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‘It’s sure to be a challenge’: Bielema looking ahead to Wisconsin homecoming

Another revenge week is upon us.

Brad Repplinger // TCR

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The first Thursday night game at Memorial Stadium left Illini nation feeling very happy after the blowout win over Chattanooga.

On Monday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, head coach Bret Bielema, offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. and defensive coordinator Ryan Walters addressed some key things in their press conference heading into the Wisconsin game.

What went right against Chattanooga

To make a long story short, a lot went right. But we’ll talk about it anyways.

QB Tommy DeVito passed for more than 300 yards and threw 3 touchdowns; RB Chase Brown ran for over 100 yards as per usual; the defense was incredibly stout; and two receivers had 100+ yards each.

This was also the first time in Illini history that there was a 100+ yard rusher and two 100+ yard receivers in the same game. Bielema thought that stat was astounding.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever had that in my history,” Bielema said.

Receivers Pat Bryant and Isaiah Williams were the two receivers to each go for over 100, and it’s almost fair to say that Lunney expected his receivers to have that kind of game.

“[Bryant] had a really nice game the other day,” Lunney said. “I wasn’t surprised by that”

The offense couldn’t have done what it did without the help of the defense though. Forcing two turnovers, recording four sacks, and not allowing a single score the whole game was what made the defense so dominant.

“You’re focused on getting the ball back to the offense each snap,” Walters said.

While the defense might seem impressive right now, Walters knows his guys are only going to keep getting better as the season progresses.

“It’s early in the year,” Walters said. “Our guys are playing well right now and we’ll continue to improve throughout the year.”

Even though Chattanooga was an FCS opponent, you can never be mad about a 31-0 win.

Getting healthier

Bielema made it sound like the Illini will be getting a couple key guys back very soon.

“I like where we’re at from a health standpoint,” Bielema said.

RB Josh McCray suffered an injury in the Week 0 game against Wyoming but is on the right track to return.

“McCray is kind of a work in progress,” Bielema said. “He actually started running on land and doing the things that would indicate he’s getting close to a return.”

McCray isn’t the only one who may come back soon, as defensive lineman Jamal Woods has been cleared to return.

“He got cleared about 24 hours before the game last week,” Bielema said. “So to get him involved this week in practice will be a huge advantage.”

Going against Wisconsin you’re going to want to be as healthy as possible since it’s going to be a nitty gritty matchup, and Bielema knows that.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” Bielema said. “Obviously two teams that play a physical style of play.”

Previewing Wisconsin

I’ll repeat it again: another revenge week is upon Illinois.

Last season, Wisconsin came down to Champaign and made Illinois look silly in a 24-0 shutout loss.

“Last year was not a fun one to watch,” Walters said. “We can’t do what we did last year.”

Wisconsin is coming off a 52-21 blowout loss to Ohio State, and the coaches know that the Badgers will be coming in with a little bit of extra steam.

“It’s sure to be a challenge,” Lunney said. “We’re going to have to piece together four full quarters of football.”

This is also the first time returning to Camp Randall Stadium for Bielema since he was at the helm in Madison.

“Not an easy place to win at,” Bielema said.

But the Illini have had road success going back to last season, and Bielema did emphasize that. Key examples were the ranked wins over Penn State and Minnesota.

“We have been able to have success at stadiums when we’ve been visitors,” Bielema said.

But a win on the road would mean you have to stop the Badgers’ main source of offense — RB Braelon Allen.

Allen was a preseason favorite for the Doak Walker Award.

“He’s a big physical runner,” Walters said. “The first guy hardly ever brings him down.”

A big reason why Allen is able to run so effectively is the massive offensive line they have.

“Wisconsin is a great opponent,” Walters said. “Big and physical up front.”

In order to beat the Badgers, you’ll have to out-rush them.

“We’re going to have to be able to run the football on Saturday,” Lunney said. “We’ll have to be sharp.”

This game is going to be very crucial in terms of the Big Ten West, too.

Both teams are already 0-1 in Big Ten play and the loser will then fall to 0-2 and a hole that would essentially take away the chances of getting to Indy in early December.

Safe to say the stakes are pretty big.

“If you’re truly a Big Ten fan, you’re going to love watching this game,” Bielema said.