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The Sunday after: Illinois falls at home to Nebraska 20-7



Illinois Football

Illinois still seeks its first conference win after falling to Nebraska 20-7.

“It’s maddening, infuriating that we can’t gain six inches on two plays,” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said. “I’ve been coaching for 15 years, and I’ve never been so frustrated. We keep having the same issues and have to make changes. We have to change the equation.” The head coach spoke the truth after the game. The Illini had an opportunity to score on its first possession of the game, but running back Reggie Love could not punch it in from the one-yard line. That goal-line stand by the Cornhuskers seemed to deflate the Illini offensively.

Illinois proceeded to go three-and-out on its next three possessions. By the time the offense got off the mat, they were down 17-0—neither the offense nor the team recovered. Illinois continues to struggle in the first quarter, scoring ten points in the first quarter of games this season. The defense played well most of the game. Nebraska averaged under five yards per play, and the Illini forced them to be one-dimensional. Illinois forced three turnovers, and the Cornhuskers committed ten penalties.

Despite that, the Illini could not score the football. Coach Bielema mentioned the need to make changes. What are those changes going to be? Let’s speculate.

Illinois needs to talk about Barry Lunney.

For anyone calling for Bret Bielema’s job, that is extraordinarily short-sighted. Too many aspects of the program are trending upward to call for his job. Illinois’ recruiting has improved, and they’ve landed several recruits with legit Power Five offers. It is possible that Illinois arrive a year early. Chase Brown played lights out in 2022, and the Illini had the best secondary in college football. It is inevitable to have a drop-off with the departure of so much prime talent.

That said, the offense has been sluggish and inconsistent all season. The offensive line has underperformed, and the receivers — save Isaiah Williams — have all struggled to separate and hold on to the football. The running game has not gotten loose this season. Moreover, slow starts have forced the offense to play from behind.

Illinois has a young quarterback with tons of ability but no experience. It seems that the Illini would want to make things easier for him. While he has been getting the ball out quicker, they can’t run the football to take pressure off him.

The DNA of Bret Bielema-coached teams is physicality along the lines of scrimmage. That hasn’t happened this season. Let’s be clear: this is not a call for Lunney’s job. Bielema and Josh Whitman make that decision. However, someone has to be held accountable. Whether that be Lunney or offensive line coach Bart Miller, Bielema needs to find answers to these issues.

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.