Bielema's first Illinois campaign: What are the mid-term grades?

Bret Bielema and Josh Whitman via Peoria Journal star.

August 28, 2021, marked the official start of Illinois football under the guidance of Bret Bielema as head coach. It appeared on the surface as a mixed bag early schedule but one with which the Illini could make some headway.

Vs. Nebraska

Vs Texas San Antonio (UTSA)

AT Virginia

Vs. Maryland

At Purdue

Vs. Charlotte

Looking at this, it was not hard to envision Illinois going 4-2 or with an upset possibly 5-1. That, however, was on paper, not on the field.

8/28/21 Vs. Nebraska Illinois 30-Nebraska 22 Grade: B+

Despite losing QB Brandon Peters in the 1st quarter, the Illini rallied around backup Art Sitkowski and went on to win the game 30-22. The Illini running game showed promise, with Jr Mike Epstein getting 75 yards on 16 carries, So Reggie Love III rumbled for 45 yards on 12 carries. In total, Illinois would gain 169 yards on the ground.

Peters would go 3 for 4 in passing for 35 yards before leaving the game. Sitkowski was 12-15 for 124 yds. Two of the biggest plays would come on defense: a first-quarter safety and a second-quarter scoop and run of a Nebraska fumble. Along with Peters, CJ Hart would be injured as well. He has been deemed out for the season. While there were issues with the secondary All in All, it was a good season opener.

The passing defense showed some holes as the Nebraska tandem of QB Adrian Martinez and WR Oliver Martin had their way.

Adrian Martinez 16-32 - 232Yds, 1TD 0INT, 17 carries for 111 Yds, 1TD

Oliver Martin 6 catches 103 Yds, 1TD.

9/4/21 UTSA Grade: UTSA 37- Illinois 30 C-

Art Sitkowski started and had a so-so passing day completion wise only 22-42, But the Sophomore would throw for 266 yards and 3 touchdowns. Isaiah Williams caught 8 of those passes for 101 yards but could not get into the end zone. TE Daniel Baker would get 5 receptions for