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Illinois football faces problems after senior class departs

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TODAY

PURDUE AT ILLINOIS

The facts: 2:30, BTN, 560-AM.

Updated: December 19, 2012 1:36PM



When it finishes its home schedule Saturday against Purdue, Illinois will say goodbye to 20 seniors. It also will move one step closer to pulling down the curtain on a messy first season for coach Tim Beckman.

The Illini (2-8, 0-6 Big Ten) are on a seven-game losing streak and a 12-game Big Ten skid that dates to October 2011. The Boilermakers (4-6, 1-5) need to win their final two games to become bowl-eligible. They host Indiana next Saturday.

Purdue has underachieved since a 3-1 start, but its troubles pale in comparison to Illinois’.

The departing Illini seniors include many players on defense, which has been the team’s strong suit, if it has one. Defensive line starters Michael Buchanan, Glenn Foster and Justin Staples are departing, as are defensive backs Terry Hawthorne, Ashante Williams, Supo Sanni and Justin Green.

Considering two juniors, tackle Akeem Spence and linebacker Jonathan Brown, also could move on, it’s possible only two starters will return. That means the defense will be in for a sharp decline.

On offense, senior linemen Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton will be playing their final game in Memorial Stadium. While the offensive line has been troubled all season, Pocic and Thornton, who have missed games and played hurt, have provided what little stability the line has shown.

That means the offense isn’t going to excite the masses heading into next season, either.

The chief culprit is said to be the shaky job status of former coach Ron Zook, who was unable to maintain his recruiting standards in the current sophomore and junior classes.

The inability of Beckman and his staff to coax more out of the roster leaves Illinois looking wounded but not dangerous.

Beckman also has underwhelmed in the area of public perception, from poaching players at Penn State to chewing tobacco at Wisconsin. His latest head-scratcher came this week, when he said one offensive co-coordinator, Chris Beatty, calls the plays on first and second down and the other, Billy Gonzales, calls third-down plays.

That’s not as curious as it sounds because Beatty and Gonzales have gone over their game plan all week.

‘‘We’ve all agreed. We all know exactly what’s going on,’’ Gonzales said.

The game plans haven’t dazzled, but at Illinois, a lot of it is about the Jimmys and Joes, not the X’s and O’s.



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