WCIA — One of the positives for Illinois football in their loss to Iowa this weekend was the defense. They only gave up one touchdown, the Hawkeyes also scores on special teams and defense though.
Now one of the best performers is being honored as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. Outside linebacker Isaiah Gay received the honor for the first time in his career, the conference announced on Monday.
“You don’t luck into playing as well as he’s played as many weeks in a row,” says head coach Bret Bielema. “He’s made a conscientious effort to play a certain way and he’s gonna be rewarded for that in a big way.”
“He’s really flourished,” says defensive coordinator Ryan Walters. “He’s making the plays he’s supposed to make and taking advantage of being in the right place at the right time and allowing his athleticism to take over when he’s in one on one matchups.”
Bielema is still meeting with media over Zoom, he is still in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 last week. He says he will be able to join the team again by Friday at the latest, just in time to battle for the Land of Lincoln Trophy. It is a game Bielema has been prepping for all year.
“The message was you’ve been preparing for this moment since last January,” says Bielema. “We’ve always known that Northwestern was gonna be the last game of the season. We knew it was a rivalry game. They’ve won the last 6. This is a Big Ten West regional opponent and it’s the last game of the year and the last time for us to be guaranteed to be all together, that’s what the message of it needs to be.”
Kickoff against the Wildcats is 2:30 p.m. Saturday.