Offensive Struggles Continue to Mount

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Graham Pocic mustered only two words when asked to describe the Illinois offensive effort in Saturday's 45-0 loss to Michigan.

"It's embarrassing," the senior said.

Pocic would later use the word frustrating, as mounting struggles on the offensive side of the ball continued in waves in front of 110,922 people in the Big House.

When it looked like the unit was at its lowest point, things continued to get worse. For starters, the team failed to cross midfield in the first quarter.

Then, following a 23-yard run into Michigan territory in the second period, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was knocked from the game with an apparent concussion.

That was followed by a missed field goal, and two of the next three possessions featured a failed attempt to convert on fourth down and an interception thrown by backup Reilly O'Toole.

But still, it got worse. For the second half, the Illini compiled minus-two yards. The final six drives of the game resulted in five punts and a fumble, leaving nothing to cite as a positive takeaway from the game.

"Bad day. Didn't coach good enough. Didn't play good enough," co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty said. "Nothing really went right, so, not a lot to say."

Illinois has struggled offensively all season, but Saturday night was the unit's worst performance yet.

Zero points, two turnovers, seven first downs and only 134 yards lend credibility to that statement.

"It's extremely surprising," Pocic said. "A great week of practice and come out and do this."

Early on, the run game, which has been largely absent in previous weeks, was working. Donovonn Young rushed five times on the game's opening drive and the Illini gained 33 yards.

But the drive stalled as trouble converting on the ever-important third down continued. Two other first-half drives went for more than 30 yards, but the Illini left the field with nothing to show for them.

"We ran the ball well, we just have to put it all together," O'Toole said. "…We've got to run the ball well and throw the ball well in the same game. Not one or the other."

After Scheelhaase's exit, the offense lost any semblance of identity. That's been a trend this season as well, as injuries to multiple key contributors have hindered consistency and continuity. When Scheelhaase left, all hope to move the football went with him.

"I don't know, it's tough," Beatty said. "I don't want to make any excuses. We can't play like we played today, and I can't coach like I coached today. Injuries are part of the game, and we've had our share of them. Bottom line is we have to do a better job."

The team now has a bye week to figure out how to get that job done. Getting healthy would be a good start. Creating some positive momentum, in some form or fashion, needs to happen, too, as the snowball effect, according to the numbers, has set in.

The most glaring stat -- in three Big Ten games, all losses, Illinois has scored 21 points, only seven total in the first half of those contests.

"Just have to go back to the drawing board," Beatty said.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories