Guest Spot: Brandon Birkhead of The Champaign Room

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Previewing Saturday's game with Brandon Birkhead of the Champaign Room through the magical format of Q&A.

Matt Opper: The last time these two teams met the faint glow of the Rose Bowl could still be discerned from the program. Not to be a dick but what happened?

Brandon Birkhead: I think it's easier to answer with what went right with the program, and the list would be having a really awesome defense in 2011, including All-American Whitney Mercilius, and having Mikel Leshoure doing work. We also had a lot of players drafted during that time, near the top in the Big Ten.

Other than that, basically every aspect of the program was horrible. Coaching under Ron Zook was terrible, and his roster management/recruiting was putrid. Right now we have two punters with a scholarship on the team thanks to Zook.

The Zook era in the later years was a nightmare. He was only able to bring in marginal talent, and he was known as a recruiter and not as a great coach. So when the recruiter isn't bringing in players to make a talented roster, and he can't develop players, you end up with the current Illini.

Granted Zook did bring in some talented players as seen in the number of young Illini in the NFL, but he was never able to  build a solid roster top to bottom. I think his poor relationship with Illinois' high school coaches is a huge reason for that.

MO: Does Tim Beckman make it through the end of the season? What is the case for him?

BB: He will. It would be embarrassing to fire a coach mid-season when so many were calling for him to be fired in the off-season. How would Mike Thomas explain that decision to donors?

Right now the jury is still out on Beckman. I think if the team shows some small improvement, he will be at Illinois for a third year. Wes Lunt is coming in next season, along with a solid class filled with JUCO players.

The real reason I think Becks will stay though is after firing Beckman, which would mean he wins maybe 4 games in two season, who are you going to be able to convince to come to coach Illinois? I'd rather see what the Illini have in Beckman. He was able to turn about Toledo's football program.

MO: Nathan Scheelhaase put up monster numbers against Southern Illinois. Has Bill Cubit finally put him in a system where he can thrive or is it a one game competition related aberration?

BB: We were playing Southern Illinois, an FCS school that loves to play single coverage, despite not having good corners. Scheelhasse played well, but he will have to do it against real competition to convince any Illini fan that he has finally turned a corner.

MO: On the flip side what has happened to the pass rush in the Beckman era? Did Whitney Mercilus siphon everyone else's pass rush out of them when he went to Houston like it was Space Jam?

BB: The Illini's pass rush was actually not too bad last season. Their sack rate was third in the Big Ten. When you are constantly down, you just don't have many chances to rush the passer.

This season, the pass rush may struggle as they lost two players to the NFL draft (Akeem Spence, Michael Buchannan). Tim Kynard is a good player, but he isn't near as good of a pass rusher as the Illini's previous defensive ends.

MO: Prediction

BB: The Illini's offense looks to be much improved over the 2012 version, but the defense was very suspect against SIU. Cincy just put up 42 against Purdue, I can't see the Illini beating that performance.

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