WCIA — The last eight months all lead up to this for Illinois, as the 2023 season kicks off for the Orange and Blue on Saturday against Toledo.

The Rockets are making their first trip to Memorial Stadium, and they will be led by quarterback Dequan Finn. The fifth-year senior is a dual-threat who should be one of the best in the MAC this season. In 2022, Finn threw for 2,260 yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. On the ground, Finn ran for 631 and another nine touchdowns.

“I’m not sure who keeps me up longer at night, my new twin girls or Dequan Finn,” defensive coordinator Aaron Henry joked. “He’s a very, very special player. You can see why they’re had success with a guy like that who can throw it, who can run it. He’s extremely special. I think any time you’re facing a dual quarterback like this we gotta try to contain them. That’s the most important thing to try to contain them.”

On the injury front, safety Matthew Bailey is still out until at least Week 3. Bret Bielema also announced Monday that they have paused Ezekiel Holmes’ return from a season-ending knee injury. Both redshirt freshmen Malachi Hood and Jordan Anderson will miss the rest of the season. Hood “popped” his Achilles tendon while Anderson tore his ACL in the finale scrimmage. The latter injury could open more opportunities for two local players.

“With the twos and threes, it kinda just rotated between Kaden [Feagin], Aidan [Laughery], and Jordan had worked his way back into it. Unfortunately as soon as he got back in there it was popped,” Bielema said. “If anybody wants to see those freshman take their first reps, I betcha lot of people would vote between Kaden Feagin, Malik Elzy, and Aidan Laughery.”

Illinois kicks off against Toledo Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network.