Get ready Illinois Fighting Illini fans- this game is the one that’s been circled in red marker ever since the schedule came out. It’s not just Homecoming, and a divisional contest, it’s also the Bielema Bowl, as the Illini head coach will face the program where he first established himself for the very first time.
Bret Bielema goes up against Wisconsin, the program he led to a 68-24 record (37-19 in the Big Ten) So let’s get fired up, paint our faces, put our big boy pants on (consult athleticunderwear.com for more on that) and preview the biggest game of the year in Illini land.
Illinois Fighting Illini vs Wisconsin Badgers (Homecoming) FYIs
Kickoff: 2:30 CT, Sat Oct. 9, Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Illinois
TV/Radio: BTN, Busey Bank Illini Sports Network
Spread/Total: Wisconsin -10, 42.5
Illini injury update, as of Thursday
Seth Coleman hasn't practiced all week, too, so he's likely out https://t.co/Ni7z4i8rii
— Fully Vaxxed Paul M. Banks (@PaulMBanks) October 7, 2021
Karma Police, Arrest This Man
(Or I guess we could have said, “Karma karma karma karma karma chameleon” instead).
Yes, this is will be the first time Bielema faces Wisconsin since the infamous “#karma” tweet made by his wife Jen in 2013. Jen Bielema made the tweet while Wisconsin was getting drilled by Arizona State in a 2013 non-conference game, and the national media, from all corners, absolutely hammered her for it.
Badger fans certainly haven’t forgotten about this schadenfreude incident either, as they routinely show up in her @ replies referencing this episode.
Don’t expect anything antagonistic to be posted on Jen Bielema’s social media accounts this week, before or after the game, regardless of the result.
Illinois Fighting Illini (2-4, 1-2) Preview
This team could easily be 4-2 right now, or 3-3 at least, had it not been for some very questionable 4th down decisions. But alas, they enter this one well aware that it’s a must-win in order to keep any faint bowl game hopes alive.
Illinois had been doing running back by committee, until two weeks ago, when Josh McCray had a breakout game vs. Purdue. Then Chase Brown came along and had a monster of an outing that made McCray’s elite outing in West Lafayette look mediocre by comparison.
Brown carried 26 times for 257 yards and two touchdowns in the 24-14 win over Charlotte. It’s the most yards rushing in a non-conference game ever for an Illini, surpassing Red Grange’s 1925 effort against Penn (237).
And yes, it’s even more yardage than the legendary Rocky Harvey game (215 vs Middle Tennessee, 1998) and the most by any back coached by Bielema. Yes, it’s true, none of those legendary Badger backs hit that mark while he was in charge up there in Madison.
Brown’s 4th all-time on the Illini single game list, behind only Mikel LeShoure (the one end-zone only Wrigley Field game, 330 vs Northwestern 2010), Robert Holcombe, 315 vs Minnesota in 1996 and Howard Griffith versus Northwestern, 263 in 1990.
Brown’s 257 is the third-most by an FBS player in 2021, trailing only Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson (277 vs. Tulsa on Sept. 18) and Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III (264 at Northwestern on Sept. 3).
While the Illini have really improved their defense since the disaster at Virginia, and the running game has improved by leaps and bounds, quarterback Brandon Peters is still looking pretty bad every week. There is absolutely no reason for someone with his level of experience to still be putting up statistical numbers this bad.
Can’t fathom why Bielema is sticking with him?! Granted Artur Sitkowski was absolutely terrible while he was at Rutgers, but it’s clear that he’s grown and developed since then.
Sitkowski has been at least okay, and sometimes solid for the time that he’s been under center this season.
#Illini HC Bret Bielema announced that Illinois will not be in the Grey Ghost uniforms for homecoming, mentioned his emphasis on the Orange helmet.
He said expect a uniform reveal later this week, will feature an orange helmet and did not give anything else away.
— The Schmack Guy (@Ant_Pasquale3) October 4, 2021
Also, on a side note, there will be no Gray Ghost uniforms (like there usually are for Homecoming) this week. I’m a fan of the unis, and for more on the outfit, and the Red Grange legend and lore behind it, go here.
Wisconsin Badgers 1-3 (0-2) Preview
For years, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst played a boring style of football, but wasn’t criticized much because they kept winning. Now not so much, as they’re finally having a down season. Chryst’s media/public speaking skills have been brutally awful for some time, but again, the man got results as a head coach, so there really wasn’t a point to criticizing that aspect of him, too much.
That’s all changed now, as the Badgers enter this game with a -21 point differential on the season, and off to their worst start since 1990. Granted, they are a MUCH BETTER team than record and point differential indicates.
On defense, Wisconsin is still pretty solid. They didn’t look it against Michigan, but they really are, especially against the pass. Oh, did we mention, they have the No. 1 rushing defense in the country?
The Badgers are allowing 45.2 rushing yards per game. Notre Dame had just 3 yards on 32 runs.
The Badgers will certainly stack the box vs. Illinois as Peters has not given UW any reason not too. Speaking of very poor quarterback play, the bad news for Badgers QB1 Graham Mertz is that he’s really only played very well against one team in his career thus far.
The good news is that that team is Illinois, but it’s not 100% certain he plays this week. He got knocked out good against Michigan last weekend, and he’s listed as questionable for this week.
However, he’s been practicing and we’re guessing he’ll be full go in time.
Of course, his struggles certainly highlight why there’s been critique of Chryst and his staff.
They really whiffed in their call that Mertz was a superior option to Jack coan. While Coan is, yes, not exactly having a Heisman level season at Notre Dame, he’s clearly the better of the two options, but it’s too late for that now.
It also doesn’t help that Wisconsin’s I-Formation set/scheme/system is looking increasingly outdated by the year; maybe even the week.
Making matters worse, WIS doesn’t have a signature stellar superstar tailback right now, like they traditionally always have.
Bielema Bowl Prediction: Illinois 21, Wisconsin 20
Kam’s Miracle Part II? It wouldn’t be as monumental an upset at last time (2019), but this is a cajones prediction here to say the least. Let’s just say we believe in Bielema in this one.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune.Follow paulmbanks