CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The Illinois offensive line is still looking to gain its footing heading into Big Ten play. The Illini open up conference action this weekend hosting No. 7 Penn State, on paper the toughest test yet, and the O-line knows it still has yet to play its best game.
“We didn’t play our best and we all felt that,” Illinois senior tackle Isaiah Adams said referencing a 34-23 loss at Kansas. “We all were in the locker room sick to our stomach, frustrated. That frustration really carries you throughout the season.”
The Illini (1-1) gave up six sacks to the Jayhawks, tied for the second most allowed in a game in head coach Bret Bielema’s tenure at Illinois. Kansas also racked up 539 total yards, second worst in Bielema’s time in Orange and Blue, only to the Virginia game in 2021. One of the biggest sticking points for the offensive line though is the run game. Through two games, Illinois’ running backs have combined for just 163 yards. Quarterback Luke Altmyer is the team’s leading rusher with 139 yards, with 72 of those yards coming on a long touchdown run against the Jayhawks. Part of the lack of identity running the ball falls back on the Illini getting down early in games, trailing 19-7 against Toledo and 28-7 at Kansas.
“We probably need to have one of those plays just happen,” Bielema said. “The confidence is a big part of this game and I think especially in the run game we haven’t had one of those big plays happen yet. And when that does, that can be very contagious.”
“I know we didn’t run the ball a lot but I think right now what I’ve seen is guys who can run block and guys who care,” Adams said.
Illinois is working in two new starters this season with Josh Kreutz at center and Josh Gesky at right guard. The left side is anchored by Danville’s Julian Pearl, who left the game at Kansas with a dislocated finger before returning with a bandage on his right hand, along with Adams at guard. The right side features Gesky at guard and Zy Crisler at tackle, who was sidelined for a large portion of training camp with an injury.
Illinois hosts No. 7 Penn State Saturday morning at 11 a.m. on FOX, the Illini are 14-point underdogs.