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Illinois battling injury bug, thin roster as Illini prepare for USF

Check out the storylines from Lovie’s press conference this afternoon.

NCAA Football: Western Illinois at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — After the first two weeks of the season, Lovie Smith’s squad owns a 2-0 record, but an injury-stricken roster could pose issues against South Florida.

At his press conference Monday afternoon, Smith informed the media that another wide receiver will be out for the season. In just his first career appearance, Edwin Carter was efficient in his debut, catching two passes for two touchdowns and 34 yards receiving.

Unfortunately, Carter’s second touchdown — one that offensive coordinator Rod Smith described as “the best catch that I’ve ever witnessed” — came at a price. Carter managed to hold on to the football despite being undercut mid-flight, but he came down hard in the endzone, landing on his knees.

The injury comes just one week after Lovie Smith announced that star senior wideout Mike Dudek will also miss the remainder of the 2018 season.

In addition to Carter’s injury against Western Illinois this past Saturday, starting quarterback AJ Bush also left the game with an injury. Bush was hit late after a throw to start the second quarter, and he was forced to sit out the rest of the game, despite pleas to make a return.

Bush’s status for Saturday’s matchup at Soldier Field is still uncertain. The coaching staff called it a hamstring issue, and they plan to evaluate him throughout practice this week.

On Bush, Lovie Smith said, “Whenever you can’t finish a game there’s a concern, but he’s making a lot of progress.”

In Bush’s absence, the Illini found a capable replacement in freshman MJ Rivers. In his first collegiate appearance, Rivers finished completed nine of 16 passes for 105 yards, threw two touchdowns, and rushed for 36 yards.

“I thought (MJ) did some good things for his first time,” Rod Smith said. “MJ can throw the football pretty well. He’s got to calm his feet down some in the pocket, he’s got to learn to trust protection a little bit, and learn to get rid of the football a little quicker. But I think overall for his first outing, I thought he had a pretty good showing.”

Other notable injuries from the past week include wide receiver Ricky Smalling and defensive back Tony Adams, who Lovie Smith said were both close to playing last Saturday and is hopeful that both will be back this week.

Defensive back Cameron Watkins will be unavailable for the first half of Saturday’s game after being ejected for targeting this past weekend.

“Didn’t necessarily agree with the call at the time, but the ejection will stand,” Lovie Smith said.

As for the players still on suspension, they aren’t officially back yet, but it seems that they will be soon. Bennett Williams, Carmoni Green, Louis Dorsey, Deon Pate, and Nate Hobbs were all placed on an indefinite suspension just before kickoff of Illinois’ season-opener.

Lovie Smith won’t say when exactly Illinois fans can expect to see these guys on the field again, but he did say they are “close”.