After going 8-4 and fielding one of the better defenses in college football last year, Illinois has had to swallow a tough dose of reality in 2023. The Fighting Illini sit at 5-6 with a 3-5 conference mark, and Bret Bielema’s team has varied greatly on a week-to-week basis. Following a narrow loss to No. 16 Iowa, learn more about the team Northwestern faces to end every regular season from Adam Rosen, The Daily Illini’s assistant sports editor.
INU: Illinois was expected to regress slightly following so much talent departing, but not to this degree. What would you attribute as to why things have gone south for Bret Bielema in Year Three?
Adam Rosen: I think the offense has been troublesome due to many factors, inexperience and new faces on the line. The defense is struggling mightily because of inexperience in the secondary and learning a new defense.
INU: Who’s starting at quarterback Saturday, versus who you think it should be?
AR: It is Paddock, confirmed, but I believe it should be Altmyer. I believe he has more physical ability to move around and I think he’s more dangerous.
INU: In Aaron Henry’s first year as DC, the Illini defense has taken multiple major steps back. What have been the major areas of weakness?
AR: Discipline has been problematic. Look no further than the Indiana game: 14 penalties, and just an inexperienced secondary.
INU: Isaiah Williams has been on a tear as of late. What sparked his late surge, and what makes him stand out as a receiver?
AR: He’s not only a great player, but a great leader. He’s so vocal. He talked at Media Day in July about being in that leadership position and using it to speak to his teammates and promote healthy relationships and better play. He’s an incredible player but better man. And his teammates trust him. He’s elusive.
INU: How important is keeping the HAT to Illini players/making bowl eligibility in such a wayward season?
AR: Has to be important. In a year of ugliness, making a bowl can right some of the wrongs, even if it covers up a lot of weaknesses. It means a lot to fans and players. Nonetheless, Bielema has been by far the best Illini coach in a long time.
INU: Who wins, and by what score?
AR: Illinois is hungrier, and it’ll win by three. 21-18 Illini.