Illinois gets blown out by Penn State for its second consecutive humbling loss
BY HERB GOULD email@example.com September 29, 2012 9:06PM
Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson (8) escapes Illinois defensive back Supo Sanni (7) during the first half of the NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, in Champaign, Ill. Penn State defeated Illinois 35-7. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Updated: November 1, 2012 6:50AM
CHAMPAIGN — Got any orange-and-blue lug nuts? The wheels are starting to come off at Illinois.
The Illini got their noses rubbed in it for the second consecutive week at home, losing their Big Ten opener to Penn State 35-7 on Saturday.
‘‘Disappointed is the least word,’’ said first-year coach Tim Beckman, who also had some explaining to do after last week’s 52-24 loss to Louisiana Tech. ‘‘We’re not playing good. That’s the bottom line. We’re not doing what we’re supposed to do. We have to regroup and get ourselves better.’’
The problem is, Illinois (2-3, 0-1 Big Ten) will play three of its next four games at Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State. Even though the Badgers, Wolverines and Buckeyes have their own problems, things could get ugly for the Illini if they play like they did against the Nittany Lions (3-2, 1-0).
‘‘We’re going to play some physical teams,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘We’ve got to become a more physical team, plus stay healthy. That’s kind of a double-edged sword right now, but that’s one of the things we’re going to have to address.’’
The other thing Illinois is going to have to do is tune out the negativity. That won’t be easy because the Illini don’t look talented enough, organized enough or healthy enough to get where they want to go.
You didn’t need a scorecard to tell which school hired its coach from the New England Patriots and which got its coach from Toledo.
The sex-scandal fallout has drained a lot of talent from Penn State. But under Bill O’Brien, a Bill Belichick disciple, the Nittany Lions seem to know what they’re doing most of the time. Beckman and his staff have a ways to go in that department.
The Illini committed three turnovers, which Penn State converted into 14 points. Penn State had no giveaways. Linebacker Michael Mauti, who had ripped the Illini for recruiting Penn State players, had two interceptions. He even had a 99-yard return at the end of the half but was caught by Miles Osei at the Illinois 1.
O’Brien and Beckman exchanged the quickest of postgame handshakes, but there was no bad blood on the field, Illinois quarterback Nate Scheelhaase said.
‘‘One time, I handed the ball off and ran my fake,’’ Scheelhaase said, ‘‘and Mauti said, ‘Man, I could have lit you up.’ I said, ‘Man, I appreciate you not doing it.’
‘‘The chances for dirty plays were there, but they’re not dirty players. They just flat-out beat us. That’s the most frustrating part.’’
Whether the problem is Beckman and his staff, overrated talent or injuries on a team that lacks depth is open to discussion. What’s not debatable is that the Illini are going to have to win back their fan base as they try to dig themselves out of a nasty hole.
‘‘No disrespect, but the fans aren’t playing the game,’’ defensive tackle Glenn Foster said. ‘‘We have to block out all the outside noise and focus on this team as a family. We’re going to be the ones out there fighting.’’