Lovie Smith announced Monday that the Illini will be without both Alex Palczewski and Tarique Barnes for the remainder of the season.
Palczewski suffered a leg injury against Rutgers and Barnes was injured in the Illini’s game against Nebraska — both will have their years end with season-ending surgery.
Palczewski is a senior on the offensive line, primarily playing right tackle and starting over 40 games in his Illini career. A team captain and trusted leader offensively, Palczewski’s loss is a big one for Illinois.
“It hurts him, it hurts him bad,” said offensive coordinator Rod Smith. “He takes it to heart. You feel for the kid. He’s one of, in my opinion, the pieces of glue we have up there that keeps us going. He’s a leader on our football team.”
While Palczewski entered his senior season as one of the Illini’s top NFL-draft prospects, he will have the opportunity to return to Illinois for an additional season if he wanted to due to the COVID-19 protocol changes to eligibility this year.
As the season continues, Julian Pearl will continue to start on the offensive line for Illinois.
Barnes is a sophomore who had been having a breakout year at the linebacker position. His season ends with 25 tackles, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery.
The linebacking core has been a bright spot for this defense this year, and will continue to be anchored by Jake Hansen. Barnes’ loss will likely lead to more Khalan Tolson and Milo Eifler returning from injury.
The Illini have missed players due to COVID-19 and injuries all season, and will have to play Iowa and finish the year without Palczewski and Barnes.