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Illinois at a crossroads after big mess in the Big House

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase suffered an apparent concussiafter getting sandwiched this play second quarter. | Carlos Osorio~AP

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase suffered an apparent concussion after getting sandwiched on this play in the second quarter. | Carlos Osorio~AP

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Updated: November 15, 2012 6:52AM

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Maybe in a couple of years, Illinois will put together a big victory over Michigan in the Big House. And maybe Tim Beckman will tell a heartwarming story like the one Ron Zook told after Illinois upset top-ranked Ohio State 28-21 in the Horseshoe in 2007.

After that magical win, Zook revealed the phone conversation he had on the way home from a 40-2 blowout loss at Ohio State in 2005 with Juice Williams, when the future hero of that 2007 upset assured him things would get better.

In a couple of years, maybe Beckman will be able to tell a similar tale about a conversation with his highly touted quarterback, Bolingbrook star Aaron Bailey, on the long ride back to Champaign.

At the moment, though, that’s all fantasy.

The reality now is Illinois football is looking as dead in the water as you can get.

On a cold and rainy Saturday, the No. 25 Wolverines pummeled the Illini 45-0, rewarding a homecoming crowd of 110,922. It was Michigan’s 41st consecutive home crowd exceeding 100,000.

‘‘I’ve never been in this situation before,’’ Illinois coach Tim Beckman said glumly. ‘‘It’s tough because we know we didn’t play well. I told this football team, this is kind of the crossroads. Our players are disappointed and hurting. Our coaching staff is, too. And I’m sure Illini Nation is, too.’’

Outside of their direct deposits as members of the Big Ten, no small consideration, the Illini (2-5, 0-3) don’t have much to show for their trip to Michigan (4-2, 2-0).

Illinois will now take a much-needed week off to prepare for its Oct. 27 game against Indiana. This homecoming game against a perennial Big Ten doormat is a virtual must-win for Beckman if he’s going to show any forward progress.

‘‘These kids know we’re running out of time,’’ defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. ‘‘We have some good kids that want to win. It’s been a long time since these kids won a Big Ten game.’’

Illinois has lost nine Big Ten games since its last win, 43-13 at Indiana on Oct. 8, 2011.

‘‘I’m not giving up. I’m not shaking,’’ Banks said. ‘‘We still have a lot of football left. We just have to find a way to get the next game. The next game. That’s it.’’

This Michigan debacle was a case of too much Denard Robinson and too little Nathan Scheelhaase.

Robinson left for a couple of early series with a hand injury: ‘‘A little boo-boo,’’ Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said. The senior standout returned to finish with 128 rushing yards, 159 passing yards and four touchdowns — two rushing and two passing.

‘‘This is Michigan,’’ Robinson said, ‘‘and this is how Michigan always plays.’’

‘‘Denard’s a great player,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘He had a spectacular game.’’

Illinois ran the ball a bit at the outset, but that positive wilted when Scheelhaase departed in the second quarter with an apparent concussion. He did not return.

The Illini know that didn’t impact the outcome. And they know they have to buckle up for a rough remaining five-game ride.

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