The first few weeks of the season have not been ideal for the Illini.
Some Illini fans predicted a 1-2 start to the season. After all, Toledo, Kansas, and Penn State may be the toughest three-game stretch on the schedule.
But I’m not sure any Illini fans in the preseason predicted the way the first three games would actually go.
An exhilarating last-second win over Toledo, a blowout in Lawrence, and a sickening offensive performance vs. No. 7 Penn State have given Illini nation quite the early-season headache.
A lot of people are already giving up on the season which is to be expected from fans of a program that hasn’t had sustained success in decades.
But I’m here to give you some reasons that will make you want to stay aboard the wild ride that is Illinois football.
The schedule gets easier from here.
8-1 vs. 3-6.
That’s the combined record of the three teams Illinois has played so far compared to the combined record of the Illini’s next three opponents.
Toledo, Kansas and Penn State are all virtual locks to make bowl games, with PSU being a contender for the College Football Playoff.
Florida Atlantic, Purdue and Nebraska are all fringe-bowl teams at best.
FAU will come to Champaign on Saturday without its starting quarterback Casey Thompson. The former Nebraska QB tore his ACL last week and will miss the rest of the season.
Daniel Richardson will take the reins at QB for FAU on Saturday. He went 18-of-32 for 120 yards and one interception at Clemson last week. Richardson transferred in from Central Michigan this year after being benched midway through the season in 2022.
Following what should be a relatively easy win over FAU, the Illini travel to West Lafayette to face off against the Boilermakers.
Ryan Walters’ Purdue squad has had its fair share of problems.
A loss to Fresno State to start your season is never a good sign. Purdue bounced back and took down Virginia Tech, but then suffered a tough loss to Syracuse at home.
Walters’ defense is giving up 30 points per game so far and just got torched by Syracuse QB Garrett Shrader.
The Purdue offense is managing to put up points though, with Texas transfer Hudson Card at QB.
The Purdue game is a huge one in every sense of the word. And it’s a very winnable game.
Nebraska comes to town after the Purdue showdown.
Not much needs to be said about Nebraska. We all saw their embarrassing loss to Minnesota and we all probably witnessed Coach Prime and his Dawgs steamroll the Huskers in Boulder.
Their offense is brutal and their defense is average at best.
Maybe I'm being optimistic, but 3-0 in this stretch of games seems very doable at the moment.
The defense can get back to elite levels.
If you actually watched the Penn State game and didn't just look at the final score, you’ll know that the defense played well.
Johnny Newton looked like a top ten pick. Six tackles, one tackle for loss, two passes defended, a blocked field goal, and a ton of pressures.
Keith Randolph Jr. had eight tackles and Gabe Jacas had a sack in the game as well.
If these three can continue to play at this level, I think the defense could singlehandedly win us some of those classic low-scoring Big Ten West games.
Injuries are an issue though. DBs Matthew Bailey and Demetrius Hill are both now out for the season and the depth in the secondary isn't looking great.
We saw how the defense managed to make major adjustments a couple years back after those bad losses to UTSA and Virginia.
Why can’t they do it again?
Looking ahead, I’d personally say at least five of the nine teams we play (FAU, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Northwestern) have very beatable QBs. Even the other four teams don't have absolute studs at quarterback.
The B1G West is a defensive-oriented division and it always has been. Get the defense going and let’s win some games.
Altmyer and the offense can hopefully find their groove.
On the other side of the ball, the offense didn't look great last week. They looked horrendous actually.
Four picks from Altmyer and a fumble from Josh McCray practically gifted Penn State free points.
Backup John Paddock came in for Altmyer in the 4th and as expected, the offense still didn't look good. Shoutout Malik Elzy though.
Penn State is a great team with an elite defense. I think Altmyer may have just been too hyped up for the game. He did look alright vs Toledo and Kansas.
A “get-right” game vs FAU is exactly what Luke and the offense need.
FAU is giving up 28 points per game. The Owls have two sacks in three games.
Let Luke get the ball to his playmakers. Establish the run game with Reggie and Josh.
We’ve seen flashes of great offense in these first three weeks. Even the opening drive of the Penn State game looked phenomenal until we stalled out in PSU territory.
Put some drives together and carry some momentum into the Purdue game.
Bret is a veteran coach. He’s proven he knows how to win, especially in this conference. I’ve got faith in the program. Now, let’s win some games.