Illini got beaten by the Badgers, and that's OK

By Peter Bailey-Wells

Ke’Shawn Vaughn said the Illini beat themselves. Bill Cubit talked about injuries and lack of execution. Mike Phair said there are some good things to take away from Illinois football’s 24-13 Homecoming loss to Wisconsin, but that winning the game is ultimately the only thing he wanted to do.

However you put it, the Illini just couldn’t finish against a Big Ten team that seems to have their number — the Badgers have won 10 of the teams’ last 11 matchups.

To Illinois’ credit, the Gray Ghost-clad team was in it until the fourth quarter. All season, this has looked like a different team, and in some ways Saturday, that description held up.

The Illini defensive line looked like the best unit on the field — of either team — and knocked Wisconsin’s starting quarterback out of the game. But the Badgers’ backup made plays. As did the Badgers’ third-string running back, who was helped out by the team’s leading receiver, who also ended the day as the team’s leading rusher.

So however you put it, the Illini were really beaten by one thing: depth. The Badgers have it and the Illini don’t.

That’s because depth is an acquired thing. Cubit’s available rushers for this game were a freshman, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and a junior college transfer, Henry Enyenihi. Vaughn got every single one of the team’s carries and after the game Cubit said he didn’t want to put Enyenihi in “a difficult situation.”

That’s understandable to some level but it’s also tough to imagine Vaughn surviving for long against physical Big Ten defenses as the lone tailback. If Josh Ferguson isn’t back when the Illini head to Penn State, Cubit will be forced to re-evaluate Enyenihi’s role or use Vaughn as the workhorse once again.

So is there any good news for the Illini? This game didn’t do much to disprove the notion that they can hang with most teams in the Big Ten. From here on out, the Illini are really only out of their depth against No. 1 Ohio State.

Wes Lunt talked after the game about the pressure of having to be “perfect” with such an inexperienced group of weapons around him. And he admitted it’s hard. But Illinois’ work ethic and attitude is clearly in the right place.

The Illini are no longer playing not to lose, which they did often under Tim Beckman. Now, they’re playing to win, even against teams like the Badgers who have owned the series between the two.

That attitude, if sustained, holds good things for the Illini.

Wes Lunt said after losing to Iowa two weeks ago, this team is tired of “moral victories.” So although he may not love Saturday’s result, the fact is that Lunt and Co. aren’t down in the dumps like this team was after losing to Wisconsin last season.

The Illini might not be atop the Big Ten West but all the pieces are still in place for this season to be a successful one in Champaign.??

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