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Illinois football coach Tim Beckman a top goalkeeper

Illinois running back Donovonn Young front is tackled by ArizonState defensive tackle Will Sutt(90) during second half an NCAA college

Illinois running back Donovonn Young, front, is tackled by Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton (90) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012,in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

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Updated: October 20, 2013 7:43AM

Any halfway serious Bears fan recalls that former coach Lovie Smith liked to take a four-quarters approach to the regular season, breaking the 16-game schedule into four-game segments. It was a philosophical tactic he’d learned from one of his bosses and mentors in the profession, Tony Dungy.

Illinois’ Tim Beckman never worked on a Dungy-led staff, but he has studied the Dungy model and, along with his own staff, is constructing goals for the 2013 Illini three games at a time.

The first quarter of the season — victories over Southern Illinois and Cincinnati and a loss to Washington — is over. Anyone who paid attention as the Illini went 3-16 over the previous season and a half might call a 2-1 record an obvious success.

And it is. You can bet Beckman would’ve taken 2-1 in a heartbeat if offered it back in training camp.

“I’m excited about moving the program forward,” he said during the Illini’s first of two bye weeks.

What he’s really excited about are those first-quarter goals.

“The first quarter was successful,” he said. “We’ve got to play better on the defensive side of the ball, but the goals we set as a staff … a majority of those have been met.”

We don’t need a coach to tell us that the 492.7 yards per game the defense is allowing — for a national ranking of 115 out of 123 teams — is disappointing.

Considering all the question marks the Illini offense faced entering the season, the 437.7 yards per game it has churned out (ranked 39th) is clearly a plus.

But what were those first-quarter goals, specifically? We didn’t know, so we reached out to Beckman in case we might catch him in a sharing mood. Turned out he was. The coaches set Q1 statistical goals for their players in a dozen areas, and Beckman patiently went over them.

Just a guess: Smith wouldn’t have done that.

Let’s comb through a handful of those goals, just because we can:

Rushing offense: The Illini didn’t seem to get much going on the ground; starting running back Donovonn Young, in particular, struggled to put things together. But the team’s rushing average — 131.7 yards per game — exceeded the goal, which was 125. Surprised the goal was that low? We were. It certainly suggests first-year coordinator Bill Cubit’s attack will remain pass-heavy.

Red-zone offense: The goal was to score touchdowns on 70 percent of red-zone trips. The Illini were successful only six of 11 times (55 percent).

Red-zone defense. The goal was to force either a field-goal attempt or a turnover — in other words, anything but a touchdown — 70 percent of the time. Opponents scored touchdowns on half of their 14 red-zone trips. Another goal unmet.

Turnover differential. All the Illini aimed for was to be plus-1 in turnovers after three games. That’s exactly where they are. The season goal, according to Beckman, is plus-5.

Punting: For Justin DuVernois and the coverage team, the goal was a net average of 38 yards. DuVernois’ net is 37.7; Beckman is rounding up and calling it a success. Another Q1 goal: one punt downed inside the 10-yard line. The Illini are way ahead of that, with three.

Beckman identifies improved tackling — particularly in the secondary — as the biggest area of need heading into a second quarter of the season in which the Illini will face Miami (Ohio), Nebraska and Wisconsin.

In 2012, the second quarter was a disaster. Beckman’s first Illinois team also started 2-1 before getting blown out three straight times on the way to a 2-10 finish.

“What’s in the past is in the past,” he said.

So he’ll lay out a new set of goals and hope his players rise to meet them. To this point, he’s encouraged.

“I’m proud of the way they’ve played these first three football games,” Beckman said.

It’s one good quarter. Any halfway serious Illini fan understands — all too well — there’s a whole lot of football left.


Twitter: @slgreenberg

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