UPDATE: Bret Bielema told Sirius XM’s Big Ten Radio on Wednesday morning that Luke Altmyer has been cleared to play and is expected to start at Iowa on Saturday.
Illinois head coach Bret Bielema tells us on Sirius XM's Big Ten Radio that QB Luke Altmyer has been cleared to play and will start at Iowa Saturday.— Matt Schick (@ESPN_Schick) November 15, 2023
Illinois now finds itself right in the thick of the Big Ten West race.
The orange and blue are now tied with four other teams by currently matching Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Minnesota with a conference record of 3-4.
Jumping back to Saturday, however, the offensive was electric.
“Sunday after watching the film, especially on the offensive side of the ball, just very impressed with a lot of guys,” said coach Bret Bielema on Monday.
Senior transfer quarterback John Paddock stole the show. His 507 yards were good enough for not only an Illini overtime victory, but to have that performance be the second-most passing yards in a game in school history.
“The quarterback play for John was just awesome,” Bielema said. “Really what we saw all week during practice was what carried into the game.”
Speaking of the quarterback play, a lot is starting to buzz about who will start the next game against Iowa. With Luke Altmyer likely cleared before this weekend, nobody knows within the Illini faithful exactly who is going to go out there on Saturday.
Bielema hasn’t picked a side, but still has high praise for his senior quarterback Paddock given the situation he’s been dealt this season.
“Obviously, John has played exceptionally well,” Bielema said. “From the time he entered the game two weeks ago against Minnesota to the way he played last week.”
He also boasted about Paddock’s personality off the field.
“I saw that postgame interview where he said ‘I’m a sixth-year, walk-on quarterback, I’m just going to let it rip,’ and that’s him,” Bielema said. “I think he’s genuine everyday.”
With Altmyer still getting back up to speed and trying to pass protocol, the starting QB status remains up in the air.
In Monday’s press conference, Bielema made clear that Altmyer was in fact still hurt and did not just sit out due to poor performance on the field.
“I’ve never been a coach that has put a player in a position that they’ve lost by injury,” Bielema said.
Despite the tough decision, it appears that both choices at the head of the offense each have some of their own personal benefits.
“The good news is we’ve got two guys that we feel can play,” Bielema said.
Moving on to the defense, even though they struggled as a whole, of course Johnny Newton just keeps on dominating.
“Johnny just continued to be as impressive a player as I’ve ever witnessed in my coaching career,” Bielema said. “A really impressive player to watch in many different ways.”
With Illinois winning back to back conference matchups, they still technically have a shot to win the Big Ten West. Bowl eligibility (six wins) is also a general goal around the locker room as well, now sitting at a 5-5 record.
The players are aware of this, but Bielema wants to make sure his guys don’t get lost in the potential outcomes and still take things one step at a time.
“You make sure they understand it, but I’ve really had our guys focus the last two weeks on a daily approach,” Bielema said. “They are very aware of what could be out there, but they have to take advantage of the opportunity this week before it even matters.”
Illinois is heading on the road to Iowa this weekend to take on the Hawkeyes in Iowa City. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.