Wednesday Quick Hitters

CHAMPAIGN - Quick hitting news and notes as Illinois continues preparations for Michigan.

- Cornerback Terry Hawthorne's health is improving, but he "didn't practice a whole bunch" Wednesday, according to coach Tim Beckman.

"So we're going to have to make that evaluation tomorrow and make that evaluation after Thursday's practice."

Hawthorne isn't experincing dizziness or headaches, but is still sore and stiff from the collision that caused him to be removed from the field on a stretcher in the Wisconsin game. Eaton Spence appears to be in line to start if Hawthorne isn't cleared to play this weekend.

"Hey, gotta play the next man," defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. "If Terry's not playing, (Spence will) play. And if Terry can play, he'll go. We don't try to worry about it. We try to control the things we can control and whoever's out there we expect them to be more than capable of getting the job done."

- Alex Karras, the uncle of current offensive linemen Ted Karras, passed away Wednesday. Following a successful NFL career with the Detroit Lions, Alex starred in the show Webster and played a role in movies, notably as Mongo in Blazing Saddles. He was 77. Ted was unavailable for comment.

- With players like Hugh Thornton, Jonathan Brown, Houston Bates and others in better shape health-wise, Beckman was asked if his team is finally getting to a more stable situation, depth-wise... He disagreed.

"Oh no. Nope. Nope.

"Dinged up. When you don't play with a bunch of depth, a lot of those guys are playing a bunch of snaps now. We've got numerous players that have played in numerous games and been in over 400 reps. That's just what happens when you don't have extra depth and a lot of guys there."

Could this perhaps be the culprit for the letdown in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin? That's a debatable topic. Injuries keep guys out, which puts others in a position where they can't exit the game. Food for thought.

- The players-only meeting prior to the Wisconsin game was led by a predictable group -- Hawthorne, Michael Buchanan, Akeem Spence, etc. But a surprising name kept popping up when players were asked for active participants -- Tommy Davis.

The senior transferred to Illinois in the offseason from Northern Illinois.

The Huskies started last season 2-3, but eventually won the MAC title, winning their last nine games. Given Illinois' current standing, Davis can speak to what it takes to correct a poor start.

"It's all about having confidence in your teammates and coaches and just going out there and playing good football," he said. "I think we have that here. We can play that kind of ball. We have confidence in each other. Now we just have to put it together."

Davis came to Illinois as a player many thought could contribute on special teams and play defense. So far, he hasn't made the impact expected on punt returns, averaging 2.9 yards per, including a costly fumble in the Penn State game. Still, the coaching staff is high on Davis, and there is some talk about using him more at safety and the 'star' position.

"What everybody forgets is, yeah, he's a senior and a young man that's already graduated from one institution to come here, but he's still a freshman," Beckman said. "He's still in his sixth game of being an Illini. I think he's made tremendous strides. We're going to continue to get him out there on the football field and continue to try to utlizie him more as defender than just on the special teams."

- I guess I don't have to remind you guys -- but the Illini losing streak in Big Ten games is now at eight. The staff is trying to get the team to forget what has happened in order to keep players from trying to do too much on any given play.

"Again I think the problem with what I think this football team deals with that we're getting corrected and they're understanding is that we're trying to over do things at times instead of doing what we're supposed to do," Beckman said. "If you do what you're supposed to do that will take care of defending the play."

That losing streak has seen some blowouts. But there have been games where Illinois led at halftime or close calls where the Illini came up short.

"Now we've got to finish," Beckman said. "That's the name of this game right now, is finish. That's been the problem, not just this year, but for the last year, couple years. That's what we have to address and it has to be changed."

At this point, avoiding the snowball effect is imperative. Games in 2011 don't matter. Penn State and Wisconsin are done and buried. It's easy and cliche to say, but the Michigan game is all that matters now.

"I like winning. We all like winning," Beckman said. "That's why we do this in our profession. I know they do, too, our players. They work extremely hard for 12 months of the year to win football games. In my profession that's what I want them to do, I want them to be winners. I think we're making strides, but we're not there yet because we're not winning."

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