CHAMPAGNE — A bye week couldn’t have gone better for Illinois football. Although they didn’t play a game, the Illini gained momentum on the recruiting track — earning three engagements — and secured some separation in the Big Ten West race.
Wisconsin’s win over Purdue gave Illinois sole possession of the division’s top spot by half a game into the final five games of the season. And Big Ten East victories over Northwestern, Minnesota and Iowa gave Illinois even more separation on the bottom of the division. Illini (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten), ranked No. 17, even climbed a spot in the AP Top 25 — again despite not playing a game.
But coming into an important game at Nebraska (3-4, 2-2 Big Ten), which is just one game behind Illinois in the Big Ten West standings, Bielema’s goal is not to let his team too caught up in what might happen. on the road – the potential to play in a Big Ten championship game, a New Years bowl six-man, etc. — and focus on what’s in store for them this week: securing their temporary spot atop the Big Ten West and extending a five-game winning streak.
“I get the point, but we’re really worried about Nebraska,” Bielema said of the Big Ten West landscape. “I think the outside world is always paying attention; not to say that as a head coach you don’t see things as they come. We literally started Sunday’s meeting like we would any other week, just looking at the college football world around you. It’s fun to be in this position.
Illinois football over the past month has become one of college football’s surprises thanks to its consistency. The Illini Defense has continuously outplayed its opponents and topped the FBS in many statistical categories. Chase Brown leads the FBS in rushing because he’s rushed for 100 or more yards in all seven games this season behind an offensive line that’s improving every week. Apart from a 9-6 win over Iowa – in which the starting quarterback Tommy DeVito left the game early with an ankle injury – Illini’s passing offense was a consistently competent complement to the rushing attack.
Bielema said consistency is needed for the Illini to avoid a mistake on the road, where Illinois is 1-1 in conference play.
“I literally just had this conversation with our team over the bye week and I showed examples of opposing media and coaches, people we play against, I put media quotes all the time from opponents to our team because that’s the best indicator of what people think of you,” Bielema said. “One of the things I said was, ‘Consistency is a very good thing when you talk about success, but it has an evil cousin called complacency that can set you up for failure.’ That’s the main upside right now is keeping the complacency out of our building offensively, defensively, special teams and especially the coaching staff as well.
Despite a three-game winning streak against the Big Ten West’s three favorites entering the season — Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota — Bielema is probably happy to know that his team leaders, who have seen many failures in previous years, seem have tunnel vision on this week’s game.
“A lot of them have been here where we haven’t seen that much, so it’s definitely like, ‘We’re eligible for bowling in October, great.’ But that’s not the end of everything we’re trying to accomplish,” the Illinois linebacker said. Tarique Barnes, team captain, after Minnesota’s victory. “So it feels good because we know we’ve reached a point where we’ve passed a certain point. But we still have a lot to do.
Added Grade Six Offensive Tackle Alex Palczewski, a team captain: “Don’t get lost in the ‘Everybody’s talking, we can go here, here and here.’ We can look down, but if we don’t take care of what’s in front of us, we’ll never get there. … It’s never letting complacency happen. As soon as you think you’ve arrived, someone is going to break your ass. ….Another Coach B quote, “The realer you get, the realer it gets.”
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