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

Column | What ever happened to consistency?

James Hoeck
Head Coach Bret Bielema makes his entrance at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 23. Bielema responds to the Illini’s performance thus far in the season.

After falling to the Purdue Boilermakers on the road this past weekend, serious questions surround the Illinois football program. Inconsistent offensive play, penalties and a lack of swagger leave the Illini at an underwhelming 2-3 through five weeks, but is there reason to believe they’ll turn it around?

You could say the 2023 squad has hit its floor and can only go up, but the latter isnʼt true. They could very easily stay the same, which they have done for the last four games. The biggest and most crucial thing needing to be fixed is the offense, and itʼs not just any one player.

“It takes all 11, that’s the thing,” said junior wide receiver Isaiah Williams. “At times, youʼve got everybody thatʼs doing great things. Sometimes, one group might do it (make a good play), or another group might do it, but we need all 11 to do it at one time.”

Offensive identity. No position group has separated themselves to lead the offense, nor do any look close. Sophomore quarterback Luke Altmyer gets flustered under pressure, the wide receivers drop too many passes, the o-line is miserable, and junior running back Reggie Love III is on the sideline in street clothes and a boot.

The Illini of 2022 were a pound-the-ground, physical rushing offense that didnʼt turn the ball over through the air. They were good at it, it worked and they stayed true to it every game. Now, even when something works, you never see it again due to play call changing or an inability to repeat it on the field, which cannot continue.

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    “I think we gotta have some hard conversations,” said head coach Bret Bielema. “I try to put it in their hands, but as a head coach, Iʼve got to decide what our identity is and force it that way.”

    Consistency may sound complicated for a struggling team, but the Illiniʼs first steps are actually quite simple. In fact, itʼs as simple as throwing and catching the football. In Illinoisʼ two biggest matchups against Penn State and Purdue, the Illini have missed five wide-open touchdown opportunities.

    “You canʼt have success,” a stressed Bielema said after Purdue. “I mean, we had two guys wide open. I mean, those are touchdown plays. Those are big opportunities, right? We gotta be able to connect on those things, and we gotta be able to execute.”

    Now, you may ask, what do you mean by “wide open?” Go back and watch the highlights. Because what I mean is receivers with at least 10-15 yards of separation streaking toward the end zone when the pass was either off-target or dropped. Thatʼs 35 missed points across two games on just five plays. If you hit on these “easy” plays, the games are closer, changing the game plan and confidence of the Illini, potentially leading to another win or two.

    “Bottom line is you gotta make plays in this league,” Bielema said. “As coaches, we gotta do so much better. Personally, as a head coach, being in a 16-13 halftime game and have it end that way … thatʼs obviously embarrassing.”

    Another way to develop consistency is to cut down on penalties. Thereʼs no great time to commit a penalty, but it always seems to come at the worst times for the Illini. A good gain on first down reverts right back to second and long after a false start or hold. A third and long stop is negated by a pass interference or roughing the passer. Whenever the Illini seemingly start doing something well, fans can reasonably assume a penalty is coming.

    How bad has it been? The Illini are currently ranked 110 out of 133 FBS schools in penalties, averaging 7.4 per game. Itʼs also worth noting that those are only enforced penalties, and the Illini have committed more. Unlike offensive consistency, where everyone is accountable, this lack of discipline falls directly on the coaching staff.

    The current starters are not only unprepared for big moments but unprepared to be on the field. Every coach, from Bielema to the coordinators, to the analysts, should be putting in overtime to make sure these mistakes decrease. It costs them too much to have these unforced errors continue, and the results will only change once their actions do.

    While the results arenʼt there, neither is that fun team from a year ago. In order to be a good team, you have to act like one. The days of Chase Brown hitting the Heisman in the endzone and Devon Witherspoon strutting all over the field, chirping at anyone with ears, are over.

    The emotions on this team are subdued, and the confidence levels are low all around. Itʼs time to let some rage out and get back to physical and fiery football. The fans want to see the swagger, and a more amped-up group should be able to make some more winning plays.

    So, are the Illini capable of fixing these mistakes? Probably. But they better do it soon because we are approaching the midseason point, and they are in serious jeopardy of missing a bowl game for the second time in three years under Bielema.



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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.