Five things to know about Illinois

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  1. It’s been a weird year.

You never quite know what you’re going to get in the first season with a new head coaching staff. You have transfers coming in and going out, offensive and defensive scheme changes, and players adapting to a new culture. You can say that Illinois has both overachieved and underachieved this year. They knock off Nebraska in the first game of the season, go into Happy Valley and beat Penn State, but then they follow that up with a loss to Rutgers at home. They also lost to UTSA in the beginning part of the year but they are still undefeated. While many projected this team to finish in last place this year in the Big Ten West, they sit in 5th with Northwestern and Nebraska behind them. 

  1. Defense is playing well. 

While teams have been able to run the ball against them, they have kept scores low to keep them in games. Illinois defense hasn’t allowed more than 24 points in a game in the last six games. In Big Ten play, the defense is allowing an impressive 17.8 points a game. They rank fifth in the conference in sacks and eighth in interceptions. The defense is led by Tarique Barnes, who leads the team in total tackles with 60. 

  1. Illinois rushing attack. 

Keep an eye on running back Chase Brown, who very well could be an All-Big Ten selection by the end of the year. Brown is averaging 6.3 yards per attempt with a total of 704 yards on the season. He has ran over 200 yards twice in the last four games, one of them being against Penn State when he ran for 257 yards. If it wasn’t for a poor passing attack, his numbers could be drastically better. His backup, Joshua McCray, is averaging 5.3 yards an attempt with 482 yards total on the season. Illinois ranks seventh in the conference in rushing, averaging 179 yards a game. 

  1. LeapFrog at the Quarterback Position. 

Brandon Peters and Artur Sitkowskii have gone back and forth in starting for Illinois this season due to injuries. Peters was the season starter until he got injured in the first game. He would go on to miss the next two games and then eventually start against Maryland until he was injured again against Wisconsin. Sitkowski would start the next two games until he broke his arm against Penn State. Peters had his best game in a while last week against Rutgers, passing for 190 yards and two touchdowns but his career has been the definition of inconsistent. For the season, he has passed for 600 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. 

  1. Bret Bielema success versus Illinois’s lack of success against Minnesota. 

Bielema was the head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers from 2006-20012, during that time, Bielema went undefeated against Minnesota with a perfect 7-0. His team would average 39 points against the Gophers and win by an average of 17 points. Of course, having All-American running backs helped.  Illinois enters this weekend winning two of the last ten meetings against Minnesota. Their last victory was in 2018 when they scored 55 points which eventually led to the firing of Minnesota defensive coordinator Robb Smith. Illinois is 1-3 against P.J. Fleck overall. Outside of the 2018 victory, Illinois has averaged 16 points against Minnesota while allowing 35 points. 

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