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Champaign Dreams

Volume 1 issue 5, November 1, 2023

Memeorial Stadium Champaign, Illinois by Don Glenn

When we last visited the Illini Football team posted a big upset win in College Park Maryland over the Terrapins.

A week later they played Wisconsin for Homecoming and a chance to even their record at 4-4 and take one more step toward bowl eligibility.

Wisconsin lost their starting QB Tanner Mordecai

ai to an injury in the loss to Iowa the week prior, which meant that Backup Braden Locke would start. He only completed 51% of his passes(21 of 41) but threw for 240 yards and two TDs. The Badgers also had stud Running Back Braelon Allen who rushed for 145 yards on 29 carries and a TD.

Luke Altmyer by Paterick Pierson via U of I Athletics

For the Illini for the second week in a row, they started true Freshman

Kaden Feagin via 247sports

Kaden Feagin had his best game gaining 97 yards on 24 carries with a TD. Luke Altmyer was an efficient 13 of 21 for only 100 yards but two TDs. He also had 16 carries for 100 yards.

Illinois took the early lead on their second possession of the game with a little one-yard pass from Altmyer to Tanner Arkin (his only catch of the game). Illinois would score again on the second possession of the second quarter on an Altmyer to Tip Reiman 3-yard pass. After a late second-quarter Wisconsin Touchdown, the score was 14-7 at the half.

The Illini would get another score in the third quarter when Feagin carried the ball from 12 yards out. That would be the end of the offense for the Illini as they could not cross midfield for the entire fourth quarter. Defensively they had trouble with the Badger offense of Locke and Allen. This led to 18 unanswered 4th quarter points.

Jer'Zan Newton by Joe Robbins, Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It also didn't help when Illini Defensive End Jer'Zahn Newton would be called for Targeting and be removed from the game. My personal opinion here while the call is technically correct is that BEFORE he made contact with Locke, Newton did lower his head BUT the replay to me showed that he did lead with his hands. So I do not think it was true targeting, but more accidental. However, the current attitude is, that anytime you lower your head whether intentional or not YOU WILL get called for targeting. The departure of Newton from the game had a severe impact on the Illini defense. Newton had eight quarterback pressures, six tackles (4 solo), one sack, one tackle for loss, and one forced fumble. Also standing out on defense was Sophomore DB Xavier Scott who had 5 tackles (1 solo) and three pass breakups.

The 25-21 loss drops Illinois to 3-5 with four games remaining. Next up is at Minnesota

There have been some encouraging things. Primarily the emergence of Feagin on offense and LB Dylan Rosiek on defense as well as the maturation of Luke Altmyer. I understand fans are upset and there is NO EXCUSE for the inconsistency. Yes, they are missing key players from last year, But there was good talent returning. Replacing both Offensive and Defensive Coordinators has contributed as well. But as Coach Bielema likes to say the next man up needs to be ready.

Now shifting to the hardwood,

Illinois coach Brad Underwood by Micheal Allio via APweb

Brad Underwood is in his 6th season at Illinois and this could be his most athletic team to date. So far in two exhibition games, there seems to be a different attitude than last year. They look more like a cohesive unit. Some of that could be the fact that they went from one of the youngest teams to one of the oldest teams with the help of the Transfer portal and the return of Terrance Shannon Jr. and Coleman Hawkins.

Vs the Ottawa Braves

The first exhibition game vs NAIA Ottawa Braves was as expected a fairly easy Illini win. 7 players scored in double figures and 12 players played at least 10 minutes. The Illini would cruise to a 116-65 win. Fans got a good look at Freshmen Amari Hansberry and Dravon Gibbs-Lawhorn who logged 14 minutes and 17 minutes respectively Hasnberry had a double-double with 14 points and

Amari Hansberry via Armchair Illini

12 rebounds. Domask seemed to be all over the court in his 20 minutes scoring 8 points while grabbing 6 boards and dishing out 6 Assists. Shannon would lead the Illini with 18 points. Hawkins was very active with 10 points, 5 boards, and 5 steals. he was also 2-3 from three-point range.

It is hard to judge the performance because of the opponent. That is NOT a slight nor is it meant to disrespect Ottawa. They are a good team but we are talking NAIA vs Division 1 Power 5. All-in-all, it was a good start for the first game.

Maui Strong Logo via U of I athletics

Maui Strong

The Kansas Jayhawks and the Illini hooked up in a secret scrimmage last year This year both coaches agreed to make it a charity exhibition game and raise money for those devastated by the Wildfires in Hawaii. Over 1 million dollars for Maui Strong relief.

Kansas coach Bill Self by Reed Hoffman via AP.web

Kansas entered the contest as the preseason #1 ranked team while Illinois cracked the Rankings at #25. Bill Self is probably glad this game doesn't count as the Illini were in control most of the game and topped Kansas 82-75. This game didn't feel like an exhibition and the only way you would have known it was that while they were calling fouls the 5 foul rule was not enforced. Also in the game against Ottawa, 12 players saw double-digit minutes. Only seven Illini saw 10 minutes or more against Kansas. An interesting note Hunter Dickenson who now plays for Kansas has yet to win a game at the State Farm Center, he is 0-5.

Terrance Shannon Jr by Sidney Malone

The Illini were again led by Shannon who had 28 points. Transfer Quincy Guerrier (pronounced (Gari A) had a much better game than the week before with 13 points and 9 rebounds. Hawkins and Shannon combined went 9-18 from the arc.

So far seem to have things running well and will surely be tested before the BIG Ten season. in just two weeks they square off with #5 Marquette in the Gavit games, the Dec 5th vs #10 Florida Atlantic in the Jimmy V Classic, December 9 they travel to Knoxville Tennessee to take on the Vols and the annual Braggin Rights game vs Missouri slated for December 22. They should be battle-tested when the conference season rolls around.

Well, that will do it for now I will see you again in two weeks.

Don't forget to follow my podcasts; Talking Sports on the Bleachers for more in-depth coverage of the Illini and the NCAA report with Russ Robinson.

you can leave comments here or email me at to on X @tsotbgcs

So, long for now.

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