CHAMPAIGN — It’ll be “good old American football.”
With “a few wrinkles.”
That’s how Illinois football coach Bret Bielema described the format of Monday’s Orange and Blue Spring Game, slated for a 7 p.m. kickoff inside Memorial Stadium.
The event will be attended live by a limited number of fans and is available on BTN for everyone else.
“I’m excited for our players,” Bielema said during his Wednesday Zoom media availability. “The first time any of us played the game of football ... it wasn’t because there were 100,000 (fans in attendance). It wasn’t because you were on a major network on national TV. It’s because you love the game. This spring game and Monday night will be a continuation of that.”
Bielema acknowledged the importance of getting some spectators inside Memorial Stadium after only family members were permitted for the Illini’s three home games in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bielema also allowed players’ immediate family to attend the program’s April 3 scrimmage.
He recalled the New York Giants, his most recent employer before Illinois, not permitting fans inside MetLife Stadium during the 2020 NFL campaign, but seeing spectators during trips to Dallas and Philadelphia.
“Even though it wasn’t a big number — it might’ve only been 10,000, 15,000 — it seemed like you’re playing in front of 100,000 just to hear the fans,” Bielema said. “Whatever the number is going to be on Monday night, it’ll be fun to have them back in the crowd.”
So what will those watching the game — in person or from home — witness from Bielema’s first Illinois roster?
The Orange team will constitute Bielema’s No. 1 players at each position group — the starters, were the season to begin today. And the Blue team will be “the world,” as Bielema explained it.
“We can’t do enough of guys playing together that will be together, whether it be offense, defense or special teams,” Bielema said. “So if our 1 offense is out there ... and we’re going to have to punt, we’re going to have the 1 punt team come out and punt.”
Bielema said the game will be played under “normal clock operation (of) 15 minutes each quarter.”
Where the aforementioned wrinkles start is with scoring.
Should the Blue team find the end zone, kick a field goal or convert a PAT, the ensuing points will count for double — touchdowns for 12, field goals for six, PATs for two.
Bielema said the team will also conduct a field-goal competition between the first and second quarters and another between the third and fourth quarters.
“We’ll do rapid-fire field goals to try and make up some field goal experience in front of the crowd,” Bielema said. “We’ll make it as engaging as we can, try to have some great interaction.”
Bielema also was asked how his quarterbacks will be handled during the game.
Specifically, if they’ll experience contact.
“By me or by their teammates?” Bielema asked with a grin.
“The quarterbacks will be in white (jerseys),” Bielema continued. “They’re going to have a quick whistle around them. So if they’re scrambling or putting themselves in a position to get outside the pockets, there’s going to be a quick whistle on them.
“We won’t go live on the quarterbacks. But there have been some drills this spring where we’ve taken swipes at the ball to try to get them as close to being uncomfortable as we possibly can.”