Brandon Peters gets the start at quarterback tonight as the Illini welcome the Maryland Terrapins to town.
“Brandon Peters is back, and he will actually be our starting quarterback,” said head coach Bret Bielema on Monday afternoon.
Peters’ last action was in the first quarter of the Illini’s Week Zero win over Nebraska. The senior quarterback injured his non-throwing shoulder on a hit midway through the opening quarter and exited Memorial Stadium with a sling on his left arm.
Artur Sitkowski started in Peters absence, and played fine despite losing both games he started. The transfer from Rutgers currently has thrown for 611 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception — and is not being benched due to performance, it’s just Peters’ job.
Despite not committing last week to Peters as the starter when he was made available, Bielema made it seem like it was never his job to lose.
“I had the conversation with Art (on Sunday), brought him in, talked about where we’re at, and what we’re doing. It wasn’t anything that he did or didn’t do well. He played extremely well, especially the way he first entered the game going back to the Nebraska game,’’ Bielema said. “I told him if the roles were exactly reversed, if he was the starter and knocked out of the game and (Peters) came in, we would do the exact same thing 100 times over.’’
Friday night will mark Peters’ 20th start in an Illini uniform, and he has accumulated 2,348 yards and 21 touchdowns — plus four on the ground — in Orange and Blue. He hasn’t been a Heisman level performer, but the Illini offense seems to perform better when the cool, calm and collected Peters is under center.
“He obviously has a very live arm and a lot of experience,’’ Bielema said of Peters. “Despite many people calling him a dropback guy, he is a guy that can move around and generate some things with his legs.”
But he is also learning a new scheme, so stepping back and watching the offense work from the sideline has helped him, his coach thinks.
“It’s kind of a new offense for him, so he’s kind of seen this evolve for two games not being on the field,” Bielema said. “He hasn’t really taken any practice reps with our ones and twos since the preparation for Nebraska, but he’s gone against our defense through scout team and did some things through practice that were non-contact that allowed him to stay involved in the practice plan.’’
We’ll see if all of that observing can pay off in Peters’ return — as the Illini look to stop their two-game skid and stay perfect in conference.