Spring scrimmage game offers first glimpse of Beckman-era Illini

The stakes are high for Saturday’s Illinois football scrimmage.

The winning team in the annual Orange and Blue Spring Game — from the players and coaches, to the staff and honorary alumni coaches — will receive a steak dinner.

“This is a competition,” Men’s Football Head Coach Tim Beckman said. “The winner will be rewarded, the loser will get their beans and weenies. And that’s the way it is. That’s life, that’s the game of football.”

Beckman said although it will be a controlled scrimmage, the Illini will approach it as if it’s a game.

“There’s nothing that’s gonna be scripted,” he said. “I’ve been at places before where things are scripted so we get a big play. No, no, no. This is a game.”

But there will be some differences. The second half will utilize a running clock except when the game is within one possession in the final two minutes. All coaches will be on the sidelines and quarterbacks will not be fully tackled. Most notably, special teams will be absent.

“We will not show our special teams,” Beckman said. “I think that’s very crucial, especially since we are a new staff and we do some different things on special teams.”

Beckman added that there will be extra point attempts after scores, but they will not be contested.

Players consider the spring game a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

“We know it’s a foundation for summer and the fall,” freshman running back Josh Ferguson said. “We want to cut down on turnovers on the offense, missed assignments, any errors like that. We just want to play an all-around good game so we can have that foundation going into the summer.”

Seniors were split into two teams and they drafted the remaining players to fill out the rosters for the Orange and Blue teams. Beckman said junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase went to the Orange team as the No. 1 overall selection. He added that defensive and offensive lineman came off the board quickly.

Scheelhaase, center Graham Pocic and defensive lineman Michael Buchanan highlight the Orange team, while Ferguson, quarterback Reilly O’Toole and cornerback Terry Hawthorne make up the big names on the Blue squad. Corey Lewis, Supo Sanni, Darius Millines, Hayden Daniels, James Hallendorff, Steve Hull and Beau Sullivan will miss the game with injuries.

In addition to drafting their teammates, the seniors selected the jerseys they will wear and their own coaching staff, which included the six former Illini who will serve as honorary coaches. Jeff George, Mike Holmes and Brit Miller will return to coach for the Orange team, and Dana Howard, Tim McCarthy and Doug Dieken will join the Blue team.

Beckman will introduce the honorary coaches after the first quarter, accompanied by highlight videos from their days playing in orange and blue.

Seven Big Ten teams will take the field for spring games Saturday along with Illinois, while the remaining five will do so by the end of the month, as each prepares to compete for the conference title next season.

“Everybody is saying the same thing, that we want to go out there and win every game,” Scheelhaase said. “But it really comes down to who is going to go out there every day and get better, who’s gonna go out there and put in the extra work to be the best football team because … ultimately one team is gonna do it moreso than anybody else.”

With no game film available of the Beckman-era Illini, Beckman said the Illini won’t stray far from the basics during the controlled scrimmage.

“Let’s all be realistic here,” Beckman said. “This is the first time that we’ve been on TV, and we’re not going to showcase everything we do. That wouldn’t be very smart.”

Beckman said he’s installed about 50 percent of the playbooks on both sides of the ball in the 15-practice spring session. But he said Saturday’s spring game isn’t about practicing the intricacies of the offense or advancing defensive schemes.

“We’re gonna play solid football,” he said. “We’re gonna tackle, block and do the things that we think are necessary for this to be a good football game.”