CHAMPAIGN — Illinois coach Tim Beckman will write down a few notes about key plays during the game.
On Saturday afternoon, the second-year coach almost ran out of room on his note card as both the Fighting Illini offense and defense made several critical plays en route to a 45-17 win over a heavy-favored Cincinnati Bearcats squad at Memorial Stadium.
“I’ve been doing it, because I think it’s important the players understand that’s not just one guy doing it,’’ said Beckman. “It’s a big play on third down that creates opportunities for the family to be successful.’’
Beckman rattled off at least seven keys plays for the Illinois offense. Ironically, each one was a third down conversion on a scoring drive for the Illini, which improved to 2-0, and there were five different players mentioned on his note card.
“It was players making plays. If you are going to continue drives, you have to be successful on third downs,’’ said Beckman, whose team was 9-of-15 in third down conversions. “We won third downs and the turnover battle — there are reasons you win and I definitely believe that.’’
One of the players that figured into multiple third-down conversions for the Illini was senior wide receiver Steve Hull, who had three receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown, which just happened to cap a 12-play, 99-yard drive, giving Illinois 28-10 lead.
“It’s a much different environment,’’ said Hull, who had played defensive back before switching to wide receiver this season. “The attitude of the offense was a lot better than it has been in recent years.’’
And that showed on a third down-and-19 play early in the fourth quarter. The Illini had just converted on third down, but a holding penalty negated the pass from Nathan Scheelhaase to Miles Osei.