Breaking Down the 2013 Fighting Illini Football Season

Jason S. Parini@@JasonPariniBRCorrespondent IIDecember 6, 2013

Breaking Down the 2013 Fighting Illini Football Season

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    Another season of Fighting Illini football is in the books.

    2013 was a roller coaster season for the Illini. Despite a 4-8 record, there were quite a few positives in the season for Illinois. As expected, the Illini struggled through the Big Ten schedule, winning only one game against a Big Ten foe. However, it was an important win as the Illini earned their first Big Ten win since 2011 by beating Purdue on Nov. 23.

    Head coach Tim Beckman has already been assured that he will return for the 2014 season.

    Here we break down the 2013 Fighting Illini season.


Head Coach Tim Beckman

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    In his second season as head coach of the Illini, Beckman and company took major steps of improvement in 2013. Beckman's team doubled their win total from last season going from two to four wins. It took Beckman 14 conference games to finally win a game against a Big Ten foe, but the Illini finally pulled it off in an ugly game at Purdue on Nov. 23.

    Beckman's lowest moment came in a game against No. 3 Ohio State when he and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit got in a non-physical scuffle along the sidelines after the Illini surrendered a safety to the Buckeyes in the third quarter. The Illini went on to lose 60-35.

    Illinois confirmed that Beckman will return in 2014 and will meet with the administration for a program evaluation next week.

    Beckman's recruiting has not been anything special so far, but this week may bring some good news as he will be hitting the road to recruit most of this week before returning to Champaign for the standard program evaluation.

    For Beckman, this season was about growth and taking steps forward. The Illini did just that, improving both their conference and overall records, as well as taking strides forward on the field.




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    Without a doubt, the offense was the strongest and most consistent aspect for the Fighting Illini this season. More specifically, Illinois' passing game thanks to senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.

    Scheelhaase surpassed his passing total from 2012 by over 1,900 yards and had more passing touchdowns (21) than his previous two seasons combined (17). The team's 287.7 passing yards per game ranked No. 22 overall in the FBS.

    Scheelhaase's favorite target, senior wide receiver Steve Hull was only seven yards short of 1,000 receiving yards in 2013. He was fifth in the Big Ten in receiving.

    Unfortunately, the rushing game wasn't nearly as strong for the Illini. The Illini averaged 139.0 yards per game in 2013, which was better than only Michigan and Purdue in the Big Ten.

    Sophomore running back Josh Ferguson averaged 5.5 yards per carry with seven touchdowns in 2013, while fellow junior running back Donovonn Young averaged only 4.0 yards per carry with only three touchdowns.

    Perhaps most impressive was that the Illini scored over 30 points in seven of their 12 games, most notably, 45 against Cincinnati, 32 against No. 25 Wisconsin and 35 against No. 3 Ohio State.



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    We're still waiting for the Illinois defense to get off the bus this season.

    The Illini allowed an average of 35.4 points per game, which was No. 106 overall in the FBS. They were worst in the Big Ten in interceptions with only three picks in 12 games and only had only 15.0 sacks, only one better than last-place Purdue.

    Senior linebacker Jonathan Brown was the heart of the Illinois defense with five total sacks and an interception. He led the team in tackles with 119.

    The fate of defensive coordinator Tim Banks remains to be seen. Although Beckman will return in 2014, Banks very well may not.


Overall Analysis

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    Despite being four games below .500, Illinois showed a lot of progress and promise in 2013. Their four wins were double their win total from 2012, and the orange and blue finally achieved their first Big Ten win since 2011.

    Beckman and company showed tremendous growth, though they still have a long ways to go. The improvement of an offense that averaged 10.0 points per game more than the previous year speaks worlds for what offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has brought to the table in Champaign.

    Entering 2013, Illinois' defense was very much depleted from the previous year. The secondary and defensive line both lost multiple players to graduation and the NFL, so the struggle on defense was no surprise.


Looking Ahead to 2014

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    Coach Beckman must continue to take steps forward in order for his job to be secure. With a slightly less difficult nonconference schedule next season and potential winnable games against Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue in Big Ten play, the Illini could take even more steps forward in 2014.

    The performance of those filling in for departing seniors Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback and wide receivers Steve Hull, Miles Osei, Ryan Lankford and Spencer Harris will be key to the outcome of 2014.

    Until then, Illinois has some decisions to make as to recruiting and the future of defensive coordinator Tim Banks.

    Hopefully, this will be the last time for awhile that the Illini watch the bowl season from home.