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

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illini football returns home, looks to continue momentum

Junior+Wide+Receiver+Isaiah+Williams+rushes+to+the+ball+as+it+approaches+him+with+Indiana+close+behind+on+Saturday.
Angel Saldivar
Junior Wide Receiver Isaiah Williams rushes to the ball as it approaches him with Indiana close behind on Saturday.

Tumultuous, hectic and chaotic. However, your thought of wanting to describe the 2023 Illini (4-5, 2-4) football season before is probably right. Your heart will likely stop at least once a game, followed by your pulse going through the roof just minutes later. Senior quarterback John Paddock gave Illinois faithful their latest surge, executing a game-winning 85-yard drive on three plays and stealing a win on the road. 

Predicting what you will see in an Illinois football game is challenging. The backup replacing concussed sophomore quarterback Luke Altmyer and winning the game was another box checked on a crazy 2023 bingo card for the Illini. With the Indiana Hoosiers (3-6, 1-5) coming to Memorial Stadium this weekend, what box will be checked off next?

The Hoosiers are set to face the annual Dads Weekend crowd that has already sold out the basketball game on Friday night. A larger expected crowd behind the Illini will be crucial to their efforts when they attempt to win consecutive games for the first time since Oct. 29, 2022. 

Inconsistent quarterback play has been a factor in the Hoosier’s season thus far, as they began the season alternating freshmen at the position. Since Oct. 14, however, Brendan Sorsby assumed the lead role under center and refused to give it up. 

Sorsby recorded 581 yards, seven total touchdowns and just one pick on 58% completion through three games. Most important is the improved touchdown-to-turnover ratio, with a 7:1 ratio for Sorsby, compared to 6:6 in the first six games.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    A big reason for the struggling Hoosiers has also been their rushing attack. Only twice has the lead Hoosier surpassed 61 yards on the ground, which is not a recipe for success in a run-heavy, physical Big Ten West. 

    Even with all of their struggles, the Hoosiers have played well the last two weeks. After being tied with the No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions in week nine with 2:58 remaining, they defeated the Wisconsin Badgers at home last week; the same Badgers who scored 18 unanswered to defeat the Illini at Homecoming. 

    While the Illini are likely a defensive back turning his head away from sitting on a three-game win streak, they are still in the midst of their best three-game stretch of 2023. The Maryland Terrapins had only lost to the Ohio State Buckeyes when Illinois stormed into College Park and ruined their Homecoming. Last week, the Minnesota Golden Gophers had sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West before the Illini knocked them off on the road.

    The wins show a team beginning to get back on the right track, and junior defensive tackle duo Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph Jr. have been at the center of everything. Illinois fans and head coach Bret Bielema know they were a talented pair, but recent missed time from each has made it clear just how big their impact is. 

    Newton has been utterly dominant — when he’s not on the sidelines due to targeting —, moving up to 10th in the most recent CBS Sports mock draft. When Randolph Jr. and Newton joined forces for the first time in four weeks, in the second half against the Gophers, they reigned supreme. All six drives that didn’t start in Illinois’s own territory due to an offensive turnover ended in zero points for the Gophers, evidence of the “Law Firm’s” impact.

    The team is improving offensively, but the quarterback is in question against the Hoosiers. Bielema and offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. both said to expect Altmyer to be out of concussion protocol and ready to play but noted Paddock could also receive snaps. While Altmyer threw for three touchdowns before going down against the Gophers, Paddock showed his veteran status in the comeback and may have earned some more starting reps.

    Six wins is the goal to make another bowl game, forcing the Illini to win two of their final three to close the season. Victory on Saturday would greatly increase Illinois’s chances and make them a whole lot more comfortable in the final stretch.

    Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The game can be viewed on the Big Ten Network. 

     

    @benfader7

    [email protected] 

    More to Discover
    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!
    Angel Saldivar, Assistant Photo Editor
    ILLordle: Play now