Smile Politely

Purdue beat Illinois: Say goodbye to Tim Beckman

This is two articles. The first goes like this:

Illinois lost to Purdue. Fire everyone. 

Fireable offenses include: another missed PAT (fire special teams coordinator Tim Salem); Wes Lunt had no protection, was hit so hard he started limping, and then got hit a bunch more (fire offensive line coach Tom Brattan); the running backs, as a group, ran for less than 80 yards (fire running backs coach Alex Golesh); the defensive line had zero sacks and just 3 tackles for a loss (fire defensive line coach Greg Colby); Purdue’s second-string quarterback Austin Appleby threw for over 200 yards (fire linebackers coaches Al Seamonsen and Mike Ward); Purdue gained over 500 yards (fire defensive coordinator Tim Banks). Finally, but most importantly, ILLINOIS LOST TO PURDUE: FIRE COACHIN’ TIMMY BECKMAN.

That’s the first article, the BURN IT TO THE GROUND article. At this point, six games into the season, it’s obvious that Illinois has reached its nadir. Despite added depth, experience, and talent, Illinois has regressed from last year and things do not get worse than this, maybe never have been worse than this. Thus, the natural conclusion is that everyone must be fired.

The second article is one of moderation. Formulated after a day’s reflection and a couple hours listening to the Illini Radio Network’s postgame call-in show, the second article’s premise is that, yes, Illinois football is broken, but the path to fixing it is not much different than the current path.

After the game yesterday I went to the team interview session, like usual. I watched Tim Beckman stand in front of reporters that would undoubtedly be calling for his head in their columns and declare that the only thing to do was to try and improve. It was the same message he’d given at each of his previous 31 games in charge, but it was different, too. Beckman’s eyes were red and puffy and he admitted this was the worst he’s felt after a game. The subtext to all of it was that he knew what he was doing wasn’t good enough for this team.

Then, when I got home, the radio was playing the call-in show and I left it on. I heard the voices of Illini fans flung far and wide voicing their frustration over the air. Their message was much the same as I wrote in the preamble, “This is unacceptable and someone, or everyone, must pay the price.” It was reactionist and uninformed but probably warranted.

As the hosts reminded everyone, including those calling for athletic director Mike Thomas to be fired, there is no easy fix for Illini football. Last time the team needed a new coach, Kevin Sumlin took less money to go coach Texas A&M (which has worked out alright for him) and Beckman was the best available, his coaching skill notwithstanding.

Illinois football has never been a marquee program able to attract the big names. Even within the Illini fanbase, how many of us cling more dearly to the commitment announcements of 17-year-old hoop stars (Cliff Alexander, Jalen Brunson, et al.) than the outcome of a nonconference football game? I admit I fall in that camp.  With that in mind, what does Thomas have to sell the likes of Sumlin: a chance to coach a team with a losing record, poor recruiting, and a fanbase that would rather be watching basketball? Sounds like a tough sell, if you ask me.

Since this is a recap of the Purdue game, technically, here are the vital stats: 202 passing yards by Austin Appleby (had 89 yards total in 3 games previous), 349 rushing yards for Purdue (had just 671 as a team in 5 previous games), 7.8 yards per rush for Purdue (averaging 3.9 coming into Saturday’s game), 2.6 yards per rush for Illinois (Purdue allowing 4.0 to opponents in previous games), 0 turnovers for Illinois (just 7 turnovers all season), 0 sacks for Illinois (just 12 all season). With those in mind, it’s rather clear that Tim Beckman will, and probably should, be fired. I’ve been of a mind that firing Tim Beckman was not a good move, but this game fully changed my mind. Yet I’m not sure his firing would help anything.

What’s the move going forward? Illinois is no easier to sell after the failed Tim Beckman experiment. Those at the top of the short lists, Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi, East Carolina’s Ruffin McNeill, North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman, they’re likely going to be like Sumlin and accept jobs at better football schools, such as Michigan or even SMU.

So it’s likely that Thomas will be down to a second or third option when selecting a replacement for Beckman this winter, no matter how much money he throws at the problem. That doesn’t make it Thomas’s fault, though. After all, he’s made some good coaching decisions in his brief tenure. I think we could all agree John Groce and Matt Bollant are doing a fine job.

This thing just has to play out as it plays out. Maybe Thomas gets it right with the football coach this time around, or maybe the program is too broken to fix. None of that is consolation after this terrible, ugly, no good loss to Purdue, however.

Player of the Game

The game on Saturday was fairly miserable for Illini fans, but it’s not all the fault of the players. Yes, they failed to execute and at times looked less than inspired against Purdue, but these kids (remember their age?) are talented and not deserving of the scorn the coaches are receiving.

In fact, I’d like to praise the few players who were available to talk to the media on Saturday. They all walked in with eyes redder and puffier than Beckman’s, they sat through his answers with their head in their hands and still managed to put on a brave face and talk to reporters. Junior linebacker Mason Monheim even took the blame off his coaches, placing firmly on his shoulders and those of his teammates for not getting the job done. Monheim could have called out his coaches for terrible play-calling, for not teaching good tackling skills, for not emphasizing strength training, or for any of the number of things the players are likely upset about but not sharing with anyone. But he didn’t. He was mature and he didn’t pass the buck. Illinois could use a dozen more Mason Monheims.

The player of the game, though, was Mike Dudek. And if anything is going to make you feel good about the future of the Illini, it was the freshman wideout’s performance against Purdue.

With each game we’ve seen Dudek grow as a receiver, and on Saturday he was simply sublime. He turned incompletions into receptions, he beat his defenders, and he kept drives alive. At the end of the game he had 200 yards on 8 receptions, an average of 25 yards per catch.

Defenses in future games will be more aware of Dudek and just better in general, but you can’t help but be excited by a performance like this from such a young player. I hope Illinois football is able to have some success before Dudek’s years in CU come to an end.

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