What Now?

CHAMPAIGN – With the Illinois' losing streak in Big Ten games up to 10, the bye week couldn't have had better timing.

Injuries, poor play on both sides of the ball and four straight losses have coaches and players alike searching for answers as hope of a third consecutive bowl appearance is fading.

Following the Michigan loss Saturday, coach Tim Beckman challenged his team in the locker room, delivering a short, simple message.

"I just said we have five opportunities left," he said. "For us to get better we have to do one at a time. Indiana happens to be the next one. We've got to step forward in this program, and we've got to try to make our football team better. Our team is not happy by any means."

Adding to the frustration, nothing is going particularly well for the Illini. There is seemingly nothing to build on. Check these national rankings:

Scoring defense: No. 85
Rushing defense: 63
Pass defense: 53
Total sacks: 100
Tackles for loss: 105
Total offense: 111
Scoring offense: 114
Passing offense: 103
Third down offense: 100
Punt return: 114
Kick return: 113

With those stats in mind, what now? Where does the team go from here?

"We need to get some guys healthy," Beckman said. "We're going to do the same plan that we had before. I think when you run into this situation, in my opinion, you might become hasty on some of the things you might want to do, but the plan that you've had has worked and been successful because you've been around people that made it successful. It's just something that we're going to believe in and we're going to do because it has been successful."

Following his locker room challenge Saturday, Beckman had to meet with the media and face questions about a team that's been outscored 208-59 in five losses this season.

Just before entering the room, a school official gave Beckman some advice.

"He said to be yourself because I've never been in this situation before," Beckman. "It's tough. It's a tough situation."

In the past Beckman has leaned on his father Dave, a longtime college and NFL coach, and Jim Tressel, whom Beckman worked for from 2005-06 at Ohio State. Those two will probably hear from Beckman this week.

"Coach Beckman, yeah it's tough on him," said defensive coordinator Tim Banks. "It's tough on all of us. It's tough on our families. When you're not winning, that's just the way that it is, but we knew that when we signed up for it.

"It's extremely tough because we all come from winning programs, you know, that have done a lot of winning and have all had good jobs. We think this is a good job. We feel good about the program. We just have some work to do. That's just the bottom line. We've got to figure out a way to get them to play better and we've got to coach better. That's the name of the game."

Injuries and poor execution aside, the staff is also battling the dreaded snowball effect. It's more than a loss leading to a loss. It's a bad play leading to two bad plays, a turnover leading to a quick touchdown, a game that was within reach now no longer in question.

"I think it has something to do with it," Beckman said. "It's something that we don't respond to well. We're trying to find every way imaginable to respond better to those things, but it's been something this team hasn't done well in the last two years."

Added Banks: "At the end of the day we're telling guys you're playing one snap at a time. At this point we're playing one game at a time. Going into a bye week we'll have a chance as a coaches to reevaluate everything we've done from a schematic point of view and obviously a personnel point of view. You know, and then we'll come back with a great plan. Obviously these kids know that we're running out of time, so we've got to get the ship righted and we've got to get it righted quickly."

Taking it one game at a time means all focus is on Indiana, another team struggling in the Big Ten.

Dating back to last season, the Hoosiers have lost 11 straight conference games.

Next weekend, in Memorial Stadium and on homecoming, Illinois will have its best chance to end the snowball effect and prove Beckman's plan is resonating.

"We've got to find a way," Banks said. "I've not given up. I'm not shaken. At the end of the day, we've still got a lot of football left and we've just got to find a way to get the next game. That's just the bottom line, the next game. That's it.

"If you don't have the stones to get it done, you need to be doing something different."


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