Beckman’s, Illinois Football Future Hangs In Penn State Game

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY

Illinois football’s game against Penn State on Saturday will have plenty of lasts.

It will be the last home game of the season. It will be the senior’s last home game ever. Saturday will be the Illini’s chance of starting a winning streak that would qualify the team for a bowl. For head coach Tim Beckman, it’ll be a last chance to save a job.

Among all the lasts, Saturday is a must-win for Illinois. If the team wants to reach six wins, the amount of wins needed to be eligible for a bowl game, it needs to take care of the Nittany Lions. For the team, though, that is easier said than done.

If Illinois wants to win, the offense will need to play much better than it did in the 30-14 loss to Iowa. Quarterback Wes Lunt returned from five-week absence and didn’t provide the spark it needed to beat the Hawkeyes. Lunt threw for a season-low 102 yards and one touchdown. He didn’t look like he was comfortable in the pocket throughout the game and was eventually replaced by Reilly O’Toole.

Lunt and the offense will face a challenge in Penn State’s challenge. The team’s total defense ranks second in the Big Ten and third in pass defense. It has only allowed 1,825 passing yards and teams average 182.5 passing yards per game. The Nittany Lions has also forced 15 interceptions.

With another week of practice under the belt, Lunt should look more concise in his throws. It is also up to the wide receivers to make catches too. Beckman mentioned during the week that the amount of dropped passes in the game against Iowa was not good and something the team will need to work on during the week. Although Mike Dudek caught two touchdowns for 80 yards, the rest of the receivers have dropped off. Geronimo Allison has not been the same and is looking to get into a rhythm with Lunt.

As Lunt faces a top-tier defense, Illinois’ defense will need to do its best to keep the Illini in the game. It kept Illinois in the game against Iowa despite the high total yardage. It will need to do so against a total offense that ranks 13th in total offense in the Big Ten.

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg has a strong arm but has had a tough sophomore season. He has thrown for 2, 318 yards and seven touchdowns but has thrown 14 interceptions. He only threw for 112 yards and two interceptions in the team’s 30-13 win over Temple. The Illini defensive line needs to create pressure so that the sophomore quarterback makes mistakes.

All of this will need to be done under the leadership of Beckman. These next two games will likely determine whether or not he will be the head coach next year. When asked if he has gotten a reassurance for next year, Beckman said he is focused on Penn State and getting the team bowl eligible. When asked about next year, Beckman said that the team will need to win eight games to go over this year’s seven win, two in the regular season and one bowl game.

Although many don’t believe seven wins are in the Illini’s future, the focus is on the Penn State and the seniors. But amid the celebration and lasts, the game holds a key to the program’s future.