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updated: 11/12/2012 6:58 PM

Beckman may make changes to Illini offense

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  • Illinois head coach Tim Beckman isn't happy with his team's woeful offense, and said there may be personnel changes this week.

    Illinois head coach Tim Beckman isn't happy with his team's woeful offense, and said there may be personnel changes this week.
    Associated Press

By David Mercer
Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN -- Illinois coach Tim Beckman let his frustration over his offense's inability to get even a yard or two when it needs them show after Saturday's loss to Minnesota, and on Monday said he may make changes.

The Gophers handed the Illini (2-8, 0-6 Big Ten) their seventh straight loss, 17-3. Two big third-and-1 plays cost Illinois.

One in the first quarter forced Illinois to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead -- and the Illini's only points of the game -- instead of a touchdown.

The other ended with a Nathan Scheelhaase fumble deep in Illinois territory. Down 10-3, the junior quarterback stretched his ball-carrying hand out across a pile of bodies at the line in a desperate bid to get the yard he needed for a first down to keep a late drive alive. Instead, Minnesota took the ball and scored the touchdown that put it out of reach.

Better short-yardage blocking, Beckman said Monday, is a must.

"If it means personnel changes, we're going to have to get maybe a different guy in there, on the line or maybe in the backfield," he said without naming players he may move or bench.

The line has consistently included three players this season who are sophomores or younger -- sophomores Simon Cvijanovic and Michael Heitz and redshirt freshman Ted Karras -- but Illinois is thin behind them.

The Illini have two shots left to end its losing streak, and to get its first Big Ten win in over a year, at home against Purdue (4-6, 1-5) on Saturday and at Northwestern (7-3, 3-3).

But the Minnesota game was in some ways there for the taking.

The Gophers had a little passing game, throwing just 15 times and completing nine for 78 yards.

The loss and the two third-and-1 plays in particular stung Scheelhaase. He blamed himself for the fumble, noting that he's reminded regularly not to hold the ball out in that situation, when, unlike reaching with the ball into the end zone, if it's dropped or swatted away it's anybody's ball.

Success on the early drive, he said, could have been a game-changer.

"You have to punch the ball in when we're that close. Those chances don't always come," he said. "You have to be able to do something to get the ball in at the time. Seven points there instead of three definitely would've been needed."

There are any number of ways to measure Illinois' offensive misery this season. The Illini are worst in the Big Ten or close to it in many categories this season.

The Illini have scored just 16.9 points a game, and just 10.5 a game in their six consecutive conference losses. Both are last in the Big Ten.

The team is averaging just 175 yards rushing a game, 10th in the Big Ten, and a conference-last 123.5 yards a contest.

And Illinois has been the worst in the conference on both third down, getting first downs just under 33 percent of time, and in the red zone. The Illini have made it inside the opposition 20 just 27 times this season (2.7 times a game,) coming away with 15 touchdowns and four field goals.

The line has been a big part of the problem, with Illinois quarterbacks taking a conference-worst 34 sacks.

But Scheelhaase has missed considerable time with injury and, when he's been on the field, has been inconsistent at best.

Beckman, though, defended his quarterback on Monday.

"With him being first year in this system, I think he's done a good job. When it comes down to plays, I think he's done a good job," Beckman said. "(When) it comes down to leadership, I think he's done an excellent job."

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