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Bielema continues to settle the famILLy business

Illini defense will control the destiny of the Big Ten West.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois
The Illinois defense smothered Iowa in Champaign on Saturday night. Here is one of their five sacks of Iowa QB Spencer Petras.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s deja vu all over again.

The elite defense of Illinois football dominates another Big Ten West opponent, as the Fighting Illini improve to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the division.

The more things stay the same, the more they change. Illiniois head coach Bret Bielema is settling the famILLy business, one game at a time.

Expectations have been raised. Execution has improved. Illinois is winning games before they lose them, which is something the head coach has preached since arriving in Champaign almost two years ago.

“This is the first time we’ve beat them since 2008, but it’s the first time we beat Iowa and Wisconsin since 1989. We are clearing a lot of good hurdles and going forward,” Bielema said.

I’ll be 40 in December. I was in kindergarten the last time that happened. Woof.

Despite losing starting QB Tommy Devito and three other starters, Illinois managed its way to victory. Updates coming this week on the overall health of the team after this bruising affair with Iowa.

As the nation’s leading scoring defense at 8.0 PPG, Ryan Walters’ unit will decide the fate of the Big Ten West, and which team gets to be dismantled in Indy on Dec. 3 by Ohio State. That’s the national perspective.

That would be just fine with me if that team happened to be Illinois. With this defense, a healthy Illinois squad would make it interesting.

Brown delivers in the shadows...yet again.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois
Brown shines again, extending his program record of consecutive 100+ yard games.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

As the seeming weekly afterthought, Chase Brown carried the ball 31 times for 147 yards. Ho-hum. OC Barry Lunney has to find a way to get Brown into the end zone regularly, or he will continue to be a national afterthought.

The program can’t waste the opportunity to get that kind of national exposure for a key focus on offense. It’s also unfair to Brown.

No soup for you in Champaign.

Now 4-0 at home, Illinois remains the only team that hasn’t allowed a touchdown on home turf.

“Our defense coming into today we’re the only team in the country who hasn’t given up a touchdown at home. That statistic is amazing when you think about it. We give a lot of credit to our defensive coaches, players and the responses that they have,” Bielema said.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois
Tarique Barnes (#8) was terrific in the win.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois is tied for the division lead at the halfway house. In 2022. In Football.

Bielema has talked since the beginning of the season about the “rematch” games/opportunities that his team has this season.

The last time the Hawkeyes were in town, they beat Illinois so soundly that AD Josh Whitman made the decision to fire then coach Lovie Smith after the game.

Not this time. Not today, or yesterday, as it were.

Bielema’s extremely confident and honest demeanor he shows in press conferences and on the sideline during games is starting to rub off on his team, especially the defense.

Bielema continues the unbeaten record at home. The athletic department put a huge push behind ticket sales, and is trying its damndest to rile up the Illini fans across the state and region and duplicate the atmosphere outside at Memorial Stadium that the basketball team enjoys inside State Farm Center.

I know in our Department of Athletics, Josh (Whitman) and his crew did a lot of things to try and make this game the best environment we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Bielema said.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois
Bielema shakes hands with Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The atmosphere and noise was noticeable on the broadcast. It came up in locker room conversations.

“Coming over for our walk-through at 11:30 and fans are already out there tailgating and our kids were commenting about it. Hopefully it’s an indication of what we can do more,” Bielema said.

I’ll probably say this every column, but the lone blemish is the team from Bloomington, which is the only conference win Indiana has to date.

The Big Ten is wild this season, if you leave out Ohio State.

Looking forward to seeing how close Illinois can get to taking a crack at the best offense in the world in the Big Ten Championship game in a few months.