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‘He’s a mentally tough kid’: Illini confident in Altmyer bounce back

It’s an important week for the Illini’s QB.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no need to sugarcoat it: Luke Altmyer played extremely poorly on Saturday against Penn State.

He knows it, the coaching staff knows it, and everyone around the program knows it.

Altmyer went just 15-for-28 passing for 163 yards and four interceptions in the 30-13 loss. It was a performance that the Illini couldn’t afford, but also one that’s a part of the learning process for a young quarterback.

After a tough 3-week stretch to begin the season that saw Illinois face three opponents that currently sit a combined 8-1, the Illini may finally get some relief this week. Against Florida Atlantic, Altmyer will have the opportunity to prove that his play against the Nittany Lions was no more than an anomaly.

“Luke has to process it,” said Illinois head coach Bret Bielema. “One of the things we say all the time in our building is adversity is going to strike and you learn more from yourself in moments of adversity than you do in moments of success.”

This is the biggest adversity of Altmyer’s college career to this point. For Illinois to turn its season into the one many thought they could have, they’re going to have to rely on the signal caller they went out and targeted in the transfer portal last winter.

Bielema believes that Altmyer has the mental makeup to move past it.

“He’s a mentally tough kid,” Bielema said. “As coaches and as players, all we can do is support and improve him.”

Growing pains were to be expected for Altmyer as he adjusts to life as a Power 5 starting quarterback. After all, prior to this season in Champaign, Altmyer had just one collegiate start under his belt, a September 2022 game against Central Arkansas.

Obviously, the hope was that his inexperience wouldn’t manifest itself into a 4-interception performance against the country’s seventh-ranked team. Still, the mistakes made on Saturday each provide their own valuable lesson for Altmyer in what the Illini still believe will be a highly successful career in Champaign.

So, how are Altmyer and the coaching staff working to improve from those moments?

The key to preventing the same mistakes from happening in the future is to reflect on them and diagnose what exactly went wrong on each one. That’s a process that Illinois offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. believes has been productive.

“That’s how you approach it with [him],” Lunney said. “When most mistakes happen there’s a root cause of it and there’s a root solution. So, I think we felt good about how we corrected that in film.”

The Illini are hoping that Altmyer can maintain his confidence while also developing into a better decision-maker. In order to beat a team of Penn State’s caliber, Illinois cannot afford to beat themselves.

“When he sees something, there’s a reason why he does it,” Lunney said. “But sometimes your greatest strength can be your greatest liability and a couple times he probably solved too much and overreacted to it.”

One thing has been made clear: Illinois made a commitment to Altmyer and they’re not going to waver after one game. And neither is he.

Now, it’s all about turning the page.

“Any quarterback that has had a rough day, they know they can bounce back,” Lunney said. We’re certainly confident that he will, and I know Luke feels that way as well.