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NCAA Football: Illinois at Maryland
HBC going all Navy at Maryland. He looks weird in a hat.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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Bielema & Co. may have turned the corner for Illinois

It’s not that simple. This is Illinois football.

Well, it finally happened, guys. Illinois football won a game of high import in 2023. After a successful season winning these types of games almost regularly, it seemed like this team was incapable of winning a game of any consequence.

Now, go back and think about that Nebraska game a few Friday nights ago. Illinois and head coach Bret Bielema should be, at minimum, 4-3 heading into this weekend’s homecoming game against hated Wisconsin.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Maryland
Altmyer throws a pass against Maryland. He’s aboutta get crushed.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

If quarterback Luke Altmyer doesn’t sail an easy TD early in the Purdue game, it is likely that would have been a tremendously different game altogether. See where I’m going here?

It looked like this team was only capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The road win at Maryland signifies two major landmarks for this team, and this coaching staff. I’ll detail them in a bit.


NCAA Football: Nebraska at Illinois
This is not a picture of his touchdown, but still a cool pic.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

This has been one of the top points of contention for me since about Week 2. Williams should be a regular in the endzone. This should not even be a thing worth mentioning. Maybe now, after 20 games with Williams on his roster, OC Barry Lunney, Jr. has been able to figure out how to use him to the highest effect.

Only time will tell.

Freshman running back Kaden Feagin was featured on the road. He’s definitely not as polished as the injured Reggie Love III, but the injury to RL3 could be a blessing in disguise.

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Illinois
He’s huge, Jerry, HUGE! Illinois may be grooming a future star at tailback.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Feagin had 19 carries for 84 yards (4.4 YPC) and a touchdown. It’s one yard off of his career-high at Purdue earlier in the season. Feagin is now averaging a respectable 5.4 YPC in his freshman campaign.

Lunney seemed to change from zone scheme to gap scheme in the run game against Maryland. Wisconsin will likely be better prepared.

Lunney has taken more heat on this site than any Illini coach since Bruce was loose in Assembly Hall. Not even John Groce endured this much bad publicity.

Lunney has a chance to change that overall narrative if he can push Illinois past 25 points and across the finish line with a victory.

Here is J Leman on Illini Inquirer with Jeremy Werner. He details the changes made by BLJ and the offensive staff for Maryland. This is GREAT stuff.

Leman details the change to a gap scheme, rather than a zone scheme for the offensive line. The difference is this: Zone scheme blocks “an area,” whereas the gap scheme allows for a different playbook in the run game.

The gap scheme features pulling guards and counters, and the plays are more slow-developing, in a sense. The extra large athlete thrives in these conditions.

If Illinois and Bielema are to pull off the minor upset this weekend, the run game is a necessity and priority, not a luxury.

Mihir Chavan with a great look at the offensive production. He has great charts and analysis.

Aaron Henry and the defense are improving. Holding Maryland to 24 points is no small feat. That will probably need to be nearly cut in half on Saturday.

Look, I know what I just said. Lunney has a chance to get past 25 points again if the run game can get going against Wisconsin. That’s a big if.

With the Wisconsin quarterback injured, I wouldn’t be surprised if Luke Fickell and the Badgers pound the hell out of the ball and run screen after screen. The Illinois defense will need to clean that area up, if they envision keeping the point total low for homecoming.

Keith Randolph did not play last week. His status for Wisconsin has not been determined.

He is obviously a tremendous difference-maker up front. Without Randolph in College Park, the Terps literally double-teamed Mr. All World Johnny Newton, even adding a running back to chip on him.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 08 Illinois at Kansas
An imposing figure, to say the least. Newton is looking to lead the Illini to another bowl and solidify his place in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft in the spring.
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Newton was largely not a statistical factor, but there’s a reason some of the Illinois defensive players had their best games of the season.

Seth Coleman had 3.0 sacks. This is case and point as to how valuable the occupation of multiple offensive players remains for Newton.

The Maryland victory is definitely a huge step for the 2023 season.

Please take my scientific poll.


How confident are you that Illinois can beat Wisconsin, after the Maryland road victory?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Guaranteed. 100%
    (5 votes)
  • 11%
    Feeling great! 80%-99%
    (25 votes)
  • 25%
    Feeling decent. 60%-79%
    (54 votes)
  • 26%
    They should win. 50%-59%
    (56 votes)
  • 33%
    Not so fast, my friend. Below 50%.
    (71 votes)
211 votes total Vote Now

This is a step in the right direction. This is a chance to get back to .500. This is the team we thought we had.

This is Illinois football.