CHAMPAIGN — The big question all week for Illinois football: Who is playing quarterback against Michigan?
Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith spoke at Friday’s Quarterback Club Luncheon and said whether starter Brandon Peters will play is “a game-time decision.”
Peters left last Saturday’s Minnesota game after absorbing a hard shot in the second quarter. He did not return.
Backup Matt Robinson finished the game, completing 15 of 29 passes for 125 yards the rest of the way.
Earlier in the week, the Californian said he will be ready to go if called upon.
Robinson, first-year freshman Isaiah Williams and redshirt freshman Coran Taylor all received practice work during the week.
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ABC analyst Greg McElroy is visiting Champaign-Urbana this weekend for the first time. The former Alabama quarterback is calling Saturday’s game with play-by-play voice Dave Pasch and sideline reporter Tom Luginbill.
McElroy took notice of the number of forced turnovers by the Illini. Lovie Smith’s defense has recovered eight fumbles and intercepted four passes in five games.
“They’re creating some opportunities with how they get their hands on the football,” McElroy said. “That’s the first thing that’s encouraging.”
Michigan has turned the ball over 12 times in a 4-1 start.
“Michigan has been loose with the football throughout the course of the season,” McElroy said.
McElroy is impressed with the Illinois running backs, namely Reggie Corbin.
“I think Corbin is a good player,” McElroy said. “I think they have good personnel. I don’t think they’re very deep.”
One area that is a disappointment to McElroy is the Illini offensive line.
“I thought that group had a chance to dominant this year,” McElroy said. “I don’t think they’ve been as good as they need to be for them to reach the heights they want to reach.”
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Smith told the Quarterback Club Luncheon crowd of 140 at Champaign’s Holiday Inn how much he appreciates the group’s support.
“I enjoy this time and I’m glad I have a chance to stop by,” Smith said.
It was a full Friday for Smith and the Illini. The team had a morning walkthrough. The coaches also met with the TV announcers and had a recruit in town before Smith said he would go out to a high school game on Friday night for more recruiting.
Smith gave a quick recap of the 40-17 loss to Minnesota.
“It was very disappointing in the way we played,” Smith said. “I was disappointed in myself. We’ve got to be better. We will be better.”
Smith said the Illini had a “great week of practice” going into Saturday’s game.
“We’re excited about the opportunity that’s in front of us,” he said. “We understand what’s coming in. But we also understand we haven’t played our best football yet. (Saturday) we’re planning on doing that.”
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Smith hopes to see more open space for Corbin.
“Defenses have done a decent job of trying to focus more on taking away Reggie probably a little bit more than they did last year,” Smith said.
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Michigan’s defense held Iowa to three points in last Saturday’s win at Ann Arbor. Smith is impressed.
“This will be the most athletic team we’ve played so far,” Smith said. “It will be the best defense we’ve played so far. They’re fast, athletic, they run well, super aggressive, Coach (Don) Brown has them blitzing a lot.”
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Smith met Dick Butkus on Friday morning. The Illini legend was in town for the unveiling of his statue near the Smith Center.
“That was awesome,” Smith said. “I had a chance to say hello to him. That was a highlight I’m going to tell my kids.”
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Senior tailback Dre Brown joined Smith at Friday’s QB Club luncheon.
With his wife Lindsay in attendance, Brown talked about injuries that cost him two seasons.
He was recruited by Tim Beckman and redshirted in 2015 after Bill Cubit took over.
He suffered torn ACLs his first two years, but worked hard to get back on the field.
“When you get to playing, the other team doesn’t care that you tore both your ACLs,” Brown said. “They probably want to tear another one honestly.”
Brown is second on the team in rushing and leads the team in kick returns, averaging 28 yards on 13 tries.
Brown wants to take one for a touchdown this season.
“I’m getting close,” Brown said. “I plan on doing that soon. Hopefully (Saturday) honestly.”
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The Michigan travel party arrived in C-U late Friday afternoon. Part of the team was scheduled to visit Memorial Stadium later Friday for a special teams walkthrough.
The Wolverines spent Friday night at Champaign’s Holiday Inn, the hotel of choice for Illini visitors.