That snapping noise you might have heard echoing throughout the Midwest on Saturday was the sound of Illinois’ 20-game Big Ten losing streak coming to an end.
Thankfully for Tim Beckman — who now finally has a conference victory under his belt as the Illini head coach — Purdue was on the schedule. With the way the Boilermakers have played this season, there wasn’t too much of a chance that the Illini were going to finish his second season with a winless conference mark.
Of course, Saturday’s game didn’t look anything like one that featured a clear winner or loser. Illinois’ crummy rush defense showed up again, allowing a 62-yard touchdown run against a team that barely gets that many yards in a game, both offenses were painful to watch apart from a career day from Illini receiver Steve Hull, and the Illini had to take a safety in the closing minutes of the game to make sure nothing would go wrong and cost them the victory.
It wasn’t pretty — and Beckman knows that — but the Illini needed a win. And that’s just what they got.
"It was probably the most rewarding game, experience for this football team, coaching staff, myself and everyone involved in the football program because of the adversity that had to be (overcome) to win that football game,” Beckman said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “We sure didn't make it easy; that was definitely a bad football game ... To come out with a victory speaks a lot for this football team and what they've been going through in order to achieve a win so that was the first thing we talked about last night.
“A lot of teams don't win football games, especially on the road, when you don't play up to the caliber that you would like to play, but this football team did that. It just happened to be the one that broke the losing streak, but it also was a heck of a football game regardless of if it broke a losing streak or not because this team battled through some adversity to win that game. So I can't be more proud of the team, this coaching staff and everyone involved in this program."
Beckman always seems to speak in terms of the program, a nod to the big picture while his team has too often rendered the present less-than-hopeful. But never did the big-picture program need a victory more than Saturday. Another loss — especially to this Purdue team — would have sunk things to a new low. Instead, Beckman’s bunch got to taste conference victory for the first time in a long time, something that he can point to as progress as many wonder how much longer he’ll have to make his mark in Champaign. The win vs. Purdue might have bought him some more time to do that and gained his team some momentum, some confidence heading into the season’s final game against Northwestern, another team without a win in conference play this season.
"It's about moving forward,” Beckman said. “Nothing to brag about, but we've doubled our wins and, of course, I'd like to say we tripled or quadrupled our wins, but we didn't. This program has gotten better, and we've made tremendous strides in the things that we do. Of course, going into winter workouts with a win is always important."