Watch: Illinois heads to Indiana for Big Ten opener
Illinois heads east for its first road game of the season as it takes on the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington, Indiana on Friday night to kick off the conference action.
The two teams will face off for the first time since 2017, and the Illini are looking to snap a three-game skid against the Hoosiers with no turning back. Josh McCraywho will miss the game after sustaining an injury in the team’s Week Zero opener.
Indiana struggled last season with injuries, but made back-to-back bowl appearances in 2019 and 2020 and has plenty of talent under head coach Tom Allen.
With kick-off imminent, here are some scenarios to watch out for.
Who will step in with McCray out through injury?
McCray firmly established himself as Illini’s second-hand man in the running game, but an injury in Illini’s season opener sidelined McCray for at least the next two weeks. One of the team’s most dynamic options on the field, McCray will leave a pretty big hole for Illinois to fill while they recover.
In the same way Chase Brownwho recorded three total touchdowns and more than 150 rushing yards on Saturday, three options emerged for Bielema and the Illini: Reggie Love III, Chase Haydenand real freshman Aidan Laughter.
Love recorded his first career touchdown against Wyoming, rushing for 46 yards on just three carries, while Hayden also looked good after going for 30 yards on seven carries.
“Chase Hayden and Reggie has probably had the best week of preparation at this stage since I’ve been here,” Bielema said. “I think knowing they’re in the rotation, knowing they’re going to be involved in the game plan has really helped their confidence.”
Laughery is set to make his Illinois debut against Indiana after missing Saturday’s opener, and it’s no secret that Bielema is a huge fan of the Gibson City native.
“He will be involved in our plans. Another freshman who has been very impressive since coming here. We got him last spring, and we love what he brings to the table, especially in the hall. ball carriers.”
How will the defense react to the Indiana quarterback’s unknowns?
For the second week in a row, the Illini will face a team that won’t name a starting quarterback until game day.
Wyoming struggled to establish a passing offense against the Illinois secondary, and the Illini held the visitors to just 30 passing yards, marking the first time since 2017 that they held an opponent within 50 passing yards. Illinois also recorded two takeouts and dominated for the majority of the afternoon.
Illini’s defense has adapted quickly to Wyoming’s quarterbacking and offensive plans, so it will be important to see how quickly they can catch a Big Ten offense in Indiana, which has also added a new offensive coordinator. and a quarterbacks coach this offseason.
Can the Illini establish an aerial offense against a talented secondary from Indiana?
The Illini were able to get catches from 12 different receivers on Saturday, but Indiana boasts an experienced secondary, which includes former First-Team All-American and All-Big Ten defensive back Tiawan Mullen.
Bielema says Indiana’s corners are among the best in the conference, and he expects a battle Friday night.
“I think the two corners for Indiana that we’re anticipating to see are probably the best pair of corners possibly in the Big Ten. Very talented, very skilled, and 23 in particular come in every phase of the kicking game. I respect the way the players play, no matter how they line up or in what manner.”