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updated: 10/29/2012 6:06 PM

Illinois learning lessons it would rather skip

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  • Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase drops back to pass during the second half Saturday against Indiana in Champaign. The Illini haven't won a Big Ten game all season.

      Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase drops back to pass during the second half Saturday against Indiana in Champaign. The Illini haven't won a Big Ten game all season.
    Associated Press

  • Illinois head coach Tim Beckman watches from the sidelines during the second half of Saturday's home loss to Indiana. Illinois will try to break a five-game losing streak on the road Saturday against Ohio State.

      Illinois head coach Tim Beckman watches from the sidelines during the second half of Saturday's home loss to Indiana. Illinois will try to break a five-game losing streak on the road Saturday against Ohio State.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN -- First-year coach Tim Beckman says he's learning from the football season that's quickly getting away from Illinois.

They are lessons he'd just as soon skip.

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"You learn how to take defeats," Beckman said Monday, two days after falling to Indiana 31-17 in the team's fifth-straight defeat. "I hate losing, but it's just how to react to the players after continued defeats, I think is very important."

Motivating those players this week has included extra running, Beckman said, to atone for eight penalties that were just part of the long list of Illinois troubles that handed Indiana the game:

• Two of those penalties helped fuel Indiana scoring drives.

• Return man Tommy Davis fumbled a punt that handed the Hoosiers the go-ahead touchdown.

• Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was sacked seven times.

"You watched the game and it's exactly what you see when you watch it on film," said Beckman, who told reporters after the Indiana game that he's lost weight as losses have piled up this season. "It comes down to, it's a loss. ... We gave up too many points and we lost the football game."

And the going only gets harder this week. The Illini (2-6, 0-4 Big Ten) will try to break their losing streak on the road against No. 6 Ohio State (9-0, 5-0), the conference's only unbeaten team.

The loss to Indiana -- on homecoming, no less -- included a few things that Beckman and the Illini say they can build on.

"I thought we got better at tackling, I thought we got better offensively at trying to do the things that we need to do to run the football," Beckman said.

Illinois, in spite of it all, had one of its best games on the ground all season.

The Illini gouged Indiana for 196 rushing yards. Sophomore running back Donovonn Young finally had the game Illinois has been waiting all season to have -- a career-best 124 yards on 21 carries. And Scheelhaase added a solid day on the ground (32 net yards, but if you take away the seven sacks rushed for 89 yards).

Young's success, Scheelhaase said, was a result of the team's commitment to try to get back to simple offensive concepts that worked at the beginning of the season.

"We didn't do anything crazy in the run game, we didn't do anything too brand new," Scheelhaase said. "We just got back to the basics, and the basics looked pretty good."

Young, the junior quarterback added, "ran the way that we all knew he could and he wanted to be running all season. He ran hard, was definitely finishing his runs as well as he has since he's been here."

Duplicating that performance will be tougher at Ohio State, but anything the Illini can do on the ground would help Scheelhaase.

"We've probably got to get off the ball a little bit quicker," Beckman said. "Protection wise, we've kept backs in, we've kept tight ends in to chip and try to protect. It still comes down to a one-on-one battle when they blitz, and you've got to win."

Scheelhaase was banged up after the Hoosier game, Beckman said, but is expected to practice this week and play. Starting safety Steve Hull, Beckman said, is still struggling with shoulder injuries. The coach isn't sure yet if Hull will go.

The Illini are actually healthier now than they were earlier this season -- Scheelhaase missed all or parts of several games with ankle problems and a concussion -- and players have said Beckman has remained upbeat through the losses, and he seems to have maintained his sense of humor. "That was a quick move," Beckman joked with one reporter hurrying to his seat before the coach's Monday news conference.

But Beckman has made clear the losses weigh on him. Even telling reporters he'd lost weight, the former Toledo coach has said several times this season that he's never been around as much losing as he has at Illinois. And frequent early-season talk about playing to reach the Big Ten title game is, of course, gone.

"We've got to win (one) football game," Beckman said Monday. "That's what we're trying to get accomplished right now."

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