The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illini prepare for final tune-up before conference play

The+Illini+dashing+on+the+field+for+kickoff+++against+Penn+State+on+Saturday.%0AThe+Illini+will+continue+their+season+this+Saturday+against+Florida+Atlantic+Owls.
James Hoeck
The Illini dashing on the field for kickoff against Penn State on Saturday. The Illini will continue their season this Saturday against Florida Atlantic Owls.

Week four of the college football season is upon us as the Illini (1-2) prepare to face their final nonconference regular season opponent. The Florida Atlantic Owls (1-2) are visiting Champaign, Illinois, for a 2:30 p.m. CT game on Saturday.

Like the Illini, the Owls prepared a difficult slate to kick off 2023. After a 48-14-point defeat to the talented Clemson Tigers, FAU looks to get back to .500 on Saturday. The Illini have the same goal in mind, but both teams will be without key players when they take the field this weekend.

Senior quarterback Casey Thompson is the biggest name not available in this matchup. FAU will be without their quarterback for the remainder of the season after Thompson tore his meniscus and ACL against the Tigers. The veteran played for the Texas Longhorns and Nebraska Cornhuskers before transferring to the Owls for his final season of eligibility.

Thompson’s replacement, junior Daniel Richardson, also transferred this offseason from Central Michigan. Richardson struggled against the Tigers, but recent Illini injury news may benefit the new Owl quarterback. Sophomore safety Demetrius Hill and defensive back Matthew Bailey were both announced out for the season with a torn ACL and shoulder tissue damage, respectively.

The losses are both significant for the Illini, who had a deep secondary. Both safeties had starting experience from their freshman seasons and would have been relied upon to show leadership in a relatively new defensive back unit. The Illini are still solid at the position, but their depth has now been salted away, and more injuries will threaten the consistency of the defense.

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    While the secondary was hurt, the front seven had a clean injury report following their best performance yet. A slow start in week one proved to be an anomaly for a group that has been one of the best in the conference and country since 2022. Junior defensive lineman Jer’Zhan Newton continues to make Power Five offensive lines look like mid-majors and is playing the best football of his career.

    Newton and the rest of the stout Illini front seven played well enough to beat the No. 7 team in the country on Saturday, but their quarterback did not. Sophomore quarterback Luke Altmyer had his worst collegiate showing in his biggest game yet throwing for just 163 yards and four interceptions. However, the Illini remain confident in Altmyer, and the former Ole Miss Rebel will continue to start under center.

    Altmyer may have had a rough day, but the rest of the offense was solid. Offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. called a diverse game plan, mixing runs and passes to get the ball into playmakers’ hands. Thirteen different Illini caught passes on Saturday, including junior receiver Isaiah Williams leading the way with five catches for 63 yards. Freshman receiver Malik Elzy notably got in on the action with three catches for 28 yards and a touchdown grab.

    The receivers will be a big part of the game plan once again as the Illini look to get another win and, most importantly, give Altmyer confidence heading into the conference schedule. Defensively, the Illini should have little trouble shutting down the Owls in the latter of their only consecutive home game stretch of the year.

     

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    About the Contributors
    Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor
    Hello, I’m Ben! I’m a junior at Illinois and assistant sports editor at The Daily Illini. I’m majoring in journalism and minoring in communications and recreation, sport and tourism. This is my third year with The Daily Illini, and I can’t wait to produce some amazing work. Feel free to contact me at my email below with questions or concerns, or if you just want to talk sports!
    James Hoeck, Photo Editor
    Heyo! I am James Hoeck, a third-year undergraduate student in photography with a minor in media. I have been a part of Illini Media for two years, starting back in fall 2021. I hold the position of Photo Editor here at The Daily Illini. I also work as Photo Editor for Illini Media’s Illio Yearbook. There is a good chance you will see me out and about on campus taking photos for my personal work or for The DI and/or Illio! If you want to check out more of my work, visit my socials linked below.