Illinois ends season on 'all-time low'

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Illinois ends season on 'all-time low'

By Vinnie Duber
CSNChicago.com

EVANSTON -- A new era beckons, reads the T-shirt advertised on the Fighting Illinis official athletic site. The shirt features a picture of first-year head coach Tim Beckman.

Well, following the final game of the season -- a 50-14 loss to Northwestern on Saturday at Ryan Field -- Beckman is now Illinois second-year coach, and that new era is off to the same start as the previous one: without a single conference victory.

The loss sent the Illini to an 0-8 record in Big Ten play, the first winless conference schedule for Illinois since the first season of the Ron Zook era in 2005. Its the 14th time in school history the Illini have gone winless in conference play and the fourth since 1997.

Youre in this game for the players, Beckman said as he summed up the season. This game is an unbelievable game. You feel close to one another as a family. Kids coming over to your house and eating Thanksgiving dinner. All of those things. But the losing, really, it hurts. You want your kids to experience winning just like you want your sons to experience winning. We didnt experience winning this year. Its one of the hardest years Ive ever gone through.

Illinois loss in the battle for the Land of Lincoln Trophy was marred by the same kinds of mistakes that sent them to losses in their first seven Big Ten contests. Too many turnovers and too many penalties told the story. A pair of Illini quarterbacks combined for three interceptions, and a fumble on a kickoff return led to Northwesterns first touchdown of the day.

The Illini racked up eight penalties in the first half, totaling 88 yards in damage. Among the infractions was a pair of sideline interference penalties on Beckman and something called illegal numbering.

We had too many penalties again, certain things that you cant do, and we ended up doing those things, Beckman said. Turnovers, penalties, not tackling as well as were capable of tackling. All together, it wasnt one of our better games again. When youre playing a team that has won football games and is considered one of the Top 25 or 30 teams in the country, then youre going to have to play a lot better than we did.

Its those types of mistakes that have the Illini sitting at the bottom of the Big Ten. They have turned the ball over 19 times, a conference high, and they rank last in turnover margin, at -11.

Illinois allowed 50 points for the third time this season, and Northwesterns 338 rushing yards were the second most an opponent posted all season. How bad was it for the Illini? The Wildcats fifth touchdown of the day was a pass to Paul Jorgensen, a sophomore offensive lineman. And he was wide open, too.

According to freshman running back Josh Ferguson, the Illinois locker room was at an all-time low. Junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase called the last four months the hardest of his life.

Weve been disappointed and frustrated for a while just because we havent been producing the way we wanted to, Scheelhaase said. Obviously you want to finish on a good note, but it didnt happen today. Its something youve got to deal with, something youve got to eat. You have to take that mindset into the offseason. Thats the only thing you can do.

Talking after the game, Scheelhaase and the Illini were obviously looking ahead, and the quarterback must have said the word learning about a dozen times. The Illini see this disappointing season as a learning experience.

You learn not only what it feels like to lose, but you learn how small a margin of error there is with winning and losing, Scheelhaase said. Whether its a mistake here or a mistake there, or them not making a mistake or you not capitalizing on a mistake that they make, you learn how fine of a difference there is or how much momentum can change the way a game goes, the way a season goes.

As the Beckman era heads into its first offseason, much talked about will be the coachs job security. But after the game, players and coaches alike spoke highly of him.

I think we definitely believe in the coaches, Scheelhaase said. I have no reason not to believe in these coaches to a man. Im sure as coaches theres a bunch of things they want to do different, and trust me, as a player theres a lot of things that we could have capitalized on, not just this game but this whole season.

No one likes to lose, said defensive coordinator Tim Banks. No one wants to put so much work in and not come home successful. One thing I know about him: Hes no quitter. Hes going to continue to work, continue to fight, and hes going to continue to demand we put guys in positions to be successful. I think thats what a great leader does. Hell be fine.

Its important to note that Zook remained on the job for six more campaigns following his winless debut effort in the Big Ten.

Beckman pointed out that it takes time to turn things around, and he noted Northwestern as an example. He mentioned that Pat Fitzgerald has spent seven years bringing the Wildcats to the point theyre at now: en route to their fifth consecutive bowl game.

Were going to go back and do our plan. The plan, it does work. It has worked. Didnt work this year, but there are reasons that it has worked and theres belief behind it, Beckman said. And you believe in the things you believe in and go with it and you make sure that you recruit players that believe in the same thing.

We have to move forward. Theres only one way you can go, is forward. So my coaching staff will be out on the road tomorrow, and were going to get it together and see what weve got to do to get players in here to the University of Illinois -- this great place, great institution, great football tradition -- and do what weve got to do to get this program back on top.

Bears QB Mike Glennon makes his role emphatically clear: ‘This year is my year’

Bears QB Mike Glennon makes his role emphatically clear: ‘This year is my year’

Mike Glennon stuck to an emphatic mantra during his first meeting with the media since the Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky last month: “This year is my year.”

It wasn’t a surprising line — what else was he supposed to say? — but it was telling in the sense that Glennon didn’t appear to be rattled by the presence of Trubisky, the franchise’s presumptive quarterback of the future. Unofficially, Glennon said some version of that line a dozen times in just over 10 minutes. 

“They brought me here to be the quarterback this year and nothing has changed,” Glennon said. “So in my mind, I have to go out and play well, and I know that, and that’s basically the bottom line.”

Will Glennon work with Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick and presumptive quarterback of the future? Yes. But is that his main focus? No. The job of developing Trubisky falls on offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, not the guy who the Bears committed tens of millions of dollars to to play quarterback. 

Glennon said general manager Ryan Pace called him about 10 minutes after Roger Goodell announced Trubisky’s name in Philadelphia April 27 to reassure him that he would still be the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2017. Like most everyone — including Trubisky — Glennon was surprised the Bears made the pick, but the 27-year-old said he quickly re-trained his attention back on preparing for the upcoming season. 

“I’m not worried about the future,” Glennon said. “I’m not worried about the past. I’m worried about the present and right now this is my team and that’s where my focus is.”

Glennon’s three-year, $45 million deal is structured so the Bears could cut him after the 2017 season and absorb only a $2.5 million cap hit, $500,000 more than the team took on when Jay Cutler was released in March. His contract was set up that way before the Bears snuck into Chapel Hill, N.C. for a surreptitious dinner and workout with Trubisky — he’s a bridge quarterback with an opportunity to show he’s greater than that label. 

“Even if I were to (look in hindsight) I would still have came here,” Glennon said. “Like I said, this is my year. There are no guarantees in the NFL. The majority of guys in the NFL are playing year-to-year. I’m here to prove myself that I can me the quarterback this year and going forward. But right now my focus is on winning games this year.”

“… I can only say it so many times, this year has been fully communicated that it's my year,” Glennon said. “I’m not going to worry about the future. As long as I play well, it will all work out.’ 

In wake of first-round playoff sweep, Patrick Kane talks about the Blackhawks' 'reality check'

In wake of first-round playoff sweep, Patrick Kane talks about the Blackhawks' 'reality check'

It’s been just over a month since the Blackhawks were eliminated from the playoffs in swift fashion. And as Patrick Kane told WGN Radio on Tuesday morning, the bitter taste hasn’t gone away.

“I think a lot of us didn’t figure we’d be in the situation we’re in right now,” Kane told Steve Cochran and Dave Eanet on Tuesday. “All of us can work this offseason to get better. It’s a long time to wait to get back to that opportunity to play in the playoffs again, so we’ll have a sour taste in our mouth for a while.”

The Nashville Predators, who made quick work of the Blackhawks in the first round, eliminated the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night to earn the first Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history. Kane told WGN he’s been watching the playoffs and said Nashville “has a pretty good system going.”

“They come at you, they play aggressive. I don’t think any of us would be a big fan of the way they defend in the neutral zone, just sitting back and playing that 1-3-1. But at the same time they come at you,” said Kane, who added that the Blackhawks “weren’t even close in that (first-round) series.”

“Maybe we had a chance in Game 3 when we were up 2-0, but it was a clean sweep and that’s probably how it should’ve been,” he said. “So now it’s time to regroup.”

When the Blackhawks had their wrap-up media session on April 22, general manager Stan Bowman was asked if some players, having won three Stanley Cups since 2010, had lost some of the hunger. Bowman didn’t buy that and neither did Kane.

“Four sounds a lot better than three, right?” he said. “It’s a long time away and a lot of work, but sometimes you go through those situations and you realize you won three Cups and it’s almost like you’re going to be there again. That’s where the reality check is for us now, realizing how hard it is to get back in that situation, how hard it is to win a Cup or go deep in this league. There’s a lot of work to be done.”