Illini weigh in on 19-game Big Ten losing streak

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — At the site of its last Big Ten conference win, it’s hard not to look at Indiana’s Memorial Stadium and think about Illinois football’s 19-game Big Ten losing streak, which the Hoosiers extended Saturday.

Before the conference season began, the streak was an afterthought for the Illinois players and coaches. They didn’t mention it. They didn’t worry about it. It was a fresh season and a fresh start.

Things have changed.

The streak has gone from the elephant in the room to the monkey on Illinois’ back.

The players do acknowledge it. They know it’s there.

“It looms in the balance, for sure,” quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. “But we don’t look at it as what the streak is at or how long it is in the past or how far down the future. We look at that game trying to be 1-0 at the end of that game.”

One streak neared its end in Bloomington, Ind., on Oct. 8, 2011, — Illinois won the last of six straight games — and another neared its beginning. A lot has changed since then: new coaches, new outlook.

But head coach Tim Beckman still hasn’t won a Big Ten game.

“I hate to see Nathan and the seniors because I want them to win,” Beckman said. “It’s going to come. We’re all going through it. I haven’t been through anything like this in my life either. These players are very important to me and they will always be very important to me.”

With undefeated Ohio State coming to Champaign next weekend, it’s likely the streak will reach 20. From there, Illinois has its best chance to end it on the road at Purdue on Nov. 23.

Last season it was Illinois’ offense that struggled, this season it’s the guys on the other side of the ball. The Illini have surrendered more than 470 yards of total offense in every Big Ten game this season, including 650 against Indiana.

The defensive woes have frustrated everyone involved, but defensive coordinator Tim Banks thinks his players will learn a lot from the struggles of the last year and a half.

“We’ve got some guys that are going to be better players for going through this,” Banks said. “Mason Monheim is a better player than he was last year. Our secondary will better players for what they’re going through this year. You grow with every experience that you have.”

But for the Illini, these growing pains are getting old.

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @sean_hammond.