Updated: Oct 15
Champaign Dreams Volume 1, issue 3, by Don Glenn October 4, 2023
Well, the Illini are five games into the schedule. Many thought they would be 4-1 or, at worst, 3-2. But with a very sub-par performance this past Saturday at West Lafayette against the Boilermakers, the Illini sit at 2-3, 0-2 in the Big Ten. There was some optimism after the Penn State loss that fans hoped would carry over vs. Florida Atlantic. But the Owls would jump to a 10-0 lead after the 1st quarter.
The Illini would come back with 14 in the second and 9 more in the third, giving the Illini a 13-point lead. The Owls would come back and make it 23-17 in the 4th quarter. Late in the 4th, with less than 2 minutes to play, Kaden Feagan rushed up the middle with the end zone in sight, and with no one to stop him, he slid down at the 7-yard line. Which Brett Bielema said was a "heads-up play." The TD and an extra point would have given the U of I a 13-point lead with less than a minute and 40 seconds left. Bielema would indicate that it was the sure way to preserve the win, meaning Feagan taking a dive. But does that mean he didn't trust his defense to hold a two-score lead with less than two minutes to play?
Maybe I am missing something here, but in a tight game with time running down and you have the chance to score, why not?
Luke Altmyer would have his best day as an Illini, going 25 of 36 for 303 yards and 1 TD. He also carried the ball 8 times for 23 yards and a TD. The Illini running game looked strong. Reggie Love had 12 carries for 85 yards, and Josh McCray had 14 carries for 73 yards. Love was injured in the 4th quarter
Isaiah Williams would get 120 yards on 8 receptions.
On defense, Kieth Randolph had a good day with 7 total tackles, 2 and a half Tackles for loss and 1 sack. The owls did keep Jerzahn Newton at bay, double-teaming him most of the day. It may not have been pretty, but it was the kind of win that teams use as a stepping stone.
However, this past weekend vs. Purdue, they missed a step. This was a game many were waiting to see with former U of I Defensive Coordinator Ryan Walters, now the head coach at Purdue. Many, including myself, also thought it would be an Illini win.
The Illini started out with a 3-0 lead. Purdue would take the lead with two field goals in the 1st quarter. The Illini would come back and retake the lead on a Josh McCray 7-yard run, making it 10-6. Purdue would come back with 10 unanswered points of their own and go into the half with a 16-13 lead after a 53-yard field goal from Caleb Griffin, That would be as close as Illinois could get as the Boilermakers would rattle off 21 points in the third quarter en route to a 44-19 win.
Altmyer would have a decent day, 16-25 for 202 and a TD, and he also rushed for 65 yards on 13 carries. Freshman Kaden Feagin was the leading rusher with 85 yards on 11 carries. Josh McCary would get the only rushing TD. Isiah Williams would lead the team in receiving yards but, yet again, did not make it into the end zone. So far this year, Williams has 30 catches for 446 yards and NO TDs, I am just not sure how that is possible. Purdue seemed to wear down the Illini defense even though the time of possession was almost even: Purdue 31:56, Illinois 28:04. The one place where the Illinin offense failed was in third down conversions. The Illini were an abysmal 2 for 14., but they were 3 for 3 in red zone scores.
The Illini are now 0-2 in the Big Ten and 0-1 in the West. The West is still winnable, however, the Illini will have to make Huge strides to get there. They have what most consider three "wins" coming up in Nebraska on Oct. 6, Indiana on Nov. 11, and Northwestern on Nov. 25, all home games. Assuming they do win those games they still would need one more win to be bowl-eligible and at least 2 more division wins to have a shot at the West title. With only one other home game vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 21. the other 3 games are at Maryland, at Minnesota, and at Iowa, all tough places to play. So, any stumble against the 3 "wins" would certainly put a big damper on the season. I think they have a chance to make it to a bowl game this year, but NOT playing the way they are. The O-Line needs to step up in pass protection, and the defensive secondary needs to tighten up.
In Basketball, Brad Underwood's team has taken a slower pace than usual because of the trip to Spain over the summer. They are going through pre-season workouts and will start practice officially this coming Friday, October 6.
On the recruiting front, 2024 commit Morez Johnson 6-9, 220 pounds from Harvey, Illinois, is now ranked 35th in the nation and number 1 in the state of Illinois. Johnson committed to Illinois in November 2021. He gives depth and size to the frontcourt. He's a good scorer and defender.
This summer, they added yet another big man for 2024 in Jason Jakstys 6-10 205-pounder from Yorkville, Illinois, ranked 110th nationally and 4th in the state. He needs to put on a little weight, so he will need to spend time with Strength and Conditioning coach Adam Fletcher.
The Illini have a couple of guards coming for official visits with Mike Lewis a 6-3, 170-pound combo guard from Napa, California. Lewis was a top scorer in UIBL at about 18 points per game. He is also considering LSU and Ole Miss. They are also getting a visit from Jase Butler 6-4, 190-pound left-handed playmaker out of San Anselmo, California, and a 3-star recruit. The Illini would love to add one of those guys to get depth for next year in the backcourt. They are also playing host to 2025 recruit Phoenix Gill 6-2, 175 pounds, and son of former flying Illini star Kendall Gill. The Illini hardwood team will play the first exhibition game Oct 20 vs. Ottawa and then the charity game vs. Kansas on October 29. If you follow my podcast, Talking Sports on the Bleachers, I hope to have Deon Thomas on before the Ottawa game to get a season preview of Illini basketball.
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See ya soon, and GO Illini!