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Illinois football’s struggling attack features convoluted play-calling process

COLUMBUS OH - NOVEMBER 03:  Head Coach Tim Beckman Illinois Illini yells Ashante Williams #25 Illinois Illini during game

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 03: Head Coach Tim Beckman of the Illinois Illini yells at Ashante Williams #25 of the Illinois Illini during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes on November 3, 2012 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:23AM

Two more chances for a bit of disaster relief, and then new Illinois coach Tim Beckman can go about the serious offseason business of trying to restock a program that’s about as low as it can get.

Oddsmakers have installed the Illini as a seven-point underdog against Purdue on Saturday (2:30 p.m., BTN). Which is one touchdown more than Illinois scored in its 17-3 loss to Minnesota, the Illini’s 12th consecutive Big Ten defeat.

Beckman, who plans to take a more hands-on approach with the offense after the setback to the Gophers, detailed the intricacies of Illinois’ play-calling chain of command on Monday.

But it all remained very confusing.

One co-offensive coordinator, Chris Beatty, calls first and second down, and the other, Billy Gonzales, calls third down. But all the calls are approved by the entire offensive staff, Beckman indicated. And you can be sure the head coach also has his finger in the pie.

“Everything’s set on Tuesday in the game plan,’’ Beckman said, adding that Gonzales “studies it all week, determines the type of call he thinks will be successful and presents it to the staff. That’s his baby.’’

If everything is set on Tuesday, you ask, what’s being studied all week?

The key thing to keep in mind is that Illinois is last in the Big Ten in scoring, total offense and rushing offense and 10th in passing offense. Who’s calling the plays is probably best left unclear.

On a positive note, true freshman linebacker Mason Monheim, who had a career-high 15 tackles against Minnesota, was named the Big Ten freshman of the week. And Beckman said he hopes that junior linebacker Jonathan Brown (shoulder) will be able to play against the Boilermakers.

If not, Beckman also has been pleased with the work of true freshman linebacker Mike Svetina, who started with Monheim against the Gophers.

“You can’t say enough for [Monheim],’’ Beckman said. “Any time an 18-year-old comes in and plays Big Ten football as well as he does, it surprises us all. Mike Svetina, who’s also 18, also played a good game. It speaks highly for our front line and secondary, who helped those freshmen.’’

The tricky part is that when Monheim and Svetina are sophomores, Illinois probably will replace four of its five starting defensive backs, and three of its four defensive linemen.

That’s one of many reasons Beckman hopes to bring in a mix of up to 13 junior-college and high-school players in January.

“To be honest, we’re very active in trying to find the best players, junior college or high school,’’ Beckman said. “We could have 13 players coming in here in January. Right now, we have seven that have committed to coming in in January.’’

Speculation is growing that Beckman will have three or four new assistant coaches to greet the new players. It’s not clear yet which ones are leaving, and whether they’ll depart because Beckman wants them gone — or because they want to be gone.

Also Monday, it was announced that Illinois’ finale at Northwestern will begin at 11 a.m. on BTN. That will allow Beckman to get a three-hour head start on his offseason work.

He’s got a lot of work to do, you know.

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