Bailey likely to get more playing time

By Sean Neumann

Aaron Bailey might be seeing a lot more game time.

When asked if the sophomore quarterback was ready to start a game this season, Illinois head coach Tim Beckman provided one word: “Sure.”

Not exactly a confidence booster, but not denial either. 

Bailey came in to play during the fourth quarter of Illinois’ 38-28 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday, rushing for 75 yards and a touchdown.

But Bailey wasn’t as lucky through the air, tossing up an interception in the endzone late in the fourth quarter.

“A lot of our run stats will come from Aaron Bailey running,” Beckman said. “This is Big Ten football. We have to be able to run.”

The Illini coaching staff said there’s the option for the team to run a two-quarterback system in the next few games, using both Bailey and senior Reilly O’Toole.

O’Toole started the Wisconsin game and threw for two touchdowns on 125 individual yards of total offense.

“I know it’s the quarterback position, but we’re always going to compete at every position that we have,” Beckman said.

Despite the concern over Bailey’s passing game, the sophomore said he’s confident.

“I feel very comfortable passing,” Bailey said. “That’s going to make it difficult for the defense.”

Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit expressed the same confidence in Bailey’s arm before Saturday’s game and said he could surprise Big Ten defenses.

Cubit said he was proud of the way the Illini quarterbacks played in the loss, combining for 239 of Illinois’ 288 offensive yards.

Bye week coming at a good time

The Illini were looking to take positives from Bailey’s fourth quarter performance but didn’t forget about the final score.

“A loss is a loss,” Cubit said. “And I hate losing. In the locker room, the kids are upset and we’re upset.”

Illinois has now lost three straight games and 24 of its last 25 conference games.

The Illini defense allowed Wisconsin 401 yards on the ground Saturday, while running backs Melvin Gordon (175 rushing yards) and Corey Clement (164 rushing yards) each had stellar days on the ground.

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks said the bye week will be positive for the Illini players, who can focus on studying or go home to see their families rather than heading back into another week of game preparation.

“It’s probably coming at a good time,” Banks said.

Illinois has lost four of its last five and the defense has struggled, still ranking last in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing an average of 271.1 yards per game. 

Illinois also ranks last in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing 484.6 yards per game.

The Illini coaching staff will continue recruiting this weekend, according to Banks — who isn’t worried about having a hard time selling the struggling team.

“You go out and try to find a few good men to help this program,” Banks said. “Illinois is still a great university and has great academics. There’s a lot of young men who want to be a part of that.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @neumannthehuman.