Quick picks: DI sports staff predicts Illinois’ week 2 matchup with Virginia


Ryan Ash

Defensive back Tony Adams tackles his UTSA opponent during their game at Memorial Stadium Sept. 4. The DI sports staff predicts Illinois’ week 2 matchup with Virginia.

By The Daily Illini Sports Staff

After defeating Nebraska in the first game of the Bret Bielema era, Illinois was the victim of an upset to the University of Texas at San Antonio at Memorial Stadium last Saturday night.

Looking to end their one-game skid on the road in Charlottesville, the Illini hope QB1 Brandon Peters returns after missing last week with a shoulder injury, though Art Sitkowski is the expected starter.

The Daily Illini sports staff made their picks for Illinois’ first road game of the year: a showdown with the Virginia Cavaliers.

Jackson Janes: Virginia 31, Illinois 13

After looking second-best for all 60 minutes against the Roadrunners last week, Illinois doesn’t have much momentum in its corner, which will be an issue against a Cavalier team that doesn’t lose much at home.

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Brandon Peters’ status remains unknown, and Art Sitkowski has shown that he can be a solid backup. But despite throwing for 266 yards and three touchdowns last week, Sitkowski was a bit careless with his throws at times, as the UTSA defense had at least two or three dropped interceptions. Getting Peters back would be huge, but it looks like Sitkowski will be getting the starting nod. Regardless of who the Illini have under center, I still think quarterback Brennan Armstrong and the Cavaliers are gonna win pretty handily.

Chase Brown and Chase Hayden will be healthy this week, and their presences were really missed last week, with the leading Illinois rusher going for only 39 yards. This first road game of the Bielema era will be a tough test, and I think the Cavaliers are simply deeper and more talented than this current Illini squad.


Wes Hollenberg: Virginia 34, Illinois 20

The Illini provided an underwhelming performance last week in their loss to UTSA, and Virginia has been a juggernaut at home for years. Illinois has additional concerns with Calvin Hart Jr. out for the season and an uncertain quarterback situation. Virginia’s biggest weakness is its pass defense, so strong play from whoever starts at quarterback will be essential for the Illini to have a chance.

This is Bielema’s first road game with Illinois, and it happens to be against a strong opponent. Without much momentum, I’ll need to see him prove he can win in these situations before I’ll believe it.


Will Payne: Virginia 31, Illinois 25

The first away game of the season for Bret Bielema’s Illini will be against the Virginia Cavaliers. 

Illinois will look to bounce back after a disappointing loss at Memorial Stadium last week against UTSA. Artur Sitkowski will get the start again at quarterback for the Illini, as Brandon Peters will continue to sit on the bench due to the shoulder injury he suffered in Week 0 against Nebraska. 

Virginia is hot coming off its 43-0 win in their opening match against William & Mary. The Cavaliers are facing a much stronger opponent in Illinois, and I expect Isaiah Williams and Mike Epstein will cause problems all game.

Behind quarterback Brennan Armstrong and a strong offensive line, the Cavaliers boast a solid offense which will surely cause the Illini issues all game. On defense, Virginia struggled in their opening match, allowing 6.62 yards per play.

There’s no doubt this game will be a shootout, but I think Illinois will come out on the wrong side of this one.


Josh Pietsch: Virginia 38, Illinois 23

After last week’s poor defensive performance, I don’t think this one’s gonna be that close. Keith Randolph will also be out for at least a week, which hurts what has been a stronger part of the Illini defense thus far. 

Quarterback Armstrong looked efficient in his first game of the season for the Cavaliers, which really worries me for the Illinois secondary, who struggled a ton last week in the passing game against UTSA. Virginia also has a variety of receivers that can make big plays.

Offensively, it’ll be Sitkowski starting at QB for Illinois for the second straight week, as Peters is a game-time decision to even dress. Brown is finally back at running back, but Mike Epstein is now sidelined with an injury. Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall gets his teams ready for big games, and I think the Cavaliers will be prepared enough to handle the Illini come Saturday.


Carson Gourdie: Virginia 38, Illinois 24

Saturday’s loss to the Roadrunners definitely stole some excitement away from this season. However, the loss doesn’t derail the program — and neither will another loss to Virginia. 

The Cavaliers are a rapidly improving program under the former BYU coach Mendenhall, as they would’ve been in another bowl last season if not for COVID-19. The Cavaliers return a lot of talent this season, too, totaling over 19 players who started in multiple games. 

But the key for Illinois to compete will be determined by its secondary. Illinois was gashed through the air last weekend, and Virginia quarterback Armstrong has the talent to replicate that. While he can be prone to turning over the ball, Armstrong has the ability to put up points, as Virginia averaged 43 points per game in their 4-0 stretch late last season. 

I do believe Illinois will put up some points and play respectable ball. I’ve loved Isaiah Williams successful transition to wide out, and I enjoy the emphasis on getting the tight ends involved. However, that defense will take years to rebuild. 




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