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Illini find silver lining

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CHAMPAIGN – Illinois coach Tim Beckman isn’t calling Saturday’s 31-14 loss to Wisconsin a victory, moral or otherwise.

But the first-year Illini coach said Monday he saw at least some of what he needs to from his team (2-4 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) in the first 45 minutes of the 31-14 loss in Madison.

“It was a four-quarter football game, I think we played three,” Beckman said. “In the game of football you’ve got to finish.”

Now as the Illini prepare for another tough road test at No. 25 Michigan (3-2, 1-0) Beckman says his team needs to learn how to finish games.

After suffering back-to-back blowout losses to Louisiana Tech and Penn State, Beckman and some Illini players say that even three solid quarters is an improvement.

Illinois trailed 10-7 at the end of the third quarter.

“I know definitely we did three quarters of very sound football,” said safety Steve Hull, who posted an apology for the loss on Twitter after the game. “As a result we held them to very short run yardages. I think defensively we can build on those three quarters and put together a complete game.”

“We were in that game,” center Graham Pocic added. “If we score a little bit more in the red zone it might be a different game.”

While it didn’t actually waste any trips inside the Badgers’ 20 on Saturday, Illinois did make two trips inside the Wisconsin 35 that didn’t yield points – one ending in a Nathan Scheelhaase interception and the other with a missed field goal attempt by Taylor Zalewski.

And when the Illini made late mistakes, Wisconsin capitalized.

A 10-yard punt by Justin Duvernois led to a touchdown run by Montee Ball that put the Badgers up 17-7 early in the fourth quarter. A short time later, a defensive lapse opened the door for a 59-yard touchdown pass from Joel Stave to Jared Abbrederis that all but sealed the win at 24-7.

“We have to respond in a positive manner instead of letting it kind of knock us down,” Beckman said. “I think that’s basically what happened in that fourth quarter.”

Before Illinois took the field in Madison, Wis., the players held a meeting without their coaches, Hull and Pocic said Monday.

The defense, Hull said, talked about the need to play the way it did a year ago when it was among the best in the country rather the unit that this season is giving up 28.8 points a game. That’s 78th in the country.

“We’ve fallen off of that, as far as just swarming the ball and being a ferocious defense,” Hull said. “I think that we’ve kind of drifted away from that as of late. In that beginning of that game, in the first three quarters, I think we were back to that.”

There was a broader message, too, Pocic said: Someone needed to put an end to talk that the season was lost.

“The season’s far from over, we’ve still got a lot of games left,” the senior said. “We can’t quit on each other.”

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