Illinois football hosts Wyoming in Week 0 matchup, hopes to start 2022 season on high note

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Sydney Laput

Illinois football head coach Bret Bielema walks on the field before the kickoff against Wyoming on Saturday.

By Jonathan Alday, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois will open their season at home on Aug. 27 with a Week 0 matchup against Wyoming at 3 p.m.

Illinois has never faced Wyoming in its 132-year history and will aim to start the 2022 season with a win after finishing the 2021 season on a positive note, with a 47-14 win over in-state rival Northwestern on Senior Day. The season fell short by a single win to earn bowl eligibility, leaving in question what heights Illinois could reach in year two of Bret Bielema.

Meanwhile, Wyoming has seen consistent success under head coach Craig Bohl, who has taken his team to a bowl game in four of his eight seasons in charge, winning three of them. 

“We have a very difficult assignment to get to on Saturday,” Bielema said. “He plays really good football … Coach Bohl has been a very successful coach in every step of his career.”

Wyoming, although coming off a winning season, will travel to Champaign, Ill. with many question marks, mostly at the quarterback position. The presumed starter, Andrew Peasley, who joined the Cowboys this year from Utah State, has only played in 19 games, gaining 1,345 yards of total offense in four years. Despite this, defensive coordinator Ryan Walters sees much more than the numbers. He’s preparing for Peasley’s athleticism, which often allowed him to extend plays.

The Illini will have question marks of their own in Week 0 after resetting the offense with new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. The expectation is that the offense will have more life than last year, when it ranked in the lower half of FBS teams in offensive production, gaining 329.8 yards per game. Fifth-year senior transfer Tommy DeVito was also named the starting quarterback on Thursday, giving a new face to the offense, providing new optimism for a player who shone when healthy.

“(DeVito) has had an incredible fall camp,” Bielema said. “He’s made a big jump from last spring…his composure in the pocket, learning how we play the game.”

Another aspect to keep an eye on is the efficiency of the front seven on defense. After losing multiple players to the draft, Walters has to find the right players to fill the gaps. While Walters has plenty of players to choose from, it is yet to be determined whether the changes will cause the defensive pressure to regress.

“I like the core group of guys we got,” Walters said. “Guys are playing fast, communicating and executing at a high level … That’s what we’re looking for.”

Despite the predictions, analysis and speculations, it’ll be hard to truly know what the team and the atmosphere it encourages will be. Will it be met with a roar of fans excited for the new and improved offense, or just the sound of the wind? Only after the national anthem plays at Memorial Stadium on Saturday and the first ball of Illinois’ 2022 season comes off the tee will we know what is to come for the next year.

“I’ve been in this stadium on the other sideline when it’s roaring full-go, so I know how great it can be,” Bielema said. “If we can get to a point where we can fill Memorial Stadium because of the product we put on the field, we’ll be in a great spot.”

 

@JonathanAlday7

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