Column | Brandon Peters isn’t in Illinois’ best interest

Quarterback+Brandon+Peters+goes+to+shake+the+hand+of+Coach+Bret+Bielema+before+their+game+against+Maryland+Sept.17.+Brandon+Peters+past+game+performance+is+giving+the+team+a+questionable+look+into+how+the+rest+of+the+season+will+go.

Cameron Krasucki

Quarterback Brandon Peters goes to shake the hand of Coach Bret Bielema before their game against Maryland Sept.17. Brandon Peters past game performance is giving the team a questionable look into how the rest of the season will go.

By Carson Gourdie, Staff Writer

Sept.So, Illinois decided to punt on 4th and 1. That was a questionable call, but that’s not the point of this column. When Illinois gave the ball back to Maryland, I understood Bret Bielema’s idea. The defense was performing very well, and even if that unit did allow a touchdown, the Illini would have more than enough time to get senior kicker James McCourt into field goal range. But did anyone really have confidence that quarterback Brandon Peters could lead us to victory?

This column isn’t a hit piece on Peters. He seems like a fine young man that has given over two seasons to helping the Illini try to win. However, Peters is clearly not the future of Bielema’s program, and the decision to start him is taking away valuable time from others. 

Friday’s game against the Terrapins was incredibly winnable and securing a victory could’ve given Illinois serious momentum. Despite losing back-to-back nonconference games, the Illini would’ve sat 2-0 in conference play. 

But even though the defense played way above expectations, the offense sputtered, especially its quarterback play. Remember, six of Illinois’ points came from a recovered fumble returned 30 yards for a touchdown. The Illini were held to three points at halftime. When Illinois stripped Maryland of the ball, setting up the offense in the red zone, Peters immediately threw an interception. 

Illinois is a veteran team, and Bielema’s idea of bringing back all of these super seniors was to jumpstart the rebuild. In his view, he thought Lovie Smith’s players could squeeze out six wins this year, which would look positive in the eyes of recruits and the college football world. After the Nebraska game, Bielema was praised, and it appeared the plan could work. But what’s the point of playing the veterans if the Illini go 3-9 or 4-8? Wouldn’t it be better to play fresh faces even if that only results in a 2-10 record? 

We know who Peters is. Aside from an amazing comeback performance at Michigan State in 2019, he’s struggled to carry the team without the help of a running game. His best game at Illinois was last season against Nebraska, but the Illini also ran for 287 yards.

The argument is that Peters gives Illinois the best chance to win, but I respectfully disagree. I know all of the intangibles and physical traits Peters has, but the fact remains that the offense has performed better under Isaiah Williams and even Art Sitkowski, who led the team to victory over Nebraska.

In a perfect world, I would start Williams as quarterback. However, I understand Bielema doesn’t want that style of quarterback play, and I understand that Williams has been playing great at the slot. But what about Sitkowski?

I know Bielema probably doesn’t envision him leading the program to a Rose Bowl any time soon and that Bielema is probably eyeing a quarterback from the portal this season. But Sitkowski fits his style of play, and he’s only a sophomore, not a sixth-year senior.

Let’s say Bielema plays the Rutgers transfer for the rest of the season. He will be able to develop chemistry with his pass catchers and get more comfortable with offensive coordinator Tony Petersen’s offense. By next training camp, he will be more equipped to battle for the top spot. 

Peters won’t be gaining an extra year. This is it. The Illini have eight games left, and Peters will depart the program. I thought he was done last season after being benched during the Iowa game. But Bielema entered the picture, and he thought Peters fit his system better than Williams. 

The odds Illinois makes a bowl game are incredibly slim. They need to beat Purdue, Charlotte, Rutgers, Minnesota and Northwestern to earn eligibility. Do we really think Peters, who has only five 200-yard passing games since arriving in Champaign, can lead Illinois to a bowl? I know Bielema said it’s not fair to bench Peters after his first game. But Peters isn’t a rising sophomore talent. He’s an old Michigan transfer that will be gone in eight games. I’m not saying Sitkowski is the future, but at least there’s a chance. 

Bielema will be given all the time he needs to build a winner. I seriously doubt Josh Whitman, director of athletics, would’ve judged Bielema harshly if they went 2-10 with fresh faces. But currently, Bielema is wasting his time during his rebuild with players that will be gone next season. Bielema will have to start all over again when he loses his 20-plus super seniors. He might as well get a head start and allow the future to get the playing time.

 

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