2023 Illinois Fighting Illini Season Review
Last year, head coach Bret Bielema led the Illinois Fighting Illini to a bowl berth in his second season on the job. But Bielema was unable to sustain momentum in 2023. Illinois took a step back with a disappointing 5-7 campaign that will keep them home for the holidays.
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2023 Illinois Fighting Illini Season Review
Last game, the Illinois Fighting Illini lost 45-43 against the Northwestern Wildcats as 6-point home favorites. The game went over the total of 48. Illinois has a record of 5-7 straight up, 3-9 against the spread, and 6-5-1 over/under the total. Illinois ranks 62nd for total offense, 35th for passing, 102nd for rushing, and 84th for scoring. Defensively, they rank 67th overall, 70th against the pass, 64th against the rush, and 95th for points allowed. Also, Illinois ranks 116th for fewest turnovers lost and 109th for takeaways.
Trailing early in the fourth quarter, Northwestern took advantage of two special-teams turnovers to score two touchdowns in nine seconds and rally for a victory over Illinois in a Big Ten regular-season finale.
Ben Bryant threw for 234 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a third score to lead Northwestern to a second-place tie in the Big Ten West. The Wildcats turned four Illinois turnovers into 24 points -- 17 in the fourth quarter -- to capture the Land of Lincoln Trophy.
John Paddock produced 334 passing yards and three touchdowns for Illinois, which needed to win to become bowl-eligible. Casey Washington caught nine passes for 218 yards and three scores -- all career-highs -- capped by an 80-yard touchdown with 55 seconds left that pulled the Illini within two.
Illinois claimed a 31-28 lead with 13:12 to play when wide receiver Isaiah Williams, a converted quarterback, took a toss to the right and flipped a 14-yard strike to uncover Patrick Bryant for his first touchdown pass since Dec. 19, 2020.
Illinois' defense held on the next possession, but Williams muffed a punt that Northwestern's Raymond Niro III recovered at the Illini 24-yard line. Bryant capped the brief drive by scrambling 8 yards for a 35-31 lead with 10:04 to go.
Illinois' Kenari Wilcher fumbled the subsequent kickoff that Garner Wallace caught at the 17. He broke multiple tackles to get into the end zone for NU's second touchdown in nine seconds and a 42-31 margin.
The Fighting Illini pulled within 42-37 on Washington's 1-yard touchdown catch with 7:17 left and regained possession on Tyler Strain's interception, but Northwestern linebacker Xander Mueller intercepted a ricochet in Illinois territory to set up Jack Olson's 46-yard field goal for a 45-37 lead with 2:56 remaining.
Illinois had two more possessions to pull even - and Paddock connected with Washington for an 80-yard touchdown that he caught over the middle at Illinois' 41 and outraced NU defenders to the right corner of the end zone. Paddock's two-point conversion pass to tie deflected off the helmet of leaping Northwestern lineman Dominic Bastone and fell incomplete.
Bret Bielema enters 2024 on a warm seat that could fan into flames quickly.
2023 Illinois Fighting Illini Football Schedule
|vs. Penn State
Once upon a time, the Illinois Fighting Illini was a perennial power and a national championship program. The Fighting Illini won the Natty in 1914, 1919, 1923, 1927, and 1951. But since those ancient days of glory, Illinois has been a historically mediocre program. Once every 20 years or so, Illinois explodes for a big year. But then they revert to the back of the pack just as fast. The last landmark season in Illini history was in 2007, when Ron Zook took the program to the Rose Bowl. It was Illinois' first run for the roses since coach Mike White took them to Pasadena in the 1983 campaign.
Two of the biggest names to play for Illinois are Dick Butkus and Red Grange. Both players had their numbers retired and went on to star for the Chicago Bears in the NFL. In fact, the founder of the Bears, Georgia Halas, was an end for the Fighting Illini. Another NFL Hall of Famer who played for Illinois was the famed Green Bay Packers linebacker Ray Nitschke. That was also true for NFL Hall of Fame running back Bobby Mitchell.
2023 College Football Schedule
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