INDIANAPOLIS — The Illinois team buses arrived at the Indianapolis Marriott in downtown Indianapolis about 5:15 p.m. Friday. Illinois did not bus down to Bloomington, Ind., for an evening walkthrough, settling into the Marriott for a team dinner before taking in “Thor: The Dark World,” at a downtown movie theater.
“There’s not real great choices down that way (in Bloomington),” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said after stepping off one of five team buses outside the Marriott about why the team stayed in Indianapolis. “I’ve stayed here a bunch of times. They’re going to go to (the movie). I’m going to just chill.”
This was the first bus ride Illinois made to a true road game this season. The Illini bused to Chicago earlier this season for the Washington game at Soldier Field. The team plans to arrive in Bloomington about two hours before the 2:30 p.m. kickoff today after having a walkthrough at the parking garage across the street from the team hotel.
“I want to do it outside, so we’ll find a place,” Beckman said. “I like doing them outside. That’s what we do at the Hawthorn (Suites in Champaign). We go across the street.”
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V’Angelo Bentley dressed last Saturday at Penn State.
But the Illinois cornerback/kick returner didn’t see the field.
He should today at Indiana’s Memorial Stadium.
Having missed almost all of the past three games, the sophomore is set to play for the first time since suffering a sprained left ankle early in the Oct. 19 home loss to Wisconsin.
“Right now he’s probable,” Beckman said. “We’ll probably, in all honesty with his injury, play him on special teams first because that’s so important.”
Bentley wore a green practice jersey during Tuesday’s workout, indicating he could have limited contact. During Wednesday’s practice inside the Irwin Indoor Football Facility, Bentley was back wearing a navy blue jersey like the rest of his defensive teammates.
“I’m just ready to get back out there and make some plays,” Bentley said. “It’s just prepared me more mentally, and I got to see things that you normally don’t see when you’re in the game. I think I helped (the younger guys) in their maturity, and they’re progressing in a good way.”
Bentley suffered his injury after Wisconsin completed a pass to Jared Abbrederis.
“They threw a screen to Abbrederis,” Bentley said. “I went to set the edge, and Abbrederis cut it up. As he was cutting it up, a blocker tried to block me from the side. My leg went one way and my ankle went the other way, so it got rolled up. It was definitely a sharp pain. I made the tackle, and my momentum rolled me right back up, but I couldn’t run on it.”
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Wide receiver Ryan Lankford (shoulder), center Tony Durkin (shoulder), linebacker Henry Dickinson (shoulder), defensive tackle Bryce Douglas (neck) and kicker Ryan Frain (hip) are the players Illinois has listed as out for today’s game on its weekly injury report. Lankford, Durkin and Dickinson are out for the season, while Illinois plans to redshirt Douglas this year. This is the second straight game Frain, the backup kicker and punter, has missed. If something were to happen to starting kicker Taylor Zalewski, Brennan VanMieghem is the backup. If starting punter Justin DuVernois wasn’t able to go, Brad Janitz would handle the punting duties. VanMieghem and Janitz have never kicked or punted in a game at Illinois.
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Right guard Ted Karras, right tackle Corey Lewis, linebacker Mike Svetina and Zalewski will serve as Illinois’ captains for today’s game. Players vote on captains for every game each Thursday. This is the fifth such captain honor for Lewis and third straight game. Karras, Svetina and Zalewski all will serve as captains for the second time this season.
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Illinois will sport the same look it wore last Saturday at Penn State. Beckman’s team will go with white jersey tops, navy blue pants and navy blue helmets that it wore for the first time against the Nittany Lions.
“The kids wanted to wear them again,” Beckman said. “They like them.”
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With the season reaching the latter stages, the five junior college players — free safety Zane Petty, wide receiver Martize Barr, STAR Eric Finney, defensive tackle Abe Cajuste and offensive lineman Dallas Hinkhouse — Illinois signed last winter have all had varied degrees of success. Beckman said Illinois plans to redshirt Hinkhouse, who still will have two seasons of eligibility remaining. Petty is fourth on the team in tackles with 42 and will start his fourth straight game today. Barr has 23 catches for 221 yards and a touchdown. Finney has 13 tackles and combined with linebacker Jonathan Brown for a sack last Saturday at Penn State. Cajuste only has one tackle this year and hasn’t played the last two games.
“Finney got dinged up (early),” Beckman said of a knee injury that cost the California native the first month of practice. “I think that he’s finally back, so we look forward to these last four football games as big for him. Zane Petty, you can see him progressing. He’s really played pretty good for us the last two weeks. Martize started out well and has kind of plateaued. We need him to step up big time in these last four games.”
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The depth chart Indiana has lists Nate Sudfeld or Tre Roberson as the starting quarterback. Illinois spent all week preparing to see both, which Indiana has showcased in every game this year. Lately, however, Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has routinely split their reps almost equally. Sudfeld — who relieved Chase Coffman in the Hoosiers’ 31-17 win last season in Champaign — has thrown for 1,915 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 60 percent of his passes. Roberson has completed 59 percent of his passes for 724 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions but is more of a running option. He has 161 yards on 43 carries and five touchdowns.
“You’ve got to be aware of who’s in the game because they both have unique skill sets that they bring to the table,” Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “Both of them, obviously, can throw. (Roberson) has a little bit more mobility, and we really need to be aware when he’s in the game just because of the zone-read plays we may see and the effect that he has on the run game.”
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The offensive numbers Indiana has compiled this year catch people’s attention. So do the number of plays the Hoosiers have run. Indiana is averaging 76 plays per game and has run more than 70 plays in all of its games except the loss to Navy in the second game of the season.
Illinois linebacker Mason Monheim said the Hoosiers’ offensive pace is on par, if not quicker, than the one Washington used against Illinois earlier this season.
“The biggest thing is getting lined up and communicating,” Monheim said. “There’s going to be times where you’re out of position, and it’s going to come down to running to the ball. Guys are going to get tired, but the next guy has to be right there.”
Brown (81 tackles) and Monheim (69 tackles) are the top two tacklers for Illinois. With the deception Indiana likes to use when Roberson is in the game, Illinois inside linebackers coach Mike Ward knows he’ll need another big game from the duo. Same goes for T.J. Neal, who made a crucial first hit on a fourth-and-1 situation at Penn State and is seeing an increase in playing time recently.
“It forces a lot of communication, and it forces simplicity,” Ward said. “On every snap, you’ve got to be right because they’ve got enough skill that they can take it the distance on every play,” Ward said. “(Neal) is playing his butt off on special teams, and every chance that he’s had to get in the games, he’s done well. It was a great play he made at Penn State, but it was inches away from being a horse collar or facemask penalty, but he’s really, really coming into his own.”
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Nathan Scheelhaase celebrated his 23rd birthday Friday. By riding in a bus to Indianapolis.
“As a kid you always hoped for a Friday-Saturday birthday, but Friday (was) our travel day, so it probably couldn’t come on a worse day,” the Illinois quarterback said with a laugh. “In football season, weekend birthdays aren’t the best.”