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Illinois football coach Tim Beckman looking for help from juco ranks

Illinois junior linebacker Jonathan Brown seems be back full strength after hobbling through an ankle sprain. | John Dixon~AP

Illinois junior linebacker Jonathan Brown seems to be back at full strength after hobbling through an ankle sprain. | John Dixon~AP

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Updated: November 24, 2012 6:19AM

Faced with a difficult battle to restore an Illinois football program that’s looking seriously down and out, new coach Tim Beckman used the bye last week to fight back on several fronts.

Recruiting, getting healthy and restoring pride were all on the docket at Illinois, which faces a dangerous homecoming against high-scoring Indiana on Saturday (11 a.m., BTN).

‘‘We need a victory,’’ Beckman said Monday. ‘‘We need to move this program forward. It cannot stay stalemated.’’

Toward that end, Beckman said he hopes to bring in up to eight players in January so they can participate in spring practice, including an unspecified number of junior-college players.

‘‘There’s depth issues,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘We’re not playing with a full deck of cards. We’ve done this at the other places I’ve been at — never with eight, but we’ve had six. Eight’s a good number. [We’ll] try to get them in here for spring football and build some depth.’’

Beckman, who already has ruffled feathers with his recruiting at Penn State, indicated that the need for help outweighs Illinois’ past reluctance to bring in junior-college players.

‘‘Illinois has not been known for junior-college players,’’ Beckman said, ‘‘but we’re going to actively see if there’s some out there. We’ve got a class that isn’t really there. We need to get that class with more people in it. The junior-college player would add to that class.’’

That’s for down the road. Right now, Beckman, whose ugly 2-5 start has prompted a flurry of alumni and media scrutiny, could use a win over Indiana to stop the bleeding.

To get there, Beckman is stressing a theme of ‘‘Own the Day’’ for the rest of the season.

‘‘Those last games are done,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ve got five more in front of us. I challenged this team to own the day. Do everything to win that day. That’s the way we need to take it.’’

That approach starts with practice for Indiana, the last Big Ten team Illinois beat before beginning its 11-game conference losing streak.

At least the Illini will be bolstered by some key players who used the open date to heal up. Among them are standout linebacker Jonathan Brown, who has been hobbling through an ankle sprain, and cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who sat out the Michigan game after suffering an apparent concussion at Wisconsin.

‘‘Jonathan Brown’s been playing through a lot of pain the last couple of weeks,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘Sunday night, he was the old Jonathan Brown. And Terry was the full Terry Hawthorne.’’

That will help. And Illinois will need all defensive hands on deck against the potent Indiana offense, which made its points in losses to Michigan State (31-27), Ohio State (52-49) and Navy (31-30) the last three weeks.

‘‘We’re playing a good team,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘Indiana has  moved the ball well. They’re giving up a few points too many on defense, but they’re playing good football. They’ve had a chance to win their last three games.’’

Illinois, on the other hand, hasn’t even been close in its five losses. And that’s a big reason why Beckman is on a surprisingly hot seat for a first-year coach.

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