November 18, 2013 at 1:25 am

Matt Charboneau

Big Ten report: Illini coaches' frustrations boil over

Coach Tim Beckman took the blame for a sideline argument with offensive coordinator Bill Cubit in Illinois' 20th straight Big Ten loss. (Jeff Haynes / Associated Press)

Not winning a single conference game in nearly two full seasons is bound to grate on a guy.

That seems to be the prevailing feeling on the Illinois coaching staff after its 60-35 loss to Ohio State on Saturday. It was the 20th straight Big Ten loss for the Illini — their last victory was Oct. 8, 2011, against Indiana — and second-year coach Tim Beckman has managed just five victories overall.

So the fact the Illini got hammered by the Buckeyes isn’t exactly breaking news. But the actions of Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit certainly highlighted the frustration in Champaign.

In the third quarter, after an Illinois fumble led to a safety, television cameras caught the two yelling at each other while assistant coaches separated them.

The problems started on the field with Ohio State leading 35-21 and Illinois’ offense coming to life. But quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was forced out of the game because his helmet came off, meaning he had to sit out one play. Backup Reilly O’Toole came in, was sacked and fumbled in Illinois’ end zone.

The Illini recovered, but it was a safety that gave the Buckeyes a 37-21 advantage. Four plays later, Ohio State tacked on another touchdown and the game was essentially out of reach.

Cubit, the former Western Michigan head coach who has added a spark to the offense in his first season with the Illini, downplayed the incident.

“It’s in the game, that’s the way it is,” he said. “Everybody’s out there competing. You’d be shocked at how many times … it just happens. You get caught up. It’s one of those things.

“There’s no dysfunction on our side. I’m not saying there’s dysfunction anywhere else. I think the kids are taking on the personality of this offensive staff, they’re fighting and battling.”

While the offense is fighting, the defense, once again, got rolled by a conference opponent. Illinois has allowed more than 50 points in each of the past two games and is giving up more than 37 a game.

But what the fracas with Cubit might have highlighted was the fact Beckman could be losing control of his team. Two years is a difficult time frame for a coach to turn around a program, but after a 2-10 mark a season ago, progress was expected this season. That has hardly happened and frustration is building.

Saturday’s display might simply have been the first time anyone outside the football offices witnessed it.

“I’m the head football coach and it goes on my shoulders,” Beckman said. “Me and Bill have gotten along forever and I respect Bill. He does a great job with what we’ve done and I put that (argument) on my shoulders.

“Immediately on the sidelines we talked about it and got it straight. I don’t think our offense quit; they continued to fight even after that situation occurred.”

The question is starting to become, will Beckman get a shot to prove that same attitude will permeate the entire team and victories will follow?

If not, a disagreement with his offensive coordinator will be the least of his worries.

Wildcats losing locked in?

When things start going in the wrong direction for a football team, it’s pretty hard to swing momentum in the other direction. Illinois is certainly experiencing that.

And a few hours north, Northwestern is becoming convinced there is something more going on than simple bad luck or even poor play.

“We were talking about it in the locker room,” quarterback Trevor Siemian told the Chicago Tribune. “Somebody did something because we don’t have very good karma right now.”

The fact the Wildcats haven’t won a single Big Ten game is bad enough, especially for a team that expected to contend for the Legends Division title. But after a loss two weeks ago to Nebraska on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game, Northwestern kept the karma train rolling in the wrong direction on Saturday with its triple-overtime loss at home to Michigan.

Leading 9-6 in the final seconds, the Wildcats somehow allowed the Wolverines to tie the game on the final play before Michigan went on to win in overtime.

On third-and-23 with 18 seconds to play, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner hit Jeremy Gallon for 16 yards. He was tackled with 12 seconds to play. Out of timeouts and short of a first down, Michigan could not stop the clock. But the Wolverines got their kicking team on the field, snapped the ball with one second to play and Brendan Gibbons nailed a 44-yarder.

“Tough deal,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Tough deal for the guys in our locker room.”

Some will question the final play and there were plenty of chances for the Wildcats defense to put the game away earlier in the drive. But sometimes, teams just find a way to lose. The surprising thing is that this Northwestern team is one of them.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” kicker Jeff Budzien told the Tribune. “It’s shocking, it’s depressing. If you had told me we’d be 4-6, I would have laughed at you.”

Badgers run wild

This just in: Wisconsin can run the ball. Oh, and of course, defense is simply a rumor for Indiana.

Not surprisingly, the Badgers chewed up the Hoosiers and spit them out on Saturday, running for 554 yards in a 51-3 victory. It was so bad, when James White ran 93 yards for a touchdown on Wisconsin’s first play from scrimmage, he wondered where all the defenders went.

“I was expecting for me to have to make at least one person miss,” he said, “but it just so happened they were out of their gaps and I was just able to run straight.”

Indiana’s aversion to getting in the way led to some pretty impressive numbers for the Badgers, who had seven runs of 30 yards or more. White ran for a career-high 205 yards, Melvin Gordon added 146 and a touchdown and backup Corey Clement rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Even receiver Jared Abbrederis got into the act, gaining 86 yards on just three carries, two of them for scores.

The Hoosiers have the Big Ten’s 10th-ranked rushing defense and give up an average of more than 217 yards a game. Wisconsin topped that just minutes into the second quarter, had 323 yards rushing at the half and finished just short of the school-record 564 yards rushing.

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said as much blame goes to an offense that couldn’t sustain a drive in the wet conditions in Madison.

“When you’re not an overpowering offense in the run game, you’ve got to be pretty efficient in the passing game,” he said. “We were just a little bit off in the timing. The wind is a part of that. The rain is a part of that. But the defense is a part of that.”

Good try, coach, but I’m not buying. Fix that defense, or Indiana will remain stuck near the bottom for the long haul.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com
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