Illinois‘ painful loss to Arizona State in Tempe begs a lot of questions that require immediate answers, though it seems like the blame for this loss can be placed on Tim Beckman’s shoulders.
“I’m taking the total blame for this game,” Beckman said.
The problem began even before the game did: Nathan Scheelhaase didn’t play. His ankle injury stemming from last week’s game against Western Michigan limited him in practice all week. The three-year starter was backed up by Reilly O’Toole and Miles Osei. O’Toole got the nod and made his first collegiate start ever.
A chance to shock the world on ESPN was a great opportunity for O’Toole to step in and drive the bus, though there would be nothing great and or shocking about his start. After Illinois recovered a fumble on the one yard line, O’Toole and the Illini offense faced an insurmountable challenge in the 99 yards ahead of them.
The ASU defense swarmed the Illini all game and neither O’Toole nor Osei could do enough to match the production of the Sun Devil offense. What they really needed was an O’Scheelhaase, who stood on the sidelines after completing pre-game warmups.
He looked ready for play in full pads and even eye paint under just one eye, but he never saw the field. The Illini trailed 28-7 at half and their defense didn’t stop the bleeding in the second half, all the way to a 45-14 thrashing.
The Illinois defense was top 10 in the country last year and many were anxiously waiting to see if they could match that this season. Yesterday’s performance was nowhere close to top 10 worthy. Actually, the only noteworthy performance on the Illinois team came from running back Josh Ferguson, who had 107 yards on 14 rushes, but no touchdowns.
Adding insult to injury: Darius Millinesleft the game with an ankle injury and was seen wearing a protective boot after the game.The Illini continued to pound the ball on the ground, but to no avail. They produced only 332 yards of total offense with 231 of that coming on the ground, which is telling enough of the backup quarterback play.In the end, it was their defense that was supposed to be the backbone of this team and they broke. They gave up 510 total yards of offense and didn’t provide a spark or a score like they did last week. Looking forward, they need Scheelhaase to be healthy and they need their defense to play Illinois-style defense. Without a healthy starting quarterback and without your top 10 defense in full form, you really have no chance. Especially against a hot Arizona State team, in the desert, on the road.
Illinois will have to asses the loss and find a way to improve going forward. They’ll need their signal caller Nathan Scheelhaase and they’ll need their defense to hunt quarterbacks and make big plays. Without these things their future looks bleak.
With Penn State and Ohio State ineligible for postseason play, the Illini seemed to be the only contenders to challenge Wisconsin for the division lead. The Badgers lost yesterday, which is possibly the only positive thing that happened for the Illini yesterday. This was a tough loss for the Illini, but it’s early in the season and a recovery is surely possible.
Follow on Twitter @Midwayryan