Illinois football has 1st of 2 bye weeks in 2013, will use it to practice defensive fundamentals

Illinois football head coach Tim Beckman may have said it best after the Illini’s 34-24 loss to Washington at Soldier Field.

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Illini football looks ahead to bye week

“We’re a young football team,” Beckman said after the game. “I told this football team that I was proud of them, proud of the way they’ve worked for the last 10 months. But we need a little bit of a break.”

Illinois will get just that this week.

The Illini have their first of two bye weeks this season and it comes after two nonconference games against tough power conference opponents. The Huskies ran circles around the Illinois secondary on Saturday and an extra week to revisit the fundamentals could shore up at least some of the defensive mistakes.

A moral victory?

Illinois trailed Washington 31-10 at one point in the third quarter Saturday and Soldier Field began to feel a lot like Memorial Stadium did throughout most of 2012. But the 2013 Illini proved they weren’t the pushovers that the 2012 squad was.

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase battled his team back into the game with a beautiful 72-yard touchdown pass to receiver Ryan Lankford. On Illinois’ next possession, Scheelhaase led the Illini 62 yards downfield for a touchdown to pull within seven.

What happened next was symbolic of the overall theme of the day: The Illini defense failed to stop Washington running back Bishop Sankey, and quarterback Keith Price picked apart the Illinois secondary.

Illinois linebacker Houston Bates said after the game there really is no such thing as a moral victory in a loss. But considering Illinois’ lack of real or moral victories in 2012, it’s a step in the right direction.

Bates did concede that Illinois’ attempt at a comeback is something it could build off.

“We need these games,” Bates said. “To be tested, to see if we’re going to battle throughout the whole game. But it’s very frustrating. Plays need to be made and you’ve got to make them.”

Added Beckman: “It’s very disappointing after the loss, but I do think that (the players) understand that they’ve made strides in this program. We’ve got to continue to make those strides so when we get in the Big Ten we’re ready to play.”

DuVernois nabs player of the week honors

Illini punter Justin DuVernois won the Big Ten special teams player of the week award Monday for his performance against Washington.

DuVernois totaled 226 yards on five punts for an average of 45.2 yards. His long for the day was a 57-yard boot that came in the third quarter with Illinois trailing 31-17.

Three times against Washington, DuVernois had punts land within the Huskie 20-yard line.

This was the first time the junior punter has won the award and he is the first Illini to win it since Derek Dimke knocked in three field goals against Western Michigan on Sept. 24, 2011.

Looking ahead

The Illini will be out of the spotlight for a week before taking on Miami (Ohio) on Dad’s Weekend Sept. 28 at Memorial Stadium. It was announced Monday that the game time for that matchup will be 11 a.m. It will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

The Redhawks didn’t play last week, but they might have been in dire need of a week off after dropping their opening two games. Miami’s closest battle was a 34-point loss to Kentucky on Sept. 7.

The Redhawks will host Cincinnati, a team the Illini beat handily, this week before heading to Champaign.

Miami has struggled on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Austin Boucher has just a 38.9 completion percentage for the season and only 14 completions on the year. Last season, the Redhawks won just four games.

Sean can be reached at sphammo2@dailyillini.com and @sean_hammond.