Yeah, But...

Illinois got the job done Saturday against Southern Illinois, but...

CHAMPAIGN - As to whether Illinois held on the crucial fourth down late in the game or gave up the potential game-tying score, Coach Tim Beckman's reaction didn't provide an indication.

The second-year coach shook his head, smiled and spoke into his headset.

By now you know, the Illini defense got the stop. The final score -- 42-34 over FCS-opponent Southern Illinois -- was the embodiment of how most feel about Illinois football. Yeah, it's a win, but…

Another dreaded yeah, but… bullet point.

It didn't have to be that way, though.

After a slow start, the Illini steadily piled up a bunch of stuff here and there that fans could feel good about. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw for a career-high 416 yards as 10 different players made a catch and freshman quarterback Aaron Bailey scored his first-ever touchdown in Bill Cubit's debut as offensive coordinator.

The defense initially did what it was supposed to do, holding the inferior Salukies to only seven points and 84 yards in the first half.

And even the return game, mostly absent for the past couple of seasons, provided optimism after V'Angelo Bentley raced 100 yards for the first Illini touchdown on a kickoff since 2008. All of that would have been plenty for fans to start gravitating back to the gridiron, those desperate for more team talk that doesn't includes those commas and buts.

But, par for the course, the good came with bad, the yeahs came with the buts.

Southern Illinois scored 27 second half points, turning a proverbial blowout into a potential entire-carton-of-eggs-on-the-face embarrassment.

The defense gave up seven plays that went for 15 yards or more, gashes of 66, 47, 24, 15, 29, 18 and 18.

Scheelhaase threw an interception and was sacked five times. The running game never took off, as Illinois finished with 49 yards on the ground as a team (counting lost yardage on those sacks). Starting tailback Donovonn Young finished with six yards on 12 carries and missed two blocking assignments, one of which led to an unhappy ending for his buddy Scheelhaase. Even more troubling, Beckman and Cubit inserted backup quarterback Reilly O'Toole into the game late in the fourth quarter with the game clearly still contested.

The move, a predetermined decision to give O'Toole as much experience as possible, was a head-scratcher before the outcome was known. Hindsight made it even more questionable.

What did O'Toole do with his opportunity? In three plays, he was flagged once for delay of game, then was sacked and fumbled the ball away. That set up the Salukies last score, which eventually set up the chance for the game-tying score.

That series of events ended with Beckman's reaction to the fourth down stand, a display of, 'how did this happen?' and 'it shouldn't have come to this.'

Yeah, Saturday's game resulted in Illini victory, but not all wins feel warm and fuzzy. Especially not that one.

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