CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois football team isn't panicking after suffering their first loss of the season Saturday at Washington. In fact the Orange and Blue are keeping things positive as they look to pick up win No. 3 this weekend. Illinois ran into a buzz saw in Seattle, and some early mistakes were the difference. All things considered, they still feel like they sit in a pretty good position. "The first three games are done," said head coach Tim Beckman. "We're 2-and-1. I mean a lot of teams aren't 2-and-1, and we are. So we're happy to say that, yeah, we can make definite strides in everything we gotta do, but we've got 2 W's and we've got 1 L. So we're heading, at least moving in that direction we want to go."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois football team is dead last in the Big Ten in rushing offense through the first three games of the season. In fact the Orange and Blue are getting less than 20% of their offense on the ground. That's one of the worst in the country. Early on the emphasis hasn't exactly been on running the ball. Only two Big Ten teams have run less often, but the success hasn't been there. The Illini are averaging a little better than 70 yards per game on the ground, and it's not just a running back problem.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt has been one of the best in the Big Ten so far this year, but he will be the first to admit Saturday's game at Washington wasn't one of his best. Lunt threw an interception that got run back for a touchdown, and then later he had the ball stripped away, and it was run back for a Washington score - a couple mistakes in what has been an otherwise outstanding start to Lunt's season. He was proud of the way his team responded in Seattle after he says he put his team in a tough spot.
If the last few weeks are an indication of what's to come, Illinois is in for a high-scoring game when they visit Washington Saturday afternoon.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - One thing was missing from Justin Hardee's career performance Saturday - his mother. She passed away in December after a long fight with lung disease. "That was my best friend," Hardee said. "She really didn't know how football went, but she only watched it because of me. That was very special to me."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois defensive tackle Austin Teitsma put together the best individual performance on his Illinois career Saturday against Youngstown State, and he's hoping it's just the start of a huge senior season. Teitsma had a career-high nine tackles and two-and-a-half tackles for loss in Saturday's win, but he and the defense will be put to a different kind of test this week against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers ran 96 plays from scrimmage - and they play fast meaning Teitsma and his guys on the defensive line will be pushed to the limit.
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Could we see a revival of the Illinois-Missouri football series down the road? Missouri athletic director Mike Alden isn't shutting the door on that possibility. Alden told reporters Wednesday he is "all ears" when it comes to entertaining the idea of playing a neutral site football game, possibly against Illinois in St. Louis. The earliest that could happen would be 2019, but Alden says there hasn't been any in-depth discussion yet on renewing that series.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - One of the biggest knocks on Illinois' defense last year was their inability to force turnovers. The Illini were dead last in the Big Ten in takeaways a year ago, and they didn't force a single turnover in Saturday's win over Youngstown State. The Illini had their opportunities against the Penguins. Mason Monheim dropped a sure interception after a pass hit him right in the hands, and Taylor Barton stripped a ball loose before it rolled out of bounds. A couple close calls, but head coach Tim Beckman says they have to capitalize on those opportunities.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - During camp we heard a lot about the freshman wide receivers for the Illinois football team, especially Malik Turner and Mikey Dudek. They got their first taste of game action Saturday against Youngstown State, and it's not a stretch to say Illinois might not have won without them.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - If you look at just the numbers from Saturday, Wes Lunt put together the best debut for an Illinois quarterback in school history. He threw for 285 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Illini to a 28-17 win over Youngstown State. Lunt had to knock some rust off early Saturday, but he completed 10 of his final 12 passes and didn't throw an interception all day. Taking into consideration that was Lunt's first game in nearly two years, head coach Tim Beckman likes what he is seeing.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - It was supposed to be an easy win, but it proved to be anything but easy. Illinois trailed on two different occasions in the fourth quarter Saturday before surviving with a 28-17 win over Youngstown State. The players say first game jitters had a lot to do with their struggles. "First couple series we got out there, and it was a shock and [we] got away from what we practiced," said senior Donovonn Young. "Toward the end of the game we started getting back into the groove of things."
Illinois trailed Youngstown State 9-7 in the fourth quarter before rallying to win 28-17. Wes Lunt set Illini records for a new-coming starting quarterback after throwing for 285 yards and four touchdowns.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The non-conference games will be a critical time for Illinois running back Josh Ferguson to prove he can shoulder the load and be the go-to guy for Tim Beckman's offense. Ferguson took hold of the No. 1 job early in the season last year, but this will be his first season opener as the top running back. He says he gained ten pounds in the offseason and is ready to show what he can do. "I'm definitely ready to go," he said. "I put in a lot of work this offseason in order to do so. I'm excited. It's been a long offseason, and we're just ready to play." Ferguson racked up more than 1,300 total yards and 11 touchdowns last year.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - When Illinois takes the field Saturday against Youngstown State, it will be our first chance to see how much the defense has improved. "It still comes down to tackling," said head coach Tim Beckman. "It still comes down to rushing the passer, and catching the football on interceptions. But I think we've gotten better. We see that as a defense throughout this preseason."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Zach Grant likes being the underdog. It's all he knows, so he embraces it. "I love it," he said. "It's just motivation to go out and do your best everyday and prove people wrong." Grant was an all-state receiver at Rochester High School, teaming up with Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt to help the Rockets win back-to-back state titles. He set an IHSA record for most receiving yards in a season his senior year. He's second in the record books in receptions. But at 6' 0'' tall and 190 pounds he didn't have any Division I scholarship offers out of high school.
WCIA 3 Sports brings you a preseason look at the Illinois football team and some of the top storylines we'll be watching this high school football season.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - It is finally game week for the Illinois football team, and they have already spent some time game planning for the season opener Saturday against Youngstown State. There has been a lot of talk about optimism this offseason, and now it's time to show what they can do. Illinois will try to snap a four-game home losing streak when they take the field Saturday, and head coach Tim Beckman says he likes what he is seeing from his team and thinks they will be ready to go.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - As game week arrives, there is really only one starting job still up for grabs, and that is at right tackle where junior Pat Flavin and redshirt freshman Christian DiLauro are fighting for that spot. Head coach Tim Beckman said Monday Flavin holds a slim edge, but DiLauro has been charging hard. Beckman wants to let that battle play out this week before making a final decision on Thursday. "I would give the nod if we were playing tomorrow to Pat Flavin," Beckman said. "We've still got three more days to compete to be that starting right tackle."
Rochester head coach Derek Leonard has high praise for his former quarterback Wes Lunt. Lunt was named the Illini starting quarterback this week.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Tim Beckman put an end to the quarterback competition Wednesday when he announced sophomore Wes Lunt will be the starting quarterback when the Illini open the season August 30 against Youngstown State. Lunt had been the frontrunner for the starting job since the end of spring practice, and today Beckman made his decision.
RANTOUL, Ill. - Every year before Camp Rantoul ends, each senior stands in front of the team and gives a speech. It is often a time of reflection, reminiscing about how fast their time has flown by. It is also about the future - cherishing every moment they have left in their final season. Donovonn Young's speech was no different. "I put a lot of emphasis on the fact that I was going to miss these guys a lot," said the senior running back. "College football has done so much for me, really molded me into the man that I am today."
RANTOUL, Ill. - All signs indicate that Wes Lunt is in the driver's seat to be named the starting quarterback when Tim Beckman makes that announcement Wednesday. Lunt has consistently outperformed senior Reilly O'Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey so far in camp. The latest performance came in a scrimmage Saturday where Lunt completed more than 80 percent of his passes for nearly 250 yards. "I felt as an offense we did pretty well," said Lunt. "I thought we punched it in when we needed to. We had a couple three-and-outs. Need to cut down on penalties, but other than that I thought the offense played pretty well."
RANTOUL, Ill. - The Illinois quarterback competition is coming down the last couple days, as Tim Beckman says he will announce his starter on Wednesday. Sophomore Aaron Bailey may be running out of time to make an impression. That's because Bailey left Monday morning's practice with some stiffness in his shoulder and neck area. Beckman says it doesn't appear to be anything serious; he's just playing it safe.
After practice Monday, Tim Beckman and the Illinois football team accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and also issued a few challenges of their own.
WCIA 3's Bret Beherns chats with illiniboard.com's Robert Rosenthal about Camp Rantoul.
Earnest Thomas is changing positions on the Illinois defense and WCIA 3's Bret Beherns reports he hopes to give the team a boost.
University of Illinois junior Kentrell Brown is in charge of the on field music during Camp Rantoul.
The Illinois football team is working to continue to improve in the kicking game this season.
RANTOUL, Ill. - Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said he will name a starting quarterback no later than Wednesday. He added that Saturday night's scrimmage will go a long way in determining who wins that job. The team wrapped up it's week of practices at Camp Rantoul Friday night, and now they will scrimmage under the lights at Memorial Stadium. That scrimmage will be closed to the public and media. Beckman said he is looking forward to finding out how far his team has come so far this season.
RANTOUL, Ill. - Whitney Mercilus had one of the best seasons in Illinois football history just three years ago. He was named the top defensive end in the country after breaking Big Ten and school records for forced fumbles and sacks. Just two years later the entire Illinois defense struggled to match Mercilus' individual effort. The Illini only managed 15 sacks last season - one less than what Mercilus tallied by himself in 2011. "We obviously know that that has to be a part of our game that improves drastically this year and we're working hard on it," said defensive line coach Greg Colby. "In fact, we're comparing ourselves to who was number one last year in the Big Ten and those are the numbers that we're shooting for."
RANTOUL, Ill. - Tom Brattan never saw himself at Illinois. He was happy at Maryland, where he had been for the last 13 years. But when his contract wasn't renewed, he was in a jam. Luckily for Brattan, so was Tim Beckman. "It's just one of those things that worked out well," Brattan said. "I don't know how you say it, the stars were all aligned correctly."
RANTOUL, Ill. - The Illinois football team enjoyed a little change of pace after practice Tuesday night. Head coach Tim Beckman surprised the team by renting a dunk tank. Every senior picked one person to get wet. DeJazz Woods nominated Beckman. The third-year coach says team bonding is a big part of Camp Rantoul, and he couldn't think of a better way to do it.
RANTOUL, Ill. - Jihad Ward grew up in North Philadelphia. It's a rough part of town. No one knows it better than Philly-native Bill Cubit, who recruited him to Illinois. "Grandma and mom, when I walked out of the house, they said, 'Be careful coach,'" Cubit said. "I said, 'My car is parked right outside. I got a real good parking spot right in front of the house.' She goes, 'Be careful coach.' That kind of tells you a little bit."
Update: 10:04 pm RANTOUL, Ill. - It's only day one of Camp Rantoul, and some tempers were already flaring. There was an incident Monday night toward the end of a scrimmage. Some players got into a pushing and shoving match.
Illinois opens Camp Rantoul Monday. The defense hopes to continue to improve and the linebackers are hoping to lead the way.
Several Illini cornerbacks were forced to play as true freshmen. Now they have a year under their belts and feel more prepared for the season.
There's a new look to the Illini wide receivers this year, but as WCIA 3's Bret Beherns reports the coaches are already singing their praises.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois football team suffered it's first major injury of the preseason. Junior linebacker Mike Svetina will miss 8-10 weeks after he suffered a broken bone in his foot. Head coach Tim Beckman says Svetina had surgery Wednesday night to repair the injury. Svetina was a projected starter at linebacker. He was Illinois fifth-leading tackler last season with 57 tackles, 2 tackles-for-loss and one forced fumble.
Aaron Bailey is preparing for the moment his number is called this season, and he is determined to do it as a quarterback. "I know I'm a quarterback, and that's what I'm staying with," Bailey said.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois wide receiver Geronimo Allison missed practice Wednesday with an ankle injury, but head coach Tim Beckman isn't worried. He says the junior college transfer should be back at practice Thursday. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit says Allison has been one of the top receivers so far in camp. Meanwhile the Illini put on shoulder pads for the first time Wednesday. No hitting yet, but they are getting closer as they inch toward a return to Camp Rantoul next week.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - For the first time Josh Ferguson is the go-to guy in the Illinois backfield heading into the season. It's a title and a responsibility the redshirt junior is still getting accustomed to. "It's a little more pressure," Ferguson said of being the featured back. "Being the understudy you can get away with little things but not so much as a leader. You have more pressure to do well and be perfect - but I like it."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - V'Angelo Bentley did something last year no other Illini player has ever done in a single season. He returned a kick off and a punt for a touchdown. And as WCIA 3's Matt Wettersten reports, this season one of the biggest Illini playmakers is looking for more.
COLUMBIA, Mo. - It's not exactly a feud between Illinois and Missouri, but Tim Beckman did imply that the Tigers may have gone too far - in his words "stealing" offensive line coach A.J. Ricker away from Illinois with less than a month to go before the start of fall camp. Ricker is starting to settle in now as the new offensive line coach at Missouri. He told reporters Tuesday that Beckman offered him a raise to try to keep him from leaving, but he couldn't pass up the opportunity to return to his alma mater.
Illinois offensive coordinator joins WCIA 3 for a LIVE interview and defensive back V'Angelo Bentley stepping up as a defensive leader
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Tim Beckman isn't tipping his hand yet, but Wes Lunt appears to open camp as the favorite to land the starting job. The Oklahoma State transfer is coming off a solid spring and summer, and he couldn't wait to get on the field Monday knowing what's ahead. "It was fun," Lunt said. "We got to fly around. I was excited, and the offense played pretty well."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The biggest problem for the Illinois football team on day 1 of practice had nothing to do with the players; it was actually the grass. Because of the unseasonably cool temperatures - the coldest July on record in Champaign-Urbana - the Bermuda grass on the practice fields east of Memorial Stadium were not completely ready. The result was slippery grass head coach Tim Beckman described as "a swamp," and divots all over the field. Beckman ended practice a few minutes early because of the damaged field, and he says the team will practice inside Memorial Stadium on the turf the rest of the week to keep the players safe.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois football team held it's first practice of the fall on Monday. Quarterback Wes Lunt talks about his first day of camp, and head coach Tim Beckman joins WCIA 3 for a LIVE interview
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois football team will begin fall camp Monday, August 4th for a week of practices in Champaign that are closed to the public. They'll move to Rantoul August 11th, where they'll practice for six days with all practices being free and open to the public. CAMP RANTOUL SCHEDULE Mon., Aug. 11: 9:00 am, 5:30 pm Tue., Aug. 12: 4:15 pm Wed., Aug. 13: 9:00 am, 4:15 pm Thu., Aug. 14: 4:15 pm Fri., Aug. 15: 9:00 am, 4:15 pm Mon., Aug. 18: 10:45 am, 5:00 pm
BRISTOL, Conn. - Tim Beckman got the ESPN royal treatment on Wednesday. They call it the "Car Wash." Beckman spent most of the day at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol for a series of interviews across all of ESPN's platforms. That included stops on SportsCenter, College Football Live and in-depth interviews with ESPN's writers. It was all part of a two-day event where all 14 Big Ten coaches visit Bristol for ESPN's own media days.
CHICAGO - If Tim Beckman is feeling any pressure heading into year three at Illinois, he isn't showing it. The Illini head coach answered questions from the media Monday with confidence and a calm demeanor even after two losing season with the Orange and Blue.