CHAMPAIGN – In Week 0, the positive vibes were as warm as the weather at Memorial Stadium.
On a day where the temperatures were in the 90s, a 30-22 Illinois win over Nebraska had the team and fans feeling good as the Bret Bielema era began in Champaign. While the weather hasn’t cooled off that much yet, some of the good vibes have thanks to a pair of less than stellar contests.
The Illini dropped their next home game to UTSA 37-30 then had a rough afternoon against Virginia on the road as they lost 42-14 in Charlottesville. Now at 1-2 on the year, Illinois jumps back into Big Ten play on Friday as they host Maryland at Memorial Stadium as the team has already hit a crossroads in 2021.
But Bielema did get some good news heading into the short week, and it concerns his quarterback.
Brandon Peters, who injured his shoulder in the season opener against the Cornhuskers, is making his return on Friday against the Terrapins and will get the start. Art Sitkowski had filled in the previous two-and-a-half games as the sixth-year senior worked his way back into the lineup.
“I think he, like I’ve mentioned a couple of times, was a guy that came back a little quicker than I thought. Didn’t know if there was a chance to get him back sooner than this. This is a little bit ahead of schedule as it is.”
While not on the field, it’s not like Peters has been away from the team, as he stayed engaged during practices to help the backups while keeping himself up to date when he’d return.
“He’s heavily involved. Anything he could do to help Art, that was something that was very, very clear from the moment the injury happened to where we are today,” said Bielema of Peters. “Very, very good teammate. A guy that not only helped Art but was helping RJ and Matt and guys who could possibly go, too, if things didn’t work well for Art.”
NORTHWESTERN: A “Hull” of an Effort
EVANSTON – As the Illini prepare for another Big Ten game, Northwestern is headed to Durham for a non-conference game against an ACC opponent. Duke is up next for the Wildcats and they’ll hope to get another strong performance from Evan Hull on Saturday.
The running back got 126 yards and two rushing scores against Indiana State last Saturday as Northwestern bounced back from an opening week loss to Michigan State with a 24-6 triumph over the Sycamores. Hull rushed for 5.7 yards per carry as the Wildcats went to the ground early and often at Ryan Field.
It was a pleasure for quarterback Hunter Johnson to watch on Saturday afternoon.
“I think Evan is one of the most disciplined and hard-working guys we have on the team,” said Johnson of Hull. “Since Day 1 since he’s gotten here, he’s just worked, and worked, and worked. I’m really happy for him.”
Notre Dame: Irish By A “Finger”
SOUTH BEND – After nearly squandering an 18-point lead in their opening game against Florida State on the road yet escaping for a victory, it looked like Notre Dame wouldn’t be so lucky in their home opener last Saturday.
Toledo’s Dequan Finn ran in a 26-yard touchdown with 1:35 to go in the game to give the Rockets a 29-24 lead as they looked to knock of the seventh-ranked Irish in South Bend. But luckily quarterback Jack Coan and the Irish offense had an answer, as his touchdown throw to Michael Mayer just 26 seconds later was enough for Notre Dame to escape with a three-point win.
But that’s not the whole story when it comes to the quarterback. You see Coan had dislocated his right middle finger during the game-winning drive and had to have it popped back in on the sidelines by athletic trainer Mike Bean.
Yet the quarterback was unfazed as he threw the game-winner to Mayer on the next play.
“I sorta felt it and looked down and it didn’t look right and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to throw if it didn’t go back into place,” said Coan of the injury. “Ran over and our trainer Mike Bean did an unbelievable job of putting it back in quickly. It’s kinda crazy how it all worked out.”
Coan will be ready to go as the Irish host Purdue on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium as the face the in-state rival Boilermakers for the first time since 2014.
Northern Illinois: The Road to the “Big House“
DEKALB – It’s been quite a two weeks to open up the 2021 season for Northern Illinois and it’s going to get bigger in Week 3.
After upsetting Georgia Tech on the road in Week 1, the Huskies rallied from 26 points down in the third quarter to take a lead on Wyoming in their home opener last Saturday. They wouldn’t have enough at the end to hold it as the Cowboys escaped DeKalb with a 50-43 win.
Now Thomas Hammock takes his team to Ann Arbor to face Michigan in front of over 100,000 people at the “Big House” on Saturday. It’s the second time in NIU history that they’ve played at the venue, having lost 33-17 back in 2005.
At least their quarterback knows how to get a win there, as Rocky Lombardi led Michigan State to a 27-23 win over the Wolverines in the “Big House” in 2020. He also made his collegiate debut at Michigan Stadium back in 2018.