Indiana football 2022 opponent profile: Illinois

After sky-high offseason expectations turned into a 2-10 regular season campaign in 2021 for Indiana football, head coach Tom Allen and company are looking to get back on track in the 2022 season. We are profiling each of the 12 teams Indiana will face this season as the Hoosiers look to right the ship.

First up is Indiana’s opening week opponent, Illinois. The Hoosiers have not faced the Fighting Illini since 2017, a 24-14 IU win on the road. Illinois last played in Bloomington in 2013, a 52-35 Hoosier victory. Illinois leads the all-time series 45-24-2, but Indiana has won three consecutive meetings.

  • Opponent: Illinois
  • Date/Time/TV: Fri., Sept. 2, 8:00 p.m., FS1
  • Location: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.
  • 2021 record/bowl result: 5-7 overall, 4-5 in the Big Ten, no bowl game.

Returning Starters, Offense (6): RB Chase Brown, WR Brian Hightower, WR Isaiah Williams, T Julian Pearl, T Alex Palczewski, TE Luke Ford.

Starters Lost, Offense (5): QB Brandon Peters, WR Donny Novarro, T Vederian Lowe, G Blake Jeresaty, C Doug Kramer.

Offensive Outlook: In Bret Bielema’s first season at the helm in Urbana-Champaign, the Illini struggled on the offensive side of the football. The team failed to score more than 20 points seven times last season, including a shutout against Wisconsin. The team exploded for a season-high 47-points in the final game of the season, a Land of Lincoln Trophy victory over rival Northwestern.

Headed into 2022, the team returns just 51% of its production from last season per ESPN’s Billy Connelly, 115th in the nation and the lowest total in the Big Ten, including just two starting offensive linemen returning. With former Avon High School star Brandon Peters graduated, the team will turn to either Rutgers transfer Art Sitkowski or, more likely, Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito at quarterback. With former quarterback Isaiah Williams now a formidable option at wide receiver and tight end Luke Ford, a Georgia transfer and former top 100 prospect, entering his senior season, Illinois should see improvement on the offensive side of the ball in Bielema’s second year.

Returning Starters, Defense (5): DE Keith Randolph, DE Jer’Zahn Newton, ILB Calvin Hart Jr., CB Devon Witherspoon, S Sydney Brown.

Starters Lost, Defense (6): NT Rod Perry, OLB Isaiah Gay, OLB Owen Carney Jr., ILB Jake Hansen, CB Tony Adams, S Kerby Joseph.

Defensive Outlook: Illinois’s defense was unpredictable to begin the 2021 season – giving up 42 points against Virginia and just 13 against Purdue two weeks later – but the team hit its stride as the year progressed. After giving up 42 against Virginia, the team allowed more than 24 points just once in its final nine games, averaging 18 points allowed per contest over that stretch. The Illini will be without All-Big Ten safety Kerby Joseph this season, who was selected by the Detroit Lions in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, but with sophomore defensive ends Keith Randolph and Jer’Zhan Newton back in the fold after helping lead the team to 30 sacks in 2021, the team’s highest total since 2011, the unit figures to be formidable once again.

Starters Lost, Special Teams (3): K James McCourt, P Blake Hayes, LS Ethan Tabel.

Special Teams Outlook: With former All-Big Ten kicker James McCourt graduated, Illinois turns to a relative unknown to replace him in Caleb Griffin. Griffin, headed into his fifth year, made only two appearances last season on kickoffs and has not attempted a field goal or extra point since 2020. Like Indiana’s James Evans of New Zealand, Illinois also boasts an Oceanic punter in redshirt freshman Hugh Robertson of Australia, who saw one appearance in 2020 before redshirting the entirety of the 2021 campaign. Robertson replaces former All-Big Ten punter Blake Hayes, also from Australia. 

Overall outlook: Illinois was as expected last season, if not slightly ahead of schedule in Bret Bielema’s first season. The team figures to be in the same region of borderline bowl eligibility, similar to Indiana. Having this matchup at home to kick off the season provides the Hoosiers with an excellent opportunity to correct course and start 1-0 overall and in conference play after a disappointing 2021. Illinois will be coming off of a Week Zero contest with Wyoming the week prior, which means this team will have shaken out the offseason rust prior to its date in Bloomington. For an Indiana team seeking its first Big Ten win since December 2020, Illinois at home is a very winnable game and could be the early season spark that puts the program back on track.

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