Final word: 'I guess I'm telling an awful lot'

Final word: 'I guess I'm telling an awful lot'

CHAMPAIGN — No more mystery lingers about the Illinois starting quarterback today against Minnesota: graduate transfer AJ Bush Jr. gets the call.

Head coach Lovie Smith spilled the beans at Friday's Illini Quarterback Club luncheon at Champaign Suites.

"I guess I'm telling an awful lot," Smith told the crowd of about 200. "Both guys will be available."

M.J. Rivers, who left last week's game at Maryland with a concussion, will be Bush's backup.

"It cleared up fairly quick," Smith said. "He went through the concussion protocol, M.J.'s ready to go."

Illinois is getting some of its injured players back on the field. Safety Tony Adams will play. Cornerback Nate Hobbs and linebacker Dele Harding will also be available.

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Smith acknowledged the distractions for his team, which include the unexpected resignation of defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson and the arrest of defensive lineman Lere Oladipo, since last Saturday's 63-33 loss at Maryland.

"For us, when you're going through things, it's always good to come back home," Smith said. "That's why we are so excited about (today's) game."

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Smith will call the defensive plays today. Will that impact Minnesota's plan?

"It's hard to be able to change schemes, it's hard to be able to change complete defenses in a week," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. "But I do know there will be new wrinkles. There will be little changes that Lovie will have ready for us. We've got to be able to adjust and react to those things as they come our way."

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The Illinois players will bring special guests to the game: their fathers. It's Dad's Day at Memorial Stadium. The dads will wear their son's jerseys.

"What your dad does for you is pretty important," Smith said.

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Illini receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker spoke at the QB Club luncheon. The Texan came to Illinois when Smith was first hired.

"An excellent recruiter," Smith said.

The former TCU running back played for the Horned Frogs at the same time as Pro and College Football Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson.

"Most of the time, I was on the sidelines," Hayes-Stoker said. "I think that was one of the things that spurred my passion to want to be a coach — that unfilled feeling of not really being able to do what I wanted to do on the field. That was a tough pill to swallow at the time."

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Hayes-Stoker was asked about the future of injured receiver Mikey Dudek, who is out for the season.

"At the end of the day, I think he will come home to football at some point," Hayes-Stoker said. "I don't know when that will be. He's preparing himself to be a professional in the work force right now. He's working on his leg, trying to get healthy."

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Hayes-Stoker said senior receiver Sam Mays is having his best season "since we've been here. I expect him to finish off the right way."

Mays visited with QB Club members on Friday.

"Illinois the last four years for me has been a life-changing experience," Mays said. "This year, I'm leaving it all out there and trying to give everything I have for my teammates, this football team and for the community. I'm trying to be the best me that I can."

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Illinois senior Nick Allegretti continues to stay positive.

"We still have four opportunities this season," he said. "We have a Minnesota team that is very talented, a physical team, a team we've played well with in the past.

"We have three games after that. But without this game this week, we can't move forward. We're at home. We have an opportunity to get a big win against another Big Ten team that we haven't beaten in a couple years."

Allegretti was recruited by Fleck when he was in charge at Western Michigan.

"I know him pretty well," Allegretti said.

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Redshirt freshman Kendrick Green is finishing his first season as an offensive lineman. The starting guard came to Illinois as a defensive lineman.

"I wouldn't say so far, so good, but it's definitely been beneficial," Green said. "It's getting better each week."

What's the hardest part of the transition?

"Changing technique," Green said. "You're doing something completely different."

Last year, Green worked with departed defensive line coach Mike Phair. This season, he's with Luke Butkus.

"It's a different kind of loud voice," Green said. "You know what you're going to get."

The staff moved Green with the idea of him becoming a standout offensive lineman in time.

"That's the goal," Green said. "You want to be good in everything you do. When the offseason comes around in January, you have to take advantage of that. That's all I can really do."

Allegretti has been a big help to Green. And the other line starters.

"They bring me up to speed," Green said.

The Peoria native enjoys playing close to home. He picked Illinois over Iowa and Minnesota.

"A lot of freshmen get really homesick," Green said. "I didn't have that problem. Guys from Texas and Florida can't do that. That definitely kept me sane last year."

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Minnesota is expected to have leading rusher Mohamed Ibrahim back in the lineup. But backup Shannon Brooks won't play.

"Kind of exchange those two," Fleck said. 

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Minnesota followed its typical Friday routine.

The Minnesota travel party was scheduled to arrive in C-U at 4:30 p.m. and went to team headquarters at Champaign Suites.

"I always do bed check and do some things with our players," Fleck said. "They have a yoga routine. They've got a stretching routine they do prior to going to bed."

Minnesota is scheduled to have a speaker at the team breakfast this morning.