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Illinois v Purdue
Is Bielema outstanding in his field, or just out standing in a field?
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

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Hope or Nope: Why Illinois needs to beat Nebraska

The answer is not as simple as the question.

Happy Thursday, Illinois fans!

It’s hard to believe that Week 6 is already upon us, but here we are.

So far in 2023, the Illinois football team and HBC Bret Bielema haven’t brought much success to the field. Fleeting moments have occurred, but sustained success has seemed to be a somewhat slippery slope in the first five weeks.

Despite a heroic start to new QB Luke Altmyer’s sophomore season after transferring from Ole Miss, turnovers and lack of play-making all-around have occupied the vast majority of the overall offensive execution, or lack thereof.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Illinois at Purdue
Altmyer has all the physical tools to be a great college QB. Play calling and game planning has been suspect, at best. This week will tell us a lot about Altmyer’s progress and resolve.
Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Perhaps the biggest limiting factor for the lack of success on offense is the inability of the five linemen to seemingly block anyone with regularity. Or hell, even intermittently.

Purdue’s front seven spent so much time in the backfield in West Lafayette that I heard Chancellor Jones and AD Josh Whitman had a Microsoft Teams call to see if they could get room and board checks from all of their families.

Illinois v Purdue
I’m posting this merely so I can make the point how cool Ryan Walters is.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Whitman has been in Indianapolis for NCAA meetings this week.

That would be an additional $80,360 in revenue from this game alone! Imagine how much money the offensive line could potentially raise for the university if this strategy extended in both directions past and present, in perpetuity.

That’s a lot of scratch.

The current Illinois football team has so many problems, that it’s difficult to decide where to start. I’ll keep it simple.

We can joke all we want, but the facts of the matter are simple. See below.

Illinois v Purdue
STILL WAITING ON the first touchdown from Isaiah Williams, He reminds of St. Louis Rams running back Stephen Jackson. Great offensive player in a terrible scheme that limits his production.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images
  • The offense has not been good. 12th in scoring in the B1G
  • The defense has not been good. 14th in PPG in the B1G.
  • The coaches have not been good. See above.
  • The team has not been smart. Last in the B1G at 72 penalty YPG.
  • The team has not been tough. 17 first downs given to the opponent via penalty.
  • The team has not been dependable. 13th in first down conversions (32.2), 13th in opponents first down conversions (48.7%). You guessed it, only Iowa is worse offensively on 3rd down.
  • Isaiah Williams has zero touchdowns. This is not his fault, whatsoever. See bullet point #3.

This bulleted list reads like a program in Year 1 of a new head coaching regime. I haven’t taken the time to look it up, because I don’t want to spend hundreds of hours on research.

I would guess Illinois was better in most categories five games into Year 1 than they are in Year 3. It’s concerning at best, and prescriptive at worst.

Given the trends so far this year, it would be a difficult prediction to say Illinois will win any game. They SHOULD beat Nebraska, but they have not beaten a Power 5 team yet in 2023.

Michigan v Nebraska
Huskers coach Matt Rhule is in Year 1 at Nebraska, following the debacle of Scott Frost’s ineptitude. I’m sure Nebraska is looking at this as an opportunity to win a B1G West game.
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Nebraska hasn’t been much better, if at all, than Illinois in 2023.

The Huskers are ranked in the bottom quartile of nearly every statistical measure on offense. Rhule has already switched QBs, most thought it should have been even sooner than he did it.

The Cornhusker defense has been prettay, prettay, prettay...good. Especially against average offenses.

Nebraska is #3 in the conference in sacks (14). They can get after the opposing QB. Not a favorable combo for this game, given the recent and overall trends of the Illinois offensive line.

Nebraska is #6 overall in defense, and they had to face Colorado early in the season. Nebraska has done arguably the best overall job stopping Coach Prime and his juggernaut offense. Shadeur Sanders nearly had 400 yards.

The Buffaloes had 454 yards (season average of 440.0) and scored 36 points (season average of 34.2). Not too bad for Nebraska’s defense.

To show how different life in the Pac-12 is vs. life in the Big Ten West, Colorado is ranked No. 6 in scoring at 34.2 in the Pac-12 and No. 3 in passing at 356.8 YPG.

Illinois does not have Shadeur Sanders. Or Deion Sanders. Or Travis Hunter.

USC v Colorado
He ain’t hard to find here. I included a huge picture of Coach Prime for easy access.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The Big Ten West leaders in Wisconsin average 33.3 PPG, The leading passing offense is Purdue at 248.8 each game. Illinois is right behind Purdue at 242.6 YPG.


Week 5 vs. Michigan is totally different animal, much like Colorado. The Nebraska defense gave up 436 yards (average of 411.4) and 45 points (average of 34.4), in an embarrassing loss of 45-7.

That’s at least admirable against those two offenses.

Here’s the yards and points given up to the other Nebraska opponents:

  • Week 1 @ Minnesota: 251 yards and 13 points, late collapse loss in 13-10 loss
  • Week 3 vs. Northern Illinois: 149 yards and 11 points, easy 35-11 win
  • Week 4 vs. LA Tech: 338 yards and 14 points, easy 28-14 win
  • Average of these three games: 12.6 PPG
  • Average of these three games: 246 YPG

I don’t see an obvious pathway to points for the Illinois offense on Friday night. Some of it will be Nebrasksa’s ability to get after the QB.

Most of it will be the continuation of recent historical trends under Barry Lunney, Jr., and past experience with Illinois the last decade.

We haven’t even really mentioned the HBC in Bret Bielema much in this column. Let’s do that now.

Illinois v Purdue
Bielema daps up freshman running back Aiden Laughery. Bielema likes his freshman backs, including Kaden Feagen and the injured Jodan Anderson. Help is on the way, but who will block for this trio in the years to come?
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Bielema, Lunney and DC Aaron Henry have all said the right things this week in their press conferences. They have all spoken about accountability for the players, but more importantly, accountability for themselves.

This is a sign that Bielema’s culture is strong and that the staff AT LEAST recognizes that they have objectively not been good enough.

They can get better, and so can the play on the field.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Illinois at Purdue
Bielema and Walt exchange pleasantries after Purdue embarrases Illinois in Week 5.
Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To wrap this bad boy up, Bielema and Illinois have to win this game. It’s a must win. Not for the Big Ten West. Not for a bowl game. Not for alumni.

Illinois football must win this game because Bielema is in Year 3 and Rhule is in Year 1.

It’s as simple as that.

If Bielema is going to be successful winning long-term, he cannot let Year 3 be just another “we’re getting better” year. He needs to make chicken salad of...well, you know what.

Please take my scientific poll.


How will Illinois do against Nebraska?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Tight win.
    (59 votes)
  • 5%
    Easy win.
    (18 votes)
  • 47%
    Tight Loss.
    (161 votes)
  • 22%
    Blowout loss.
    (78 votes)
  • 7%
    Just win, baby!
    (24 votes)
340 votes total Vote Now

This is 2-3. This is the Big Ten West. This is Year 3.

This is Illinois football.