Nov 27, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Brandon Peters (18) passes  the ball during the first half against the Northwestern Wildcats  at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois crushes in-state rival Northwestern, 47-14

Isaiah Williams racked up 134 yards from scrimmage, a receiving touchdown and a rushing touchdown, and Illinois cruised to a 47-14 win over visiting Northwestern in a Big Ten matchup Saturday afternoon in Champaign, Ill.

Brandon Peters completed 14 of 23 passes for 242 yards, one touchdown and one interception for Illinois (5-7, 4-5 Big Ten). Chase Brown had 14 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown as the Fighting Illini beat their in-state rival for the first time since 2014.

Evan Hull had 101 rushing yards and a touchdown to lead Northwestern (3-9, 1-8). Ryan Hilinski completed 12 of 23 passes for 123 yards and an interception.

Illinois sprinted to a 37-7 lead at the half.

The Fighting Illini opened the scoring on an 8-yard rushing touchdown by Daniel Barker with 8:26 to go.

Less than three minutes later, Illinois struck again. Peters connected on a 39-yard touchdown pass with Williams, a former signal-caller who switched to wide receiver during the preseason.

Brown punched in a 1-yard rushing touchdown to make it 21-0 with 12:50 left in the second quarter.

Williams scored on another big play — this time a 21-yard run — to increase Illinois’ lead to 28-0 with 11:22 to go in the half. It was his second rushing touchdown of the season to go along with four receiving touchdowns.

Northwestern snapped the shutout to pull within 28-7 with 6:58 to go before halftime. The Wildcats had the ball at the Illinois 1-yard line when Hilinski tucked the ball and pushed across the goal line.

The Fighting Illini finished the half on a trio of field goals by James McCourt from 28, 37 and 25 yards.

McCourt added a 49-yard field goal to make it 40-7 with 8:22 remaining in the third quarter.

Backup Illinois running back Josh McCray took advantage of his fourth quarter playing time with a 6-yard rushing touchdown with 7:59 left in the fourth quarter. That pushed Illinois’ lead to 47-7.

Hull capped the scoring for Northwestern with a 1-yard run with 24 seconds to go.

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats running back Andrew Clair (11) reacts after scoring a touchdown in the second half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

‘Like our bowl game’: Northwestern seeks 7th straight win vs. Illinois

Northwestern will try to maintain its recent dominance over host Illinois when the two teams meet in their Big Ten season finale Saturday afternoon in Champaign, Ill.

The in-state rivals will compete for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which is awarded annually to the winner of the game. Northwestern has brought home the trophy every year since 2015 and is looking for its seventh consecutive triumph.

Another victory would provide a positive ending to a sour season for Northwestern (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten), which has lost five games in a row. The Wildcats are coming off a 32-14 loss against Purdue.

“A rival is a rival,” Wildcats running back Andrew Clair said when asked about the upcoming game against Illinois. “You have to approach that game differently no matter where you are (in the standings) or how you’re playing. This is like our bowl game.”

Meanwhile, Illinois (4-7, 3-5) is looking to bounce back from a 33-23 loss against Iowa last week. The Fighting Illini expect to welcome back coach Bret Bielema, who was forced to miss the Iowa game because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Bielema says he feels fine.

He described the Northwestern rivalry as “a game of respect” as he prepares to experience it for the first time on the Illinois sideline.

“Offensively, the No. 1 thing is consistency,” Bielema said. “That’s our job as coaches: to hold them to that standard.”

With a win this weekend, Illinois could earn a bowl berth with a 5-7 record. That depends on whether 82 other teams get to six victories — and, if not, whether Illinois would be one of the five-win teams to earn a bowl invite.

Northwestern hopes to spoil any kind of bowl scenario for the Fighting Illini.

“This is rivalry week, so nothing else matters,” Wildcats defensive back Coco Azema said. “The season might not have gone the way we wanted, but it’s rivalry week, so we have to beat Illinois.”

–Field Level Media

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras (7) tosses a ball to teammate Alex Padilla (8) as they warm up before a NCAA Big Ten Conference football game against Minnesota, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

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Illinois takes rolling road show to No. 17 Iowa

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz continues to remind the Hawkeyes that experience wins in the Big Ten, and not many teams in the nation had more super seniors return than Illinois.

From Ferentz’s seat, that experience is starting to show up where it counts: road game results.

“Two out of the three weeks, they’ve been on the road and beaten good teams in their stadiums playing good football,” Ferentz said. “Doing a really good job running the football. It’s clear they want to do that. It’s a point of emphasis. I think they’ve got a really good offensive line and good backs. They’re doing a good job there.”

Ferentz and No. 17 Iowa (8-2) entertain Illinois (4-6, 3-4 Big Ten) in Iowa City on Saturday, but Fighting Illini coach Bret Bielema will be on the couch. He tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday despite being vaccinated and receiving a booster shot.

Iowa sits at 5-2 in the Big Ten and plays at Nebraska next week, when the potential to end the season on a four-game winning streak could also put the Hawkeyes in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Iowa can still win the Big Ten West Division, but needs some help; Wisconsin owns the tiebreaker if both teams win out.

Ferentz didn’t identify his starting quarterback at midweek but said Spencer Petras could be back to make his 18th career start. Alex Padilla made his first career start against Minnesota last week.

Recently the Hawkeyes have owned this series. They’ve won seven in a row against Illinois and the last loss at Kinnick Stadium to the Fighting Illini came in 1999.

Illinois hits the road again, this time with George McDonald acting as head coach, with one goal still attainable — six wins and bowl eligibility. This is the third road game against a ranked opponent in four weeks for Illinois.

“If all stays on the current path,” Bielema said in a statement issued through the school on Tuesday, “I should be available and present for next week.”

Illinois knocked off Penn State and Minnesota. The most dramatic improvement statistically under Bielema has been defensively. Last season, Illinois gave up 34.9 points on average in Big Ten games and ranked dead last in the league in that category. They’re at 17.6 points per game vs. Big Ten foes this season.

But Illinois isn’t entirely unfamiliar to Iowa. Ferentz and Bielema have known each other for decades.

“Very sorry to hear the news about Coach Bielema. And he’s – certainly not a good thing. You don’t want to wish that on anybody. I wish Bret the best for a speedy recovery,” Ferentz said. “Probably just continues to serve as a reminder for all of us that this thing is not over yet. I think all of us have to be mindful and as diligent as we possibly can because it hasn’t gone away.”

The dominant trait for Bielema’s team is the running game again, with Chase Brown posting 145-plus rushing yards in the two big conference road victories. Brown is 13th in the nation and second in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (106.4).

“Bottom line they’re a tough Big Ten football team,” Ferentz said. “I think we’re looking at another one of those Big Ten contests in November. It’s going to go right to the wire.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers Derik LeCaptain (35) runs for a touchdown in the second half against the Northwestern Wildcatsat Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Streaking Minnesota battles RB injuries ahead of Illinois tilt

A steady stream of injuries to the program’s running back corps has prompted Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck to diversify his lineup, inserting players from other position groups into the offensive backfield.

While he wouldn’t name names, Fleck said to expect more of the same shuffling as the Golden Gophers aim to remain atop the Big Ten West when they host conference rival Illinois on Saturday. He also lauded the resiliency of Minnesota (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten), which enters on a four-game winning streak.

“I’m proud of our guys for developing on Sundays,” Fleck said. “It’s a lot of work that we do with them to get them ready for that because they’re all playing different positions, as well.”

Fleck confirmed Monday that Bryce Williams suffered a season-ending injury to his lower left leg during the team’s 41-14 road rout of Northwestern on Oct. 30. That follows previous injuries to Mohamed Ibrahim (lower left leg) and Trey Potts, who was hospitalized for nearly a week with an undisclosed injury.

Freshmen Mar’Keise Irving and Ky Thomas are Minnesota’s lone healthy scholarship running backs, and both surpassed 100 yards at Northwestern. Still, the Golden Gophers have been forced to be creative in order to foster depth. The latest display: Linebacker Derik LeCaptain gained 31 yards on three carries at Northwestern, including a 24-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter.

Illinois (3-6, 2-4) hopes to limit a Golden Gophers attack that averages 222.3 rushing yards a game, second in the conference.

The Fighting Illini are coming off a frustrating, 20-14 home loss to Rutgers on the heels of a 20-18 win at then-No. 7 Penn State in nine overtimes the previous week. Illinois sputtered down the stretch after building a 14-10 halftime lead.

Quarterback Brandon Peters went 14-for-19 passing for 190 yards and two touchdowns, but Illinois mustered just 107 yards on the ground.

“Huge emphasis the last several weeks on trying to score early,” coach Bret Bielema said. “I think it’s an obstacle that we’ve been trying to work ourselves through; we just haven’t been able to overcome it.”

Illinois, which has limited opponents to 24 points or fewer in six straight games, has not won at Minnesota since 2009.

–Field Level Media

Oct 23, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Artur Sitkowski (9) runs with the ball past Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Jesse Luketa (40) during the first half at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois QB Artur Sitkowski out for rest of season

Illinois quarterback Artur Sitkowski will have surgery on his broken arm later this week and is done for the rest of the season.

Sitkowski was injured in the sixth overtime of the Illini’s stunning upset of then-No. 7 Penn State on Saturday. Illinois won 20-18 in a record ninth OT when regular starting QB Brandon Peters threw a 2-point conversion pass. Peters had been sidelined by injury and didn’t start.

Illinois coach Bret Bielema said Monday that Sitkowski also needs shoulder surgery, which will come after his arm surgery on Wednesday. Sitkowski will miss all of spring ball, but Bielema expects him back for the 2022 season.

Sitkowski started against UTSA, Virginia and the Nittany Lions in place of the injured Peters. Sitkowski was 8 of 19 passing for 38 yards and an interception against Penn State.

Sitkowski completed 50 percent of his passes in five games this season, throwing for 704 yards with six touchdowns against two interceptions.

Division II transfer Ryan Johnson is expected to back up Peters for the rest of the season.

Illinois (3-5, 2-3 Big Ten) hosts Rutgers (3-4, 0-4) on Saturday, the school from whence Sitkowski transferred after the 2020 season. Sitkowski threw for 2,031 yards in 18 games for the Scarlet Knights.

–Field Level Media

Aug 28, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback is pursued by Illinois fighting Illini linebacker Jake Hansen (35) during the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois LB Jake Hansen (knee) to miss rest of season

Senior linebacker Jake Hansen’s career at Illinois is over following knee surgery.

The NCAA’s active career leader with 12 forced fumbles made the announcement Wednesday on Twitter.

“It pains me to say that I will not play another game as an Illinois football player,” Hansen wrote, in part.

“… I will look back at my time here with no regrets and will continue to cherish every moment I enjoyed here. With that said I look forward to pursuing my life long dream of playing in the NFL!”

Hansen was injured in the second quarter of the Fighting Illini’s 24-0 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 9. He finishes the season with 32 tackles, two forced fumbles and one sack in five games.

A three-time team captain, he concluded his Illinois career with 276 tackles, eight sacks, seven fumble recoveries and three interceptions. His 12 forced fumbles are one shy of the school record held by Simeon Rice (1992-95).

–Field Level Media

Sep 17, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema looks on from the sideline against the Maryland Terrapins at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois faces Charlotte, hoping to end 4-game skid

All the euphoria from a season-opening win under a new coach seems to be a distant memory right now for Illinois.

Since then, it’s been all disappointment as the Fighting Illini try to avoid a fifth straight loss on Saturday against visiting Charlotte in the first meeting between the teams.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Illinois opened up their season — and the tenure of Bret Bielema — with an upset win at home over Nebraska in front of a national TV audience.

In the four subsequent losses for Illinois (1-4), the margin of defeat has been seven points or fewer on three occasions.

“It’s frustrating, I get it,” Bielema said. “I tell these guys we have to keep chipping away.”

Illinois managed just three field goals in the 13-9 loss to Purdue on Sept. 25, in spite of an outstanding performance by freshman running back Josh McCray, who rushed for 156 yards on 24 carries in just his fourth game.

“The part that amazes me every time is how resilient they are and the lessons they are learning,” Bielema said. “This process isn’t going to be an easy one, but it’s going to be one that’s going to be worth it.”

Illinois has averaged just 13.3 points scored in its last three games.

Charlotte (3-1) stayed perfect through three home games this season with a 42-39 win on Sept. 25 over Middle Tennessee. Quarterback Chris Reynolds accounted for five touchdowns, four of them through the air.

It was a nice bounce-back performance for the 49ers, who scored just nine points in a loss to Georgia State the week before.

“You just feel really good when this football team is playing to where we are going to find ways to win games,” Charlotte head coach Will Healy said. “I thought we responded really well when adversity hit.”

Reynolds, a senior, enters the contest having completed 60.4 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and only two interceptions in four games.

–Field Level Media

Sep 17, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Kerby Joseph (25) tackles Maryland Terrapins tight end Corey Dyches (84) in the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland rallies to beat Illinois on last-second FG

Tayon Fleet-Davis scored two touchdowns and Maryland put up 10 points in the final 2:13 to win a defensive struggle 20-17 over Illinois on Friday night in Champaign, Ill.

Fleet-Davis took a 10-yard reception into the left side of the end zone to cap an eight-play, 86-yard drive in the waning minutes, and the extra point tied the game at 17.

The Terrapins’ defense took the field and forced consecutive sacks and an intentional-grounding penalty — which not only forced Illinois to punt but gave the offense terrific field position for a game-winning drive.

Joseph Petrino hit a 32-yard field goal as time expired for Maryland (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten).

Fleet-Davis also scored a rushing touchdown and fumbled a reception in the red zone during the back-and-forth second half. Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa completed 32 of 43 passes for 350 yards and a touchdown.

Illinois had wrested control in the first minute of the fourth quarter on a wild 63-yard touchdown. Freshman running back Reggie Love III broke off a long run but had the ball stripped out. It bounced forward to wide receiver Casey Washington, who snagged it and sprinted 30 yards to the end zone to give Illinois a 17-10 lead.

In his first game back after sustaining a non-throwing shoulder injury in the first quarter of the season opener, quarterback Brandon Peters completed 10 of 26 passes for 185 yards and an interception for Illinois (1-3, 1-1). Another freshman running back, Josh McCray, led Illinois with 60 rushing yards and a TD on eight carries.

The Terrapins blocked a 26-yard field-goal attempt in the final minute of the first quarter, then opened the scoring on Petrino’s 32-yard field goal. Petrino missed wide right from the same distance on Maryland’s next possession, and Illinois responded with a 10-play, 73-yard drive to tie the score before halftime on James McCourt’s 25-yard field goal.

Maryland finally managed the game’s first touchdown drive to open the second half. Tagovailoa took a QB keeper 35 yards up the middle, helping set up Fleet-Davis’ 2-yard rushing score that gave the Terrapins a 10-3 lead.

Fleet-Davis fumbled in the red zone on the next Maryland possession, recovered by Jartavius Martin for Illinois. The Illini tied it at 10 when McCray stiff-armed and galloped his way to a 38-yard rushing touchdown.

–Field Level Media

Aug 28, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters (18) runs with the ball in the first quarter during Saturday   s game with Nebraska at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois gets Brandon Peters back, looks for ‘D’ in Maryland matchup

Illinois gets its No. 1 signal-caller back but strives to address defensive deficiencies before Maryland hits town on Friday night.

The matchup marks the Big Ten opener for Maryland.

Illinois (1-2, 1-0 Big Ten) kicked off coach Bret Bielema’s first season with a 30-22 victory over Nebraska on Aug. 28. Quarterback Brandon Peters injured his non-throwing shoulder in the first quarter of that game, but Bielema said Peters has healed and will return as the starter Friday.

“A lot of the things that we had saw (from Peters) during fall camp and even going back to last spring, through the summer, through fall camp, weren’t able to be materialized yet,” Bielema said. “He obviously has a very live arm, a lot of experience.”

Second-stringer Artur Sitkowski played well in Peters’ stead, but the Fighting Illini have struggled since beating Nebraska. They absorbed a 37-30 loss against UTSA and a 42-14 drubbing at Virginia. As a result, Illinois ranks 113th of 130 FBS teams in scoring defense (33.7 ppg).

Bielema said Virginia dominated Illinois on explosive plays, which his staff defines as runs of 12 yards or more and passes of 20 yards or more. Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong completed nine passes of at least 20 yards on his way to a stellar five-TD showing.

“We definitely have to look at how those plays happen,” Bielema said. “There were technique errors, there were mental errors, there were situations of plays that they’d given us new looks, seeing things that we hadn’t seen before, and we just (weren’t) able to identify them.”

Maryland (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten) will hit the road for the first time this season after cruising to a 62-0 victory over FCS foe Howard. Eight different players accounted for the Terrapins’ eight touchdowns Saturday, and Taulia Tagovailoa completed 22 of 27 passes for 274 yards and three scores.

The Terrapins, who also topped West Virginia 30-24 in their season opener, received 14 votes in the Associated Press poll following Week 2. But they know the schedule will only get tougher from here.

“As a team we’re excited to be 2-0,” coach Mike Locksley said. “It was great to see, with us being able to play a lot of players (vs. Howard), that the standard of playing with a high level of intensity — no matter what the score, no matter who the opponent — it was good to see that from our team.”

–Field Level Media

Aug 28, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters (18) throws a pass in the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois QB Brandon Peters named starter vs. Maryland

Illinois senior quarterback Brandon Peters, who missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, is back as the starter for the team’s upcoming game against Maryland.

Peters suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder in Illinois’ season-opener against Nebraska on Aug. 28.

Artur Sitkowski replaced Peters in that game and started the past two, both losses for the Illini.

Illinois coach Bret Bielema said Monday he talked with Sitkowski on Sunday about the decision

“It wasn’t anything he did or didn’t do well,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said Monday. “He played extremely well, especially the way he first entered the game going back to the Nebraska game. … But I told him if the roles were reversed and he were the starter and was knocked out of the game and BP came in, we’d do the exact same thing 100 times over. I think honesty’s always the best policy, and that was just being real.”

Sitkowski, a transfer from Rutgers, completed 56.9 percent of his passes, throwing for 611 yards and six touchdowns against one interception.

The Illini host the Terrapins (2-0) on Friday night.

–Field Level Media