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‘Faith is strong’: Bielema confident despite Illinois’ 0-3 Big Ten start

The Illini are looking to be the last Big Ten West team to secure a conference win.

TCR // Brad Repplinger

Now 0-3 in conference play, the Illini see themselves sitting in dead last in the Big Ten West as the only team without a win against a conference opponent. Friday’s loss put Illinois at 2-3 overall.

“There were enough negatives that caused us to lose that game,” said head coach Bret Bielema. “A game that I think things could’ve bounced our way a little bit.”

Despite the second consecutive loss, Bielema is still taking away some positives from the loss to Nebraska.

“I thought we did make strides,” Bielema said. “We dramatically reduced the number of penalties, we’ve really made a conscientious effort to eliminate things that have caused us to have failure and that was a big one.”

With the offense only putting up seven points at home against the Cornhuskers, the defense saw a lot of time on the field. Bielema was proud of the effort on the defensive side of the ball because of how often they had to be out there.

“I think also defensively to have our guys go out there so many times in a row, I think it was five different series where they were given the ball,” Bielema said. “They just kept going out there and sawing wood and taking care of business so hopefully that’s a sign of more good things to come in that regard.”

He explained that he knows they’ve worked really hard to get to where they’re at now at this point of the season.

On the other side of the ball, the offense has left a lot to be desired. QB Luke Altmyer currently has the second most INTs in all of college football with eight and the Illini only put up 21 rushing yards.

“Obviously the one interception is totally unacceptable,” Bielema said. “But [Altmyer] had been pretty good in making better decisions since the Penn State game in that regard.”

Even after a late first half touchdown to cut the deficit to 10, Illinois couldn’t get any momentum going. Nebraska had nearly 15 more minutes of possession, allowing them to control the flow of the game.

“I think we had six three-and-outs and it was hard to find some rhythm,” Bielema said. “Where we’re at right now, we’ve just got to continue to try and find new ways to move the ball and score points.”

With Illinois having lingering injuries looming over the team, the depth of the offensive line has been a huge concern. On top of that, RB Reggie Love III is trending towards not playing this week.

“To have six games behind us, it’s important for our guys to stay fresh and be ready to play,” Bielema said. “We’ve got this (Maryland) and the obviously the Wisconsin game before we get a bye week so this is the longest stretch of the season for our guys physically.”

At this time last season, the Illini were fresh off their first win over Iowa since 2008 and were sitting atop the Big Ten West with a 5-1 record. Although things have turned sour quickly, Illinois is staying optimistic in order to have a strong second half of the 2023 campaign.

“The faith in our guys is pretty strong and I don’t see that wavering,” Bielema said.

Illinois is heading on the road to Maryland this weekend to take on the Terrapins in College Park. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday.