Oct 6, 2023; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Luke Altmyer (9) is pursued by Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive lineman Ty Robinson (9) during the second half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Know the Huskers foes 2024: Illinois Fighting Illini

After closing non-conference play, the Nebraska Cornhuskers begin Big Ten Conference play against the Illinois Fighting Illini. Despite the four new conference members from the West Coast, the Huskers will have to face one of their former Big Ten West division rivals. It will also be Nebraska’s final of four straight home games to open up the 2024 campaign. Here’s a look at the 2024 Fighting Illini.

Know the Huskers foes 2024: Illinois Fighting Illini

Review of 2023

After a successful 2022 season, former defensive coordinator Ryan Walters took over the Purdue Boilermakers head coaching opening and Illinois coach Bret Bielema had to replace him. Aaron Henry was elevated up from secondary coach to full-time defensive coordinator while continuing to coach the secondary position groups. However, the defensive production did not replicate 2022’s No. 1 scoring defense. On the offensive side of the ball, the Illini had a new quarterback. Sophomore quarterback Luke Altmyer transferred from Ole Miss to Illinois and was named the starter for the Illini offense. Despite the successes in the 2022 season, that same success did not continue through the 2023 season.ย Illinois finished 5-7 and 3-6 in conference play last season. For most of the season, the Fighting Illini suffered through multiple close losses, including a 45-43 loss to the Northwestern Wildcats, which cost Illinois a bowl game.

Altmyer led the Illini passing offense completing 175 of 270 passes for 1,883 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was benched for six-year senior John Paddock for the final three games of the season, where Paddock completed 85 of 143 passes for 1,278 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. The top receiver was all-Big Ten first-teamer, junior Isaiah Williams. Williams had the best season of his career with 82 catches for 1,055 yards and five touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Casey Washington had the second-best season from the position group with 49 catches for 670 yards and four touchdowns. Illinois’ rushing attack was a mixed bag for production. Junior running back Reggie Love III led the team in rushing with 116 carries for 567 yards and four touchdowns. Freshman running back Kaden Feagin was just behind Love in production with 95 carries for 438 yards and two touchdowns. Feagin could have finished as the leading rusher but was injured in the final two games of the season.

Defensively, the Illini finished the No. 96 scoring defense in the country, allowing 29.4 points per game. That is over double the amount of points allowed per game in 2022 where the Illinois defense allowed only 12.8 points per game. Sophomore linebacker Dylan Rosiek led the team in tackles with 82 total tackles with 7.5 for a loss. Despite the fall off on scoring defense, the Illini had the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Junior defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton had a great season with 56 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, which led the team.

2024 Overview

Illinois opens up the 2024 campaign at home for the first three weeks against Eastern Illinois, Kansas and Central Michigan. That will change immediately when the Illini’s first two weeks of conference play where they will travel to Nebraska and Penn State before heading onto their first bye week. Illinois returns from the bye week to host the Purdue Boilermakers for the Purdue Cannon and the Michigan Wolverines. They finish October on the road against the Oregon Ducks for the first time as conference opponents. The Illini begin November at home for two straight weeks, facing off against Minnesota and Michigan State, which will be senior day. Illinois’ final road trip will be out to the East Coast to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights before closing out the 2024 regular season against the Northwestern Wildcats at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Success in the 2024 season for Illinois will be based on how it replaces the loss of production on both sides of the ball, especially on the lines. Quarterback play will be important for the Illini as well, especially with limiting turnovers as well. Altmyer’s top weapons will be a bit different compared to last season. Senior wide receiver Pat Bryant is the only starter from last season returning, while sophomore Malik Elzy will more than likely step into a starting role. Feagin will most likely be the featured back while Illinois will have a retooled offensive line. The offensive line features two transfer portal tackles, J.C. Davis and Melvin Priestly, while three starters from 2o23 return for another season.

Illinois had to replace Newton on the defensive line and brought in two big pieces from the transfer portal. Those pieces were senior Dennis Briggs Jr (Florida State) and sophomore Enyce Sledge (Auburn). The linebackers will be the strongest position group on the entire defense, with juniors Gabe Jacas and Dylan Rosiek and senior Seth Coleman returning for 2024. Illinois also brought in JUCO All-American linebacker Daniel Brown over the offseason, who total of 51 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and 18 sacks in 11 games. The secondary should be much improved in 2024, with the best player being Texas Longhorn cornerback transfer Terrance Brooks. Brooks is similar to former Fighting Illini and now Seattle Seahawks cornerback Devon Witherspoon and will be somebody who can give quarterbacks trouble in 2024.

The Illini have the talent to get some success but the question is: will they? They have a generally tough schedule but still have a few winnable games in 2024. Illinois can reach bowl eligibility it can take advantage of the favorable matchups.

Week four matchup

The week four matchup between the Huskers and Illini will be both teams’s first game of conference play and will set the tone for both teams and their place in the Big Ten for 2024. Nebraska holds the all-time series lead 14-1-6, with the Huskers winning the last matchup 20-7 on the road last season. Before last season, Illinois had won the last three matchups (2020-2022) and will for sure try to continue its success against Nebraska in the 2020s.

The Illini and Huskers face off on Friday, Sept. 20, 2024, in Lincoln at 7:00 p.m. on FS1.

Main Image: ยฉ Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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