The Fighting Illini are undefeated.
There's a lot that goes along with that statement, namely the facts that there's been only one game played and the opponent was FCS foe Southern Illinois. But that doesn't mean that Illinois head coach Tim Beckman, who claimed victory just twice in his first season last year, is clinging to the reality that his team came away with a win.
"A 'W's' a 'W,'" Beckman repeated several times during his Monday press conference. "This team needs to learn how to win. We need to take advantage of winning and learn how to build momentum off of 'W's.' ... We're going to build on (positivity), and we're going to move this program forward."
Beckman is right. Illinois does need to learn how to win, and perhaps picking out what they did wrong in squeaking by SIU, 42-34, on Saturday isn't the best way to treat a team that has had a whole lot of trouble finding the win column as of late.
So, in a similar spirit, Illinois got to continue the celebration of what it did right Saturday on Monday, when quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was named the Big Ten Offensive Player or the Week. The senior QB certainly earned those honors, completing 28 of 36 passes against the Salukis for 416 yards and two touchdowns.
Beckman started off his press conference congratulating his quarterback, but it wasn't too long before the positivity he talked about crept slightly away as the coach analyzed what needed to be fixed for the following week. After all, the Illinois defense allowed more than 400 yards of offense and 34 points to an FCS team that was knocking on the door when it ran out of time and gas in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
"Defensively, we gave up the long ball too much," Beckman said. "Experience again shows that we're going to have to improve that each and every week because people are going to attack you in the things that you didn't do so well in your first game.
"We're very, very young back there, I've mentioned that from the start. I was real happy with the way we played the first half. Now the second half is a whole other question ... We, defensively, have to find ways to create pass rush, and then we've got to do a better job of covering passes."
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Next up for the Illini is an opponent that won't be of the same caliber as Southern Illinois. Cincinnati impressed in their opening-week game, blowing out Purdue, 42-7, and racking up 425 yards of total offense while holding their Big Ten opponent to just 226.
Illinois gets to stay at home for this one, but that's where the advantages could end.
"You're dealing with a new offense, and you're dealing with a different offense than when (Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks) was there," Beckman said. "But you're talking about a program that won 10 football games the last two years and has been a champion in the last two years. They have 12 guys back, seven on offense. So you're talking about an offense and a defense that's been successful and has been built to be successful."
The Illini and Bearcats kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday in Champaign.