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Lovie Smith: “This is the biggest game we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

The Illini meet Michigan State this week with bowl eligibility on the line.

Nebraska v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Illini have won three Big Ten games in row, and are just one win away from bowl eligibility. Here’s what head coach Lovie Smith had to say:

On the 38-10 win over Rutgers:

  • It’s a good feeling to be playing better football. We went into the third quarter wanting to play. Good quarter of ball.
  • Biggest fourth quarter we’ve had since we’ve been here. This is the position you want to be in.

On the three game winning streak:

  • Of course this is a good feeling to be playing better football.
  • A lot of guys are playing their best football. That is big.
  • It has to give you confidence when you make plays. Find a way to win.
  • Love what we’ve done on the offensive side, turning takeaways into points

On the possibility of a bowl game:

  • Our football team realizes where we are. Of course, one of our goals has been to take steps to build our program. One of those steps has been to get to a bowl game.
  • To be playing football that matters in November is what we’re really excited about.
  • Guys that have been here four years. That is how you reward good play. A job well done that’s how you get to a Bowl Game.
  • We have an opportunity to do something in November that we haven’t done in a long time. That’s all the seniors are asking. We have a chance to finish up the right way. I’m betting on it.

On the upcoming contest against Michigan State:

  • This is a playoff game for us.
  • As we talk about being in the playoffs, this is it.
  • Michigan State is fighting just like we are. Good football teams have to go on the road and win.
  • They (Michigan State) has played outstanding defense for a long time. Michigan State is one of the best programs in college football.
  • They play hard, they’re sound fundamentally. Similar front as to how we play defense. It starts up front with them.
  • I’m not downplaying it all. This is the biggest game we’ve had here since I’ve been here. I told the team that after the game. I told them that again today.
  • I think you have two teams that need a win in the worst way. We have gone through more than they have.

On his players

  • Brandon [Peters] was our offensive player of the week last week.
  • How can player playing the way Dele Harding is not being on the Butkus watch list? Still trying to figure that one out.
  • He’s [Dele Harding] been playing some outstanding football throughout.
  • (Dele Harding) is a smart player. He gets it. He knows. He does everything right, so he has everybody’s attention. Then when you start playing, you have to play good football, and nobody has played better football than Dele Harding.
  • Who’s the leading tackler in the Big Ten? Who’s scored more defensive touchdowns than Dele [Harding]?
  • Isaiah Gay stepped up.
  • Stanley Green has played outstanding ball since he’s come back from injury.
  • Pleased with what’s happening in the [linebackers] room... Like what they’ve done. We talk about Harding and Hansen, Milo Eifler played his best football too.
  • I’ve never seen a player that deserved to play and didn’t get an opportunity to... Donny [Navarro] has taken advantage of that.
  • Injury-wise, hopefully we’ll be getting a couple players back. We’ll find out more about those tomorrow.

On recruiting

  • What has helped our recruiting? (New facility) has helped quite a bit. Young people want to go and eventually play for a winning program. A better product on the field has helped a lot.

On Bobby Roundtree

  • It’s been humbling to see how many people care and reached out to donate (to Bobby Roundtree’s GoFundMe).
  • Bobby has opinions about what he do. I let Bobby make one of the calls defensively early in the season.

On the Lere Oladipo allegations:

  • What else can I say about it? We have a process we go through, when players do things they are not supposed to do. Lere is going through that process. He hasn’t been a part of program for a while, he has been suspended from it. Haven’t had communication with him.