‘Brandon is our quarterback’
Brandon Peters finished the season opener with just 12 more passing yards than rushing yards.
Despite offensive coordinator Rod Smith saying he needs to “take the lid off” his quarterback and let him use his legs, Peters’ performance on Friday against Wisconsin was not good.
Peters entered year two of his Illini career with goals of keeping the chains moving and improving his 55.3% completion rate from a year ago. In the season opener, the Michigan-transfer completed just 42% of his passes and the Illini offense had just eight first downs.
“Luckily we still have eight more games,” Peters said.
In fact, the offense struggled so much that Isaiah Williams came in at quarterback for nearly 10 of the Illini’s 47 offensive plays.
Peters mentioned postgame via Zoom that he was shocked at the amount of playing time that Williams had on Friday, but his head coach characteristically reiterated who is QB1.
“We wanted to get Isaiah a couple plays,” said Lovie Smith, “but Brandon is our quarterback.”
Not only that, but Smith did not hesitate to show his confidence in the Indiana native.
“Brandon will play outstanding football for us the rest of the year.”
So what is it that Peters needs to do to get the offense in a rhythm and get the Illini their first win on Saturday?
“When you constantly go three-and-out and you’re punting the ball away it kind of kills momentum,” Peters said. “Completing the football, getting those first downs, moving the chains, you know it's gonna help you a lot.”
This week, it also seems evident that Peters won't be as surprised to see Isaiah Williams involved.
“Coach Rod reiterated to us, he thinks that Isaiah [Williams] and [backup QB] Matt [Robinson] — all the QBs are good enough to go out there and play. Isaiah is maybe a little bit different player than I am, and you know he’s a great athlete and he can make plays on the ground and showing as well, so you know if it’s in the gameplan for Coach Rod to switch it up, I'm in full support of that, and I just gotta do what I can do when I'm out there on the field and do it the best that I can do.”
It’s hard to execute when you’re playing one of the league’s best defenses, your receivers drop multiple balls and your backup sees the playing field a fair amount of time, but for the Illini offense, it all comes back to Peters. And he knows his coach still have faith in him.
“I know Coach Lovie believes in me,” Peters said. “He’s always instilled that belief in me.”
For Peters, who said he has already watched the Wisconsin game four times and watched multiple hours of film on Purdue, preparation is key, but it all comes back to the little things.
“From here we have to be more focused,” he said, “and be better at the little things.”
Graham Mertz’s Covid-19 Scare
Reports from Madison show that Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz has tested positive for Covid-19.
Mertz — who torched the Illini for 248 yards, five touchdowns and just one incompletion — would be forced to sit out for 21 days, according to Big Ten policy.
The reports have not been confirmed by Wisconsin Athletics, who said on Sunday that no players, coaches or support staff involved in Friday’s game had tested positive the day of the contest. However, many Illinois players were in contact with Mertz on Friday, and while it’s entirely possible that Mertz contracted the virus after the game, it is certainly something to monitor for Illinois.
Rod Perry’s debut
After three seasons at South Carolina State, Roderick Perry II had his Big Ten/Illinois debut on Friday, and he was involved on the first play with a tackle for a loss.
“It’s time to make a name for myself,” the defensive lineman said.
Perry finished the game with three tackles and got credited for half a sack. He also graded out particularly well.
At his position, Perry was ranked first in the Big Ten, fourth in the Power Five and 14th in the entire FBS for his performance on Friday.
“There’s not a whole lot of positive things I could talk about from how we played defense, but [Rod Perry] was one,” Smith said. “Everything you’re looking for in an interior lineman he has.”
Perry mentioned his family and friends from his old school had a watch party for his first game in Orange and Blue. When Perry got his highly anticipated first sack, he flashed the horns for his South Carolina State fraternity brothers.
While they can’t see him play in-person right now, Perry said he’s still glad with his decision to play his final season in Champaign.
“I’m happy to be here.”