CHAMPAIGN — Bret Bielema is ready for his turn in isolation to end. More than ready, actually.
Preparation for Illinois’ regular season finale against Northwestern at 2:30 p.m. Saturday began in the immediate aftermath of the loss at Iowa. It did so with Bielema still operating remotely after his positive COVID-19 case a week ago. The Illinois coach’s hope is being back in the Smith Center on Friday at the latest.
“It’s still kind of a work in progress,” Bielema said Monday afternoon on Zoom. “I feel great other than just being in this same (darn) room all the time. … I think I’m cleared Friday for sure. Maybe, hopefully, before that. Believe me, I wish it could be today. It won’t be just following all the protocols in place. I want to make sure I’m good, too. The only symptom I ever really had was, at times, I’d get a little nasal congestion.
"Really, I’ve felt fine since the day I tested positive to where I am now. … I haven't seen my girls for a long time. That’s what I’m probably looking forward to more than anything.”
Watching Illinois play Iowa on Saturday from an undisclosed Airbnb in the Champaign-Urbana area was a first for Bielema. A first he didn't particularly care for, although watching the Illini play on TV was different for him given he rarely watches the TV version of the game even after that fact. The ability to see plays again immediately with replay was a game changer. Although it added to Bielema’s frustrations at times, including a play late in the game where freshman wide receiver Pat Bryant thought he had been interfered with. No flag was thrown. Bielema saw it the same as Bryant after watching the play again.
“I’m going nuts,” My neighbors don’t know I’m in here, but they may have by that point. I’m sure you guys go back and watch the TV copy a lot. That brings much more detail to the game I’d really not ever thought about. That experience was unique."