hit pay dirt as he rumbled into the endzone for the games first touchdown. His three-yard run gave Minnesota a 10-3 lead with 2:30 left in the third quarter.

Illinois tried to mount a response, but could not get much going with the ball in hand. The Illini had a total of just five yards of net offense in the third quarter and would not cross over midfield in the half until there was seven minutes left in the game.

Its frustrating, said offensive coordinator Chris Beatty after the game. I have to do a better job to help them, thats the bottom line.

The defense gave Illinois a couple of chances late in the game, coming up with a couple stops in their own territory to hold off the Gophers. The Illini offense, however, could not create any points.

On the first chance, starting at 7:53 in the fourth, Scheelhaase moved Illinois down to the Gophers 35 yard line with 28 yards rushing by himself. After Minnesotas defense forced a fourth down, his pass sailed through Darius Millines hands.

After the second defensive stop Illinois took over with 2:31 left on the clock. The team quickly got to third-and-one on their own 29-yard line, but Scheelhaase dangled the ball on the quarterback keeper and the Gophers punched it loose. Derrick Wells recovered the fumble for Minnesota and took the ball down to the Illinois 19.

The fumble led to a 12-yard rushing touchdown by Kirkwood just 47 seconds later. The touchdown was the nail in the coffin, putting the game out of reach for Illinois.

Beckman was left grasping for answers after the loss.

Scoring three points is not going to cut it in any league, he said. I havent been around this losing. Its been tough, but weve got to find ways to motivate them.

The players also struggled with the errors of the game and the struggles of this season as a whole.

Its tough expecting so much and gaining so little from this season, Young said.

The focus going forward, according to senior defensive back Michael Buchanan, is to make the young players like true freshman Mason Monheim, who led all players with 15 tackles get better.

I only have two games left in my career, but Im always going to be an Illini at heart, so we want to set a path for the younger guys, Buchanan said. I do feel like were playing better as a team the last couple weeks as a teamwe just want to set the path for next year so the younger guys dont have to go through this.

Lions coach offers turnaround formula for reeling Bears

Lions coach offers turnaround formula for reeling Bears

The Detroit Lions have been where the Bears are. Worse off, actually, as recent as last season. A 1-7 start (the lone win was in OT over the Bears in Detroit) had coach Jim Caldwell's job in jeopardy, and the organization made a mid-season change at offensive coordinator.

The Lions then went on a 6-2 dash to the end of the year, capping it off with a second victory over the Bears, who could use even a morsel of information on fixing their broken season.

Prior to that game, Caldwell explained the two points on which Detroit's season had turned.

“I think the big thing is we haven't turned the ball over and we've done a better job stopping the run,” Caldwell said last December. “Those two things kind of jump out at you right away. We've run the ball a little better, and I think overall just operation is better.”

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

So there it is, the save-your-season method the Bears seek in arresting their 0-3 free fall. And the wisdom of 10 months ago is spot on for the Bears currently.

The Bears have turned the football over six times through three games. The giveaways have led to 17 points, which arguably stands as a mild compliment to the defense: Four of the six have given the football to the opponent in the Bears' end of the field, at least once per game and by four different players.

And they are indeed the worst running team in the NFL, and the real question going into next Sunday is whether the Bears have the personnel to affect a legitimate running game.

“I think it’s hit and miss, just like us,” said coach John Fox, though not limiting the problems to just that part of his team. “Really in all three phases. I think there’s been some positives. I don’t think we’ve put a complete game together by any stretch. I think that’s evident. Whether it’s the run game, the run defense, the pass game, the pass defense, obviously none of it’s been good enough.”

For Notre Dame, prepare like a champion maybe 'should be our new mantra’

For Notre Dame, prepare like a champion maybe 'should be our new mantra’

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The “Play Like a Champion Today” sign in the cramped stairwell from the home locker room to the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium has been a staple of tradition on this campus for decades. But at 1-3, maybe the 2016 Irish need to change that slogan a bit. 

“You have to put everything that you can into each drill, each snap, each everything in this game,” offensive lineman and captain Mike McGlinchey said. “You can't overlook any detail. You can't leave any stone left unturned. It's so important that you prepare as a champion just as much as you want to play like one. And maybe that should be our new mantra.”

Notre Dame has had 10 underclassmen or first-time starters make starts this year, with a host of other inexperienced players seeing significant playing time, too. Right now, the team’s 1-3 record — with that only win coming over an entirely overmatched Nevada side — is a stern reminder of how sub-standard practices during the week can affect what happens on Saturday. 

“You wake up pretty fast when you're 1 and 3,” McGlinchey said. “… What we have felt that good preparation is hasn't been good enough, and we will continue to ramp that up and continue to fight for the best play that we can. And it's about getting that understanding throughout the entire football team, whether you're a freshman or a fifth-year senior, that preparation is the most important thing in this game, and games aren't won on Saturdays in September. They're won in January in the weight room or in the summer doing your drills. And then each week it's won Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday when you're on the practice field. So if you can prepare the right way, prepare harder with the guys that we have on our team, I'm pretty confident that we can get our jobs done a little bit better.”

Linebacker and captain James Onwualu agreed with McGlinchey’s assessment. 

“We've always tried to prepare to the best of our ability,” Onwualu said. “We practice hard. I think it's just the fact that we need to start practicing a little bit smarter, and the coaches have made a couple of changes, like I said, so practices are a little bit different. Still practicing with great intensity and continuing to push these younger guys to focus in on their job.”

For Notre Dame, everything is on the table when all of a sudden bowl eligibility could be at stake. Including even tweaking, for themselves, one of college football’s most famous sayings.