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Lovie Smith: “We’re double-digit underdogs every week”

The Illini take on Iowa this week

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois is going bowling, but before they get there, they still have two regular season games left. This week they take on Iowa, who ended the Illini’s season last year with a 63-0 loss. But this season is different for the Illinois in many ways, here’s what Lovie Smith had to say:

On Iowa:

  • We were embarrassed (by Iowa) on our home field last year. Iowa’s a good program. Good challenge. But we’re up for the challenge.
  • They’re gonna play hard, they’re gonna pay for sixty minutes throughout.
  • There’s a commitment to the run, and it’s always been that way.
  • Defensively, Iowa plays great football. They have been for a long time. Of course, this year has been no exception. They have one of the best d-linemen in football (A.J. Epenesa).
  • Good football teams have to go to tough places and win. I feel we’re equipped to do that.

On the Illini:

  • It’s about how you finish. And out guys are really bought into that.
  • We’re not going to change our routine or what we do, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.
  • We are the ones that are trying to get people to take us seriously. We are double digit underdogs every week.
  • The Big Ten West championship is still available to us if we take care of what we can control.

On his players:

  • All of our guys are getting better. (mentioned: Jaken Hansen, Wole Betiku, Brandon Peters)
  • A.J. is an Illinois guy too, we’ve got to keep those Illinois guys in here. Known his family for a long time too. A.J. is an outstanding player. One of the best defensive linemen in the country.
  • On Edwin Carter: Long road to recovery. Seems like yesterday when we saw him go down. He’s attacked rehab the way we thought he would.
  • On Donny Navarro’s scholarship: How you earn it is by showing up every day, doing things on and off the field, Donny’s a great student.

OC Coach Rod Smith:

  • On A.J. Epenesa: He’s a world of a football player. He’s big, he’s long, physical and athletic, he checks all the boxes. He caused havoc last year. He caused havoc this week when we watched him.
  • On Iowa: I thought they were the best team we played last year, I really do. Their record may not show it, but if you look, they were a couple plays away from winning nine or ten games.
  • On Donny Navarro: Donny is what we epitomized for this program. When you get your opportunity you make the most of it.
  • Is (Lovie) more jollier? I think he definitely is. The air smells better. The food tastes better. Everything is better when you win.
  • It’s important for us [the offense staff] to know what we are doing, it’s more important for our kids to understand it.
  • Extremely proud of Brandon for how he kept fighting and competing. He is never too high or too low, and that is a good trait for a QB.