Illinois’ losing streak reaches seven with loss to Minnesota
BY HERB GOULD email@example.com November 10, 2012 11:22PM
Illinois receiver Ryan Lankford fails to hold on to a pass as Michael Carter holds on to him. | Seth Perlman~AP
Updated: December 12, 2012 6:48AM
CHAMPAIGN — You know it’s a bad sign when the game is tied 3-3 at halftime and there are fewer people in the stands when the third quarter starts than there were when the second quarter ended.
In the SEC, they call a 3-3 score at halftime the ‘‘Game of the Century.’’ In Central Illinois, they call it a day.
But that’s the way things are going with Illinois football.
In their most wrenching setback yet, the Illini lost to Minnesota 17-3, spoiling an unseasonably warm autumn Saturday for a crowd announced at 46,912 that was bolstered by Dad’s Day and the fair weather — even if many kept leaving while the game was in doubt.
It was the seventh consecutive loss for Illinois (2-8, 0-6) and its 12th loss in a row in the Big Ten. It’s the Illini’s longest conference losing streak since 2003-04.
The Gophers (6-4, 2-4) became bowl-eligible for the first time since 2009. They broke the 3-3 logjam on a three-yard touchdown run with 2:31 left in the third quarter by Donnell Kirkwood, who ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Kirkwood was the difference in this game. He made things happen that the Illini had no answer for.
Coach Tim Beckman was especially flustered with an offense that got stuffed twice inside the 1-yard line on its first possession and settled for a field goal.
“If you can’t score a touchdown from the half-inch yard line, then we’ve got some problems,’’ he said. “Very, very inconsistent. To be honest with you, it’s the worst I’ve been around. I will be even more involved with our offense these last two games. You can’t fumble the ball. And you have to score touchdowns in the red zone. It’s not that hard of a game.’’
Beckman also was distressed by the offensive line being stymied on third-and-one late in the game. That left Nathan Scheelhaase reaching the ball out and fumbling on a quarterback sneak with 2:31 left.
“He was trying to get the inch,’’ Beckman said. “But there’s no movement on the front line. Come on, guys. We have to move the ball an inch. If you can’t move the football, fricking knock the crap out of people.’’
The line wasn’t the only part of the offense that struggled. Illinois ran 35 times for 101 yards. And while Scheelhaase completed 15 of 23 for 175 yards, he underthrew an early flea flicker that went for 49 yards, but not all the marbles. On the next play, he overthrew tight end Jon Davis for a potential touchdown.
But everyone knew that Scheelhaase’s mistakes came from trying to do too much in an offense that’s doing too little around him.
“I know he’s disappointed,’’ co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty said. “It ain’t Nate’s fault. I told him. It ain’t any one person’s fault besides mine. It’s my fault. I have to do better. That’s the bottom line.’’
Beatty shrugged when told Beckman intends to get involved with the offense.
“We scored three points; we need help,’’ said Beatty, declining to throw his struggling offensive line, or anyone else, under the bus.
It’s not Beatty’s fault. It’s nobody’s fault, really. It’s just the reality that the Illini aren’t good enough to overcome their many problems.