CHAMPAIGN Its easy to play the what if game after aloss like Illinois 31-17 defeat at the hands of Indiana on Saturday.
What if Illinois had not committed two personal fouls?
What if the Illini had recovered those two turnovers,instead of the Hoosiers?
Things like that make you look snake bit, Illinoisoffensive coordinator Chris Beatty said. You cant have turnovers andpenalties keep drives going. Those things are the difference between good teamsand teams trying to get to that level.
Certainly, the game would have been much different if thingshad broken Illinois way more frequently. But the news from Memorial Stadium onSaturday was not all bad.
After one half of play Illinois had 14 first downs doubletheir output in the entire Michigan game. Illinois finished the game with 196yards rushing a new season-high. Sophomore running back Donovonn Young had125 yards on 21 rushes besting his previous career best by 25 yards. DariusMillines had five catches for 80 yards a season best by 26 yards.
Of course, these accomplishments were hard to focus on inthe face of a homecoming loss (and Indianas first road Big Ten win in fouryears). But, mired in a disheartening stretch of five consecutive losses, thepositive offensive output is proof these Illini have the ability to compete inthe Big Ten conference.
We have a lot of young guys on the team and those guys aregetting better every week, Beatty said. At some point those freshmen arejuniors and will be older, as opposed to always being the young team. Thoseguys are getting better and we have to keep developing them.
Prior to the Indiana game, the Illinois coaching staff sawweaknesses in the Hoosiers run defense they felt they could exploit. TheIllini went hard after their opponent early in the game and found success:after the first quarter Illinois had already racked up 74 yards on the ground.
Young made a statement after Illinois loss to Wisconsinthat he wanted to see the running backs getting more touches. On Saturday hegot his wish and made the most of it. He felt good about the teams runningplay as a whole after the game, and believes it can lead to better things downthe road.
We got the ball in the right peoples hands and we movedthe ball. The offensive production looked a lot better than in past weeks, thesophomore running back said. I feel like this is a great stepping stone forus. We see that we can move the ball, so definitely we will come back and workhard.
Illinois early rushing success allowed the team to lookdownfield, as well, with the primary beneficiary being Millines. The juniorcredited his running backs for allowing him to get space to make catches.
The run game was great, and I was doing my best to findareas where I could see Nate Scheelhaase, quarterback and I knew he could seeme, Millines said.
Scheelhaase ended up throwing for 176 yards and onetouchdown, complementing the teams impressive run game. Illinois outgainedIndiana in both rushing and passing.
Still, being unable to match Indiana on the scoreboard stungthe Illini deeply especially on homecoming.
This is very frustrating, Millines said. But werestaying together. Wins are going to come if we just keep fighting. We need tostay together and keep fighting.
If Illinois can continue to produce offensive like they didagainst Indiana, it stand to reason wins will come for the team. But, successis not an overnight phenomenon according to head coach Tim Beckman.
You want success to happen fast, just like everybodyelse. You want to be successful as fast as you possibly can, but right now,were not, Beckman said. Weve got to evaluate things againand create thingsthat can help our players be successful and this program be successful.