Bret Bielema’s career with the Fighting Illini started off with an impressive conference win against Nebraska. This is the first time Bielema has won a conference opener in his head coaching debut with a team. Wins in the Big Ten don’t come easy and this one was no different.
Let’s take a look of how Bielema led the Illini to victory on Saturday.
The fact that Illinois won the game despite losing Brandon Peters in the first half speaks to Bielema’s leadership skills and how well he had the Illini prepared for the Huskers.
Bielema could be seen on the sidelines encouraging Sitkowski, which showed in the poised and confident performance the transfer gave on the field. Along with Sitkowski, the rest of the Illini didn’t miss a beat and continued to execute against the game plan they had.
Playing mistake-free football is a hallmark of Bielema’s game and that was evident on Saturday. Illinois played a relatively clean game and didn’t make many mistakes that would transfer momentum back to Nebraska.
This is a stark contrast from recent history where we would have untimely turnovers or have foolish penalties that would prevent us from winning games.
Areas for Improvement
First Half Offensive Creativity
Though Bielema’s mantra of running the ball was effective down the stretch, the Illini offense was quite stagnant in the first half. Other than a 45-yard burst by Mike Epstein, the offense lacked pop and even the one scoring drive was aided by 30 yards of personal foul yardage, courtesy of Nebraska.
When playing higher ranked and more talented opponents, Illinois can’t afford to wait for them to get tired or make mistakes. Instead, the Illini need to be aggressive and take their chances and make the opponents play off the back foot.
I would like to see us integrating Isaiah Williams more into the first-half game-plan, along with some play action which will spread out opposing defenses.
Overall, it was a great start to the Bielema era and definitely gives us a good foundation to build upon for this season.