First-year Illinois football coach Tim Beckman had lengthy, heart-to-heart talk with his players over the weekend. When you lose consecutive home games and look terrible doing it, it begs for some earnest discussion.
En route to blowout losses to Louisiana Tech and Penn State, the Illini allowed 87 points overall — 35 in the first quarter — along with eight quarterback sacks and 5.6 yards per play, and turned over the ball nine times.
They also were 12-for-35 (34.2 percent) on third and fourth down and failed to score on three of seven trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
"These last two weekends have been real, real tough, there's no question about that," Beckman said at his weekly news conference Monday. "Not just for this football program but for Illini Nation.
"We know that we have to perform better to be successful. We can't turn the football over. We have to stop teams when they do have the opportunity to score in the red zone. We have to score in the red zone.
"Just together as a team, it's been sort of a snowball effect that's happened to us during these football games."
But after the one-sided losses — 52-24 to Louisiana Tech and 35-7 to Penn State — Beckman may be battling negative forces that have swirled around the Illini for more than a decade.
Since winning its last Big Ten Conference title in 2001, Illinois has had six seasons in which it had losing streaks of five games or longer: 10 in 2003; six in '04, nine in '05, seven in '06, five in '09 and six in 2011.
In other words, once the snowball of negativity starts rolling on the Champaign-Urbana campus, it's very hard to stop. It's a pattern that cost two coaches — Ron Turner (1997 to 2004) and Ron Zook (2005 to '11) — their jobs.
For reference, the University of Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten), which hosts the Illini (0-1, 2-3) Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, hasn't had a losing streak of five games or longer since 1991, when it lost six straight.
Beckman was asked Monday if there's been a psychological carryover from last season, when the Illini started 6-0 and finished the regular season 6-6.
"We talked about it long and hard (Sunday) night," he said. "We talked about that this has to be a new process and we have to continue to push ourselves.
"We've got to continue to strive to get ourselves better and find out what the problems are and fix them."
Before coming to Illinois, Beckman never experienced a losing streak longer than three games over three seasons at Toledo. With six true freshmen and 12 redshirt freshmen in the game-day mix he's trying to make sure the doom and gloom gets nipped in the bud.
"The things we continue to stress is trying and take our program and get it better each and every week," Beckman said Tuesday during the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "There are things that have happened these last two weeks that have really bitten us.
"We've been our own worst enemy throughout these last two weeks with turnovers and putting our defense's back to the wall and just not performing the way we're capable of performing. Probably pressing a little bit too much."
A theme running through the two losses, according to Beckman, is that both opponents were more physical than his club. That will have to change Saturday if the Illini want to prevail in Madison for the first time since 2001.
"I think it's got a little bit to do with the injuries that we've had and a lot of new faces in there at certain positions," he said.
Ten projected starters — including three on defense — have missed at least one game due to health problems and four other defensive players were injured against Penn State. Beckman said two top defenders on the injured list — linebacker Jonathan Brown and end Michael Buchanan — practiced Tuesday but aren't completely healthy.
Meanwhile, dual-threat quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is back after missing two games and a good chunk of another due to injury. He set career highs with 28 completions and 46 passes vs. Penn State, but was intercepted twice and ran an offense that was 0-for-3 inside the red zone.
"We just haven't had that spark offensively," Beckman said.