Illini football back to work after loss to UTSA: “You’ve got to learn from this”

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CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The sting of defeat is still felt by the Illinois football team after UTSA left Champaign with a 37-30 win Saturday night. The Illini watched the film Sunday, less than 24 hours after a disappointing loss to the Roadrunners. And while it’s on to Virginia prep for this weekend’s game in Charlottesville, the first Illini loss in the Bret Bielema era is still fresh on the team’s mind.

“Losing sucks,” Illinois offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said. “We’re a group of people that puts in a lot of hours to go out there and win football games, so when you lose it sucks.”

The Illini (1-1) offense had its moments. Scoring 30 points usually keeps a team in a game, and that was the case, with Illinois driving in the final minute to try and tie the game with a touchdown and extra point. Time ran out though, with Artur Sitkowski’s pass to Casey Washington going incomplete as the clock struck zero. The Illini struggled in the first and third quarters, scoring a combined three points in those 30 minutes.

The defense was the bigger issue though, allowing 37 points and 497 total yards. Dual-threat quarterback Frank Harris (20-for-32, 280 yards, 2 total TD’s), All-American running back Sincere McCormick (31 rushes, 117 yards) and do-it-all receiver Zakhari Franklin (10 receptions, 155 yards, TD) exposed the Illini on multiple fronts.

“Still I’ve got all the confidence in the world with the guys we’ve got and what we’re doing because I’ve seen it since spring and fall in that first game so you don’t want to freak out and all of a sudden hit the panic button off one outing right but there are questions that needed to be answered and you’ve got to learn from this,” Walters said.

Losing to Group of 5 team hasn’t happened very often for Bielema. At Wisconsin and Arkansas, his teams were 26-3 against G5 teams, and only one of those losses was at home. The first-year Illini coach says it’s all about learning and moving on.

“Two things that can happen from a loss,” Bielema said. “The start of a losing mentality or a string of losses or the acceptance and awareness to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I think our guys are hopefully going to be wired into that second phase a lot stronger because they’re the only ones who can make that decision.”

“Never get too high, never get too low, kind of stay even keeled,” Illinois senior outside linebacker Owen Carney Jr. said. “We take that, we roll with the punches. we’re built for adverse situations and we will bounce back.”

Illinois visits Virginia Saturday at 10 a.m. CT for its lone non-conference road game of the season. The Cavaliers beat William and Mary, an FCS school, 43-0 in its season opener on Saturday.

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