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Week 2 Preview: Illinois football travels to Kansas



Illinois football
Nov 26, 2022; Evanston, Illinois, USA; llinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema leads his team on the field against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois football travels to Lawrence for a Friday night game against the Kansas Jayhawks.

The Illini struggled in its home opener, needing a go-ahead field goal to defeat the Toledo Rockets 30-28 last Saturday. Kansas, on the other hand, had no issues with FCS opponent Missouri State. The Illini and the Jayhawks look to build on their success from 2022. The Jayhawks won six games and made a bowl game for the first time since 2007. They were ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 2008. Illinois had its best season since 2007, when they won nine games and went to the Rose Bowl.

How Illinois football wins the game:

Illinois has to be better defensively on a down-to-down basis. They gave up too many chunk plays to the Rockets’ running game. While much of that was DeQuan Finn doing what he does, the running backs also got off a couple of runs. Toledo’s offensive line moved the line of scrimmage against Illinois. The Illini’s defensive front is supposed to be elite. However, it did not play that way against the Rockets. Jer’Zhan Newton and company have to play better than they did last weekend.

Perhaps the biggest test for the Illini defense is eye discipline. Jayhawks offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki uses a myriad of formations and motion that will test the defense.

Bielema and offensive coordinator Barry Lunney, Jr. need to let quarterback Luke Altmyer let it rip on offense. After the Miles Scott interception, Altmyer’s play catalyzed the offensive comeback in the second half. Though Bielema loves to run the football, he has to know that the Mississippi transfer is the best option on offense. Illinois pushed the football down the field, and the receivers made plays. It might be prudent to throw to set up the run.

How the Jayhawks win this game:

Kansas had one of the worst defenses in the Power Five in 2022, so they must score to win this game. Kotelnicki will use formations and motion to neutralize what should be an advantage up front for Illinois. More than that, the health of quarterback Jalon Daniels is paramount for Kansas. He did not play in the season opener but is expected to play against Illinois. We won’t know for sure until game time, and we won’t know how healthy he is until he plays — if he plays.


Depending on which sportsbook you go to, Kansas is a 3 to 3.5-point favorite in this game, which is close to a pick ’em. It’s hard to see Kansas stopping Illinois’ offense, especially if they can run the football. Daniels is a difference-maker, and not knowing his status makes this a challenging game to predict. However, Illinois makes a play on defense, and Altmyer lets loose. The Illini win one of the more entertaining games of the early season.

Score: Illinois 42, Kansas 35



Analyzing the Odds: Illinois is a heavy favorite versus FAU



Illinois: Analyzing the Odds
Jan 2, 2023; Tampa, FL, USA; the Illinois Fighting Illini take the field fro the the 2023 ReliaQuest Bowl against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois are heavy favorites against Florida Atlantic.

After a home loss to #7 Penn State, the Illinois Fighting Illini look to rebound against American Athletic Conference foe Florida Atlantic. The Illini are looking for answers, especially on offense, before they get deep into Big Ten Conference play. The Owls might be the perfect opponent for Illinois to work some of the kinks out of their game.

Florida Atlantic starting quarterback Casey Thompson is out for the season with an injury, so the Owls turn to Central Michigan transfer Daniel Richardson. That is not a good omen for a team coming to play a defense that looks to be revitalized. Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph had their best game of the season against Penn State.

Saturday could be a day for the Illinois offense to get going. The Owls rank 95th in scoring defense and 71st in total defense. That makes them a heavy favorite on Saturday. The Illini need to take advantage and get things right before they begin conference play in earnest.

Illinois v. Florida Atlantic Betting Odds

  • Spread: Illinois -15.5, Florida Atlantic +15.5
  • Money Line: Illinois -715, Florida Atlantic +496
  • Over/Under: 45.5

Wagering on the Illini has been a risky proposition so far this season. Illinois is 0-3 in its last five games against the spread, and the point total has gone over in one of their previous two games. Those who wager on the Owls have not fared much better. The Owls are also 0-3 in their last five games against the spread. However, Florida Atlantic’s points totals have gone over in two of its last three games.

Can they win this game?

Not only should the Illini win this game, but they should also dominate. However, we’ve been here before this season. The line in the Toledo game opened at -10 for Illinois. The line in this game opened at 13 and has since expanded to 15.5, so that’s a good sign that the sports books feel that the Illini will play well.

They need to validate what the sports books think and play well. Could there be some changes to the starting lineup? Maybe. No matter what, the Illini must dominate early and often against the Owls.


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Safety Matthew Bailey is out for the season for the Illini.



Matthew Bailey is out for the season.

Matthew Bailey is the third player with a season-ending injury. 

Safety Matthew Bailey was supposed to take over “quarterbacking” the secondary this year. However, he will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.

Illini head coach Bret Bielema revealed this in his Monday press conference. Bailey played briefly in Illinois’ 30-13 loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions last Saturday. His shoulder injury is the latest in a season where health has been an issue. Bailey has played sparingly this year because of an ankle injury. He came up, grabbing his shoulder during Penn State’s first possession of the game.

Defensive coordinator Aaron Henry says Bailey is in good spirits despite the news. “Nothing really wavers him,” said defensive coordinator Aaron Henry. “Nothing really messes with his confidence.”

Bielema told reporters during his press conference that the rehabilitation timeline is about six months. The in-state recruit won’t rest on his laurels, however. Bielema also mentioned that Bailey is looking for ways to improve as he prepares for his return in 2024.

Next man up…who replaces Bailey?

After losing the likes of Devon Witherspoon and Sidney Brown to the NFL Draft, the Illini came into 2023 with a retooled, inexperienced secondary. Bailey was one of the young defensive backs that saw meaningful snaps in 2022. He tied for second on the team with three interceptions. Though his injury is significant, Illinois did address the secondary in the transfer portal.

The Illini have two options to replace Bailey in the secondary. Louisville transfer Nicario Harper is already part of the secondary rotation so he could slide into the starting lineup. Southern Illinois transfer Clayton Bush could also start. He’s also seen meaningful snaps this year and could step into the top of the rotation.

Henry and the defensive staff cross-train their defensive backs, so don’t be surprised if a cornerback or STAR like Elijah McCantos, Xavier Scott, or Prince Ford gets an opportunity to play as well.

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Playing Freshmen doesn’t mean you’re giving up on the season



Should Illinois football play more freshmen?
Jan 2, 2023; Tampa, FL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema takes the field fro the the 2023 ReliaQuest Bowl against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois football needs answers on offense. Could some of those answers be true freshmen?

There were some bright spots in Illinois‘ 30-13 home loss to Penn State. “The Firm” of Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph, Jr. had their best game of the season. The defense held Penn State quarterback Drew Allar to 5.9 yards per attempt and under 50% completions. The defensive front had its most consistent game against the run, limiting Penn State backs to 4.1 yards per rush attempt. Unfortunately, the offense still has issues.

Quarterback Luke Altmyer threw four interceptions, putting the defense in difficult positions all game. He was benched for Ball State transfer John Paddock, who fared better, throwing the only touchdown pass for the Illini.

Should the Illinois football turn to Paddock over Altmyer?

Though Paddock played better than Altmyer, it won’t matter if the offensive line doesn’t play better. Paddock threw the football well after settling in. Does that mean he gives the Illini a better chance to win? That’s hard to say. If Paddock plays well against Florida Atlantic, does that mean he’ll fare better in conference play?

In addition to quarterback, the Illini need another running back to step up next to Reggie Love III. Josh McCray has struggled, averaging just 2.5 yards per rush attempt. Frosh running back Kaden Feagin got some carries, but McCray might have to carry the load until someone plays well enough to get meaningful carries.

The best receivers on the field were freshmen.

Altmyer tried to push the football down the field. A couple of his interceptions were because his receivers could not separate from Penn State’s defensive backs. However, freshman receiver Kenari Wilcher had the biggest catch of the day, a 47-yard reception. And fellow freshman Malik Elzy hauled in a nice touchdown reception on a 50/50 ball. The Illini play a struggling FAU team this weekend. There is nothing wrong with giving Elzy, Wilcher, Ashton Hollins, and Hank Beatty some meaningful snaps to see what you have.

They will have to figure out the running game and the explosive passing game before they get into the meat and potatoes of their conference schedule.

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