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Illini football: 3 things to improve for the rest of the season.



Illini football

Illini football needs to improve these three things to make a bowl game.

Illini football was off this week after coming up short against Wisconsin last Saturday. The loss seriously hampered Illinois’ (3-5, 1-4) postseason hopes. In addition to the loss, every team left on its schedule is playing better. Minnesota is in a four-way tie for first place in the conference, while Indiana went toe-to-toe with Penn State. Iowa is atrocious offensively, but can the Illini score on Ray Parker’s offense? Northwestern is playing hard for interim head coach David Braun, and the Wildcats can make a bowl game.

Illinois needs to win three of its last four games; however, every team left on the schedule also has a lot on the line. In order for the Illini to win three, they’ll need to play their best football of 2023. Here are three things to watch after Illinois had the week off.

1. Button it back up:

One of the struggles Illinois had most of the season was penalties. Over the last three games, however, the Illini had improved in that area. Offensively, Illinois needs to stay ahead of the sticks. Defensively, they cannot help opponents extend drives. Despite losing to Nebraska, the Illini committed just three penalties. They had five against Maryland. However, those nine penalties were costly against Wisconsin. None of those penalties were worse than the targeting call against Jer’Zhan Newton.

If the Illini are going to have an opportunity to get three — or four — wins, they have to button it back up and reduce the penalties. They are even with all of these teams from a talent perspective, so these games will likely be close, and the Illini need to do the little things right.

Not only do the Illini need to reduce the number of penalties, but quarterback Luke Altmyer also needs to play turnover-free football for the rest of the season. The loss to Wisconsin was the first game where Altmyer did not turn the football over. With how close this final stretch of games will be, a turnover could cost you the game.

Simply put, if the Illini commit silly penalties or turn the football over, they’ll be watching bowl games instead of participating in them.

2. Take more shots downfield:

“Fortune rewards the bold.” Someone needs to put this above Coach Bielema’s door in his office. Being aggressive is something else that can make a huge difference in close games. The Illini have two explosive perimeter players in slot receiver Isaiah Williams and freshman receiver Kenari Wilcher. Offensive coordinator Barry Lunney, Jr., must find ways to get the ball to them in space. Another freshman receiver, Malik Elzy, has the perfect size for 50/50 balls.

That’s not to say the Illini need to be wreckless, but Lunney needs to find opportunities throughout these games to take deep shots down the field and pressure the opposing defense. Bielema and Lunney want to run the football; that’s who they are and what they do. However, it’s easier to run against two deep safeties than it is to run against zero coverage.

3. Take advantage of your advantages:

Every team left on Illinois’ schedule has imperfections. Coach Bielema and his staff must figure out how to take advantage of every mismatch they can find. Minnesota’s passing game is inconsistent. The Illini must keep the Gophers in third-and-long. Indiana is 13th in points per game and 13th in points allowed per game. Illinois should be able to stop the Hoosier offense and score on the Hoosier defense. Iowa’s offense is, well, Iowa’s offense. Can the Illini find 17 points against the Hawkeyes?

Northwestern also has a leaky defense. Also, the Northwestern game is for The Hat, and it’s the home finale. Illinois should be up for that game. If the Illini can take advantage of those matchups, they’ll have an opportunity to win.

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Armchair Illini is a comprehensive site dedicated to covering University of Illinois Athletics owned and operated by Alex Kyi. Dante Pryor has been writing about College Football for years on Saturday Blitz and is now the Lead Football Author for Armchair Illini.