Who is This?

COLUMN: For an Illini offense that lacks an identity, coach Tim Beckman offering a helping hand is a mistake.

CHAMPAIGN - Illinois coach Tim Beckman said he'd increase his presence on the offensive side of the ball following Saturday's loss to Minnesota.

It's well within the head coach's authority to do so, especially given that the Illini managed only three points and 276 yards of total offense against a Golden Gophers defense that isn't all that great.

But it's a mistake. Beckman, he of a defensive background, shouldn't be involved in the offensive play-calling or game planning.

There's already too many voices and switching and fixing and mixing and matching and erasing and rebuilding on that side of the ball.

Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, neither of who had ever been coordinators before coming to Illinois, were labeled co-CEOs upon their arrival.

Beatty calls the plays. Except for when he doesn't. Gonzales actually calls plays on third down, according to Beckman. That's not unheard of, but let's face it – the whole setup is not working for the Illinois offense, a unit that ranked 117th (out of 120) nationally coming into the weekend.

When asked if he has been or planned to start aiding with playcalling, Beckman walked a circle.

"Not really, no. I'm not going to get involved," he said initially, before ending his answer like this: "I'm just suggesting, I'll strongly urge some of the plays that can help them be successful throughout the game."

That sounds like a third partner, which is contributing to the underlying problem.

The offense doesn't have an identity. Running back Donovonn Young and receiver Ryan Lankford, statistically the most successful players on that side of the ball, agree with that statement. I asked both point blank: does the offense have an identity?

"No. Not at all. Not at all," Young said. "We don't know what we want to do."

And Lankford: "I don't think we've established an identity."

Injuries and inexperience on top of a lack of depth to begin with have created quite a challenge for Beatty, who seems to be the face of the enterprise as he's the one most commonly thrown in front of reporters.

Dual-threat quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase missed games early in the season, meaning the game plan shifted to suit pro-style Reilly O'Toole.

When Scheelhaase came back, it dictated a switch back to plays that catered to his strengths. The start, stop and start again stunted the chance for a platform to build on. Through all that mess, Darius Millines, Josh Ferguson, Graham Pocic, Hugh Thornton, Jon Davis -- all expected to be leaders and playmakers -- missed time or were limited with injuries of their own.

"All that makes it tough to be able to do the same thing week after week to be able to get good at anything," Beatty said. "That's been part of it.

"You never get to a point where you're sitting back and doing the same things every week. Definitely it's hard for it to create a foundation to build every week when you're juggling the lineup, but that's an excuse and I don't believe in those either."

Illinois' first drive Saturday was classic case and point.

A successful flea flicker and a tough run by Young set up a second and goal from the one-yard line. A carry by Young was stuffed on the first try. The next play resulted in a timeout because the offense couldn't get lined up right. After talking it over, Scheelhaase tried a QB sneak from a shotgun snap (similar to a failed run weeks ago against Indiana in almost the same circumstance) -- a play that had no chance from the start.

Out came the field goal unit on fourth down, along with booing from some fans.

The Illini would gain only 177 more yards for the game. Considering the limitations, the margin for error on offense is next to nothing.

"We've got to make perfect calls all the time because we don't have necessarily that one guy that goes for 25 (yards), and so that makes it a little frustrating in that you have to sustain a 12-play drive or 13-play drive and then you get a penalty," Beatty said. "We don't have guys that overcome those penalties, and so that's part of -- you learn how to adapt to that. I'm learning, in the process, obviously not fast enough."

If you don't have good enough players, you better be good at what you do. Better yet, you better know what you can do, trust that who you have can perform what you want.

Take a look at Indiana -- the No. 3 offense in the Big Ten coming into Saturday. There's no world beaters on that team, but the offense runs a hurry-up tempo on steroids, overcoming it's talent deficiency.

Witnessing that just weeks ago, what exactly is Beckman bringing to the offensive table?

"I just try to tell them the things that affect us defensively, as I watch, or things that I watch," he said.

"The things that we try to attack or we have problems with, that if we run that, defensively is this. That's part of some of the things we incorporate offensively."

My translation of that is this -- our defense has trouble with this, so maybe we should get our offense to run it. That doesn't sound like a plan to utilize Illinois' strengths, whatever they may be. That's a panic move trying to mimic what some other team does well.

That's lacking an identity.

Sure, there are plenty of excuses -- the injuries, the constant change in approach from week to week, the poor play by the offensive line.

All of those things are real and have led to failure. But what is the offense building toward? What is the offense trying to be? Trying to establish?

I don't know. But I will say, I don't think Beckman becoming more involved will help. He needs to let his assistants -- Beatty and Gonzales -- figure out what the offense is going to be, figure out a plan to best use the players Illinois currently has and get to work on creating it.

For players like Young, adding another voice will only add to the noise.

"I have to do what I do, do what my coaches tell me to do and do my job," he said. "At the end of the day if I do my job and it doesn't work out in the end, that's all I can do."

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