I know it may be difficult to re-live, but let's look back on Saturday's game for just a moment before looking ahead to Indiana.
Penn State jumped out to a 14-0 lead at home, with Illinois throwing an interception in the red zone and committing a chop block that nullified a touchdown. After the previous week's 42-3 loss at home to Michigan State, I'm sure many of you were thinking it -- here we go again. But this game didn't turn into a blowout, something that stuck with Tim Beckman following the overtime loss.
"The way that the kids reacted, the way that the players were involved in the coaching, involved with everything to sidelines to halftime adjustments to as it progressed into the second half, I'm very proud of the way they played," Beckman said. "They played extremely hard. They knew that they had the opportunity to get back in the football game. They did."
Moral victories do nothing for the win column. But the team made some strides Saturday. The defense held Penn State to only three points the rest of regulation after giving up two touchdowns on the first two drives of the game. Sure, the unit gave up 490 yards of total offense. But it also kept the Nittany Lions from scoring.
Offensively, Nathan Scheelhaase rebounded from an ugly first half that included that pick near the goal line on the game's first drive and a terrible end to the half with an unsightly nod to clock management. He finished with 321 yards passing as seven players had at least one reception.
"Yes we did get better," Beckman said. "Nothings good about a lose as I always say but I think as a football team we got better this last weekend. I expect and look forward to the next four weeks and this football team progressing each and every week because they sure showed that on Saturday, they showed they were going to fight until the bitter end."
2. Good news/bad concerning the run game...
The good news is, Josh Ferguson, sidelined late in Saturday's game with a strained hamstring, appears to be good to go this weekend against Indiana.
At least that's what Beckman says. "He's good. He's fine. He worked out (Sunday). This is his second year, first year really being a starter. As he progresses through the year, he's going to get more and more use to the hits and the toll that you take as a Big Ten back."
The bad news is, the Illini haven't been able to run the football lately. The offense has averaged 62 yards on the ground the last three games, including a season-low 25 versus Michigan State two weeks ago.
It's true that since the Illini have played from behind in each those games, running plays have been harder and harder to call. Still though, the ground attack has to be a viable option when the need presents itself, such as down near the goal line and when trying to run the clock to put a game to bed. Both of those scenarios happened Saturday and each time the Illini weren't able to run.
"We've got to be able to run the football in the Big Ten conference," Beckman said. "You have to be able to run the football.
"You've got to feel confident that you can run the football and gain the yardage necessary, even when they're loading the box."
3. Darius Mosely came up big. He's sure to be tested again this weekend.
Two times late in the game Penn State picked on Darius Mosely. Two passes were thrown to the end zone to the man the freshman corner was responsible for. Both times the ball bounced away, with Mosely nearly intercepting one of them.
"I was proud of him to be a freshman and come out there," Beckman said. "We played some press man, something that we feel he does a good job of doing. It's something we feel we need to do and thank goodness Darius has stepped up."
The absence of starter V'Angelo Bentley the last two weeks created the opportunity for Mosely to make more of a name for himself in his first season at Illinois. Already the starting nickel, Beckman told Mosely and fellow freshman Jaylen Dunlap that the spot available was up for grabs.
"It came down really to a Thursday practice because it was between Dunlap and Mosely two weeks ago," Beckman said. "As I told them, we're going to evaluate you every day in practice and come Thursday whoever practices better, you're going to be the one that gets to play. He graded out a little higher than Jaylen did that day. He's kind of had that competition and won that competition has practice progresses."
Mosely won and has held on to the starting job. He now has 20 tackles on the year, with a pass breakup and a fumble recovery. He's sure to be tested again this weekend against the Hoosiers. Indiana has five wide receivers with at least five touchdown catches and run a two-quarterback system that's averaging over 330 passing yards a game.
4. Senior wideouts stepping up to help ease the loss of Ryan Lankford.
Losing Ryan Lankford was a tough punch to take for an offense that needs as many playmakers as possible at the ready. Lankford's speed can't be matched, but seniors Spencer Harris, Steve Hull and Miles Osei did their best to pick up the slack.
"We talked about this also, you know hey, there's one of your best friends that doesn't get to play the game anymore," Beckman said. "How are you gonna respond? I think that those three seniors played a lot of that football game not just for this Illini football team but also for Ryan Lankford."
Harris had a career-best 10 catches for 81 yards. He had a touchdown grab called back due to a penalty. Hull added six receptions for 69 yards, Osei five for 60.
"When you lose your top receiver somebody's got to step up and I thought Spencer, Miles and Steve were three guys that stepped their game up and played extremely good," Beckman said. "Spencer was the one that when we needed to make a play Spencer Harris made the play."
Lankford, who had season-ending shoulder surgery last week, will be on the sideline for the remaining four games.
"Wherever we're at, he's coming with us," Beckman said.
5. Getting that Big Ten win...
The way Saturday's game ended only enhanced the weight that grows heavier and heavier with an 18-game conference losing streak. Beckman admitted it's something he often thinks about.
"It's big. I want these players to get it," he said. "It's not about me. I want these players to feel it. It was close. In that locker room there were some feelings that were expressed. I want it worse for anybody, more for Spencer Harris and Jonathan Brown and those seniors because they've worked extremely hard and they've done what we've asked them to do on and off the football field. Big Ten game or any game I want to win and I know they want to win. I believe these next four football games we can win. There's no question, if we do what we need to do to be successful and make the plays that we need to make."