Illinois coach Tim Beckman made one thing clear at his Monday press conference.
He is excited about where his team is at coming off its bye.
“I love the spirit of this football team,” he said. “I love the willingness to get better on the things we felt we needed to get better on.”
The Fighting Illini, who could already pass their 2012 win total with a victory this weekend, will host Miami University of Ohio on Saturday at Memorial Stadium for the University’s Dads Weekend.
Tackling was a major issue during Illinois’ loss to Washington at Soldier Field a week ago. Beckman said he put an emphasis on the fundamentals of tackling during the bye week.
“You have to work on tackling,” Beckman said. “You’re going to work on tackling every day. I mean it’s not like we are going to take a day off on tackling on defense. We’ve got to just improve on it and get better out in the open field and swarm tackle as much as we possibly can.”
Beckman also noted there could be some true freshmen, such as the cornerbacks, who could see the field soon if he believes they will play a significant role going forward.
“It’ll come down to a decision if they’re going to be able to help us defensively and offensively and on special teams to make this team better, then they’re going to play,” he said. “But we’re definitely not going to waste a year on them if they’re not going to play a substantial amount of plays.”
The bye week, Beckman said, was incredibly valuable for all his young players to look back on their play so far and fix the problems.
“It was important that those players get to evaluate how they are playing in their first three football games,” he said. “And second of all, are we getting better?”
True freshman quarterback Aaron Bailey scored the first touchdown of his career against Washington, when he ran it in from 10 yards out in the fourth quarter. Beckman said he couldn’t be happier to see his star freshman from Bolingbrook, Ill. succeed.
“The kid loves the game,” Beckman said. “He loves this football team. He loves Illinois. It’s a great feeling as a head football coach to see a young man go out there because he’s really spirited in what he would like to get accomplished, and he’s very spirited in making this football team the best that it can be.”