Illinois football travels to Indiana for first Big Ten matchup, in search of second straight victory

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Sophomore offensive linebacker Seth Coleman (49) tackles a Wyoming opponent during the game on Saturday.

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

Illinois football will be traveling to Bloomington, Ind., this weekend for its first conference game of the season against a new-look Indiana team. Coming off an easy week zero win, the Illini can pick up their first all-important conference win on Friday at 7 p.m.

Indiana was almost unanimously placed in the bottom two teams in Big Ten preseason predictions for 2022, but will undoubtedly be a step up from Wyoming in terms of talent. The Hoosiers return just four starters on offense and seven on defense while also replacing both coordinators, as they ranked dead last in total offense and defense in 2021. A complete offensive reset will pose difficulty for the Illini, who will be without much film to watch, but defensive coordinator Ryan Walter faced the same challenge last week.

Without a starting quarterback named, Illinois are preparing for both junior Missouri transfer Connor Bazalek and senior Jack Tuttle. Whoever walks out onto the field on Friday under the lights will be met with a defense looking to build off of their week zero performance and improve to 2-0.

Defensively, the Hoosiers are poised to improve with the entire secondary returning and solid additions to the linebacker unit.

Seniors Taiwan Mullen, Devon Matthews, and Jaylin Williams placed on the All-Big Ten teams last year. Senior Bryant Fitzgerald also returns to bolster the defensive backfield. Star linebacker Micah McFadden is gone, but senior captain Cam Jones is ready to step up and fill the lead role.

The Hoosiers also welcome the top recruit in program history, linebacker Dasan McCullough, and senior transfer linebacker Bradley Jennings Jr. to shore up the middle of the field.

With more talent spread around the field, Indiana likely won’t play off-ball as much as Wyoming did last week, allowing Illinois to take more shots down the field in one-on-one matchups.

Junior running back Chase Brown has proven to doubters that he can continue being the lead back, but without sophomore Josh McCray who is out after injuring his right leg in the season opener, offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr.’s offense will be forced to rely on passing a little more to be successful.

Twelve different receivers caught passes on Saturday, showing the offseason development of the passing game under Lunney, although DeVito only averaged 5.2 per pass attempt.

The game plan will likely need to be more sophisticated in conference play, especially against a veteran secondary with proven players.

The Illini haven’t started 2-0 since 2019, making Friday all the more important on the path out of the rebuild.

The game will be televised on FS1, and fans in the Champaign-Urbana area can also tune in at 1400 am to listen to the game live.

Illinois will return home next Saturday, Sept. 10, and host the Virginia Cavaliers.

 

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