Champaign, IL- While your statistics professor might give you a decent argument disputing it, Saturday’s loss to Iowa effectively ended the season for the Fighting Illini. Sitting at 4-5, Tim Beckman’s squad needed to win two games to gain bowl eligibility; the team’s primary goal for the 2014 season.
For three quarters, it looked like the Illini might actually notch number five, but the fourth quickly reminded the 50,373 frozen fans (and the thousands of fraternity and sorority members choosing to watch the game at Joe’s and Red Lion instead) that both wins and bowl games in the Tim Beckman era of Illinois Football are not easy to come by.
The Illini defense bent often in the first half, but only broke a few times, and headed to the locker room trailing just 9-7. The deadlock wouldn’t continue in the second half. Defensive Coordinator Tim Banks had yet another poor showing as Iowa set its season-high for yardage. The Hawkeyes nearly rolled up 600, as they went on to win convincingly 30-14. “The most frustrating part is we battled all game and unraveled in the fourth quarter,” said Beckman in postgame.
The offense looked shaky at best in Wes Lunt’s much-hyped return from a three-week absence while recovering from a leg fracture. Poor offensive-line play allowed Lunt to throw for just 102 yards, on 25 attempts and a touchdown, and seven backs combined for a measly 88 yards rushing on the ground. YACs were basically non-existent for the Illini receivers, who could not shake the Iowa defenders.
The Hawkeyes outgained Illinois 587-235. The one takeaway for the offense was the continued excellence from true freshman receiver, Mike Dudek, who reeled in six catches on twelve targets for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“They [the receivers] did not play up to potential that they have, probably other than Mikey. Mikey had an exceptional game again,” said Beckman.
Mike Dudek was the 119th ranked wide receiver in the Class of 2014.
Labeled too small to play major college football (5-11, 180) he only garnered offers from FCS schools ISU and North Dakota before Beckman decided to give the Neuqua Valley (Naperville) standout a shot.
The freshman has shattered expectations this season with 787 yards thus far. Beyond providing his quarterbacks with consistency, Dudek has a good head on his shoulders and the drive to turn this program around.
“It is a team sport, so although many might think I did well, it’s still a loss so it’s not good enough,” Dudek said.
What teammates like Dudek bring to the under-talented Illini cannot be stressed enough as the program prepares to enter what appears to be a tumultuous offseason. Despite being signed through 2016, many believe Beckman is out of a job if his team fails to make a bowl.
When names like Lane Kiffin start to be thrown around, you know the ride is about to get bumpy. Dudek needs to continue to lead by example both on and off the field.
“We still have the opportunity to reach our goal. As soon as they leave this locker room the focus needs to be on Penn State,” said Beckman.
image by: Merced Sun Star,