Know Wyoming’s foe: Illinois Fighting Illini
LARAMIE -- Year 1 of the Bret Bielema era in Champaign was, well, inconsistent.
That's the nice way of putting it.
There was the good: upset wins over Nebraska and on the road at No. 7 Penn State -- in a record nine overtimes. Illinois added another improbable 14-6 victory away from Memorial Stadium over 20th-ranked Minnesota.
There were plenty of headscratchers, too.
Like a 37-30 home loss to UTSA, a blowout at the hands of Virginia and a pair of setbacks against Big Ten cellar-dwellers Maryland and Rutgers. The Illini (5-7, 4-5) finished with a 3-4 mark at home. They were also shutout by Wisconsin and averaged just 20.2 points per game.
Illinois failed to crack the 21-point mark in seven of its 12 outings.
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Bielema think he has rectified those issues, bringing in new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney from UTSA. Lunney, who served as Bielema's tight ends coach at Arkansas, led the Roadrunners' offense to a near 500-yard day last September in Champaign.
Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito will be under center against the Cowboys this Saturday. The senior has 18 career starts under his belt and has thrown for nearly 4,000 yards. He has also tossed 28 touchdowns compared to just 12 interceptions while completing 59% of his throws.
Here are some other things you need to know about Wyoming's Zero-Week foe:
* Head coach: Bret Bielema (2nd year at Ill) 14 years overall (Wisconsin 2006-12 and Arkansas 2013-17). 102-65 overall record.
* Offensive coordinator: Barry Lunney (1st season at Ill); Defensive coordinator: Ryan Walters (2nd season at Ill)
* Record in 2021: 5-7 overall, 4-5 in Big Ten play
* Offense: Averaged 20.2 ppg, 329.8 ypg (173.6 rush, 156.2 pass)
* Defense: Allowed 21.9 ppg, 365.5 ypg (150.3 rush, 215.2 pass)
* Returners: 7 offense, 6 defense
* Key Returners - Offense: Chase Brown (RB - 1,005 yards, 5 TD), Josh McCray (RB - 549 yards, 2 TD), Isaiah Williams (WR - 525 yards, 4 TD), Casey Washington (WR - 294 yards), Luke Ford (TE - 114 yards, 2 TD), Alex Palczewski (RT - 52 career starts, most in FBS), Alex Pihlstrom (C).
* Key Returners - Defense: Tarique Barnes (LB - 80 tackles, 2 sacks, INT, 2 FF), Sydney Brown (SS - 69 tackles, sack, 2 FF), Jartavius Martin (N - 54 tackles, INT, FF), Keith Randolph (DE - 42 tackles, 4 sacks, INT, FF), Zer'Zhan Newton (DE - 50 tackles, 3.5 sacks)
* Overview: As up and down as Bielema's first year was at Illinois, his squad lost four of its seven games by 10 points or less and was one victory away from bowl eligibility. The Illini defense improved drastically, allowing 101 less yards per game compared to 2021. They also went from giving up nearly 35 points per outing to just 21.9. DeVito, if he did indeed beat out Art Sitkowski for the starting QB gig, should help the Illini climb out of the Big Ten cellar when it comes to passing yards per game. Illinois should still feature a run-heavy attack. After all, that's the Big Ten -- and Bielema -- way.
* Thoughts on Illinois: "Our guys are really excited about opening up against the University of Illinois, obviously a prestigious Big Ten program. And they are big when you start looking at them and we've taken a lot of look at their tape. There's some question marks they have also. When I say question marks, just some things we don't know about. We don't know who the starting quarterback is going to be. They have a new play caller, new offensive coordinator. So some things are a little bit unknown. But what is true is they are big. They've got an excellent running back, Chase Brown, returns and he was very productive last year. (They have) two really big tight ends. Ford is 6-foot-6, 260 pounds and (Tip) Reiman is 6-foot-5, 260 pounds. So, two really big tight ends who have played a lot of football. Over on defense, you know, when you look at them, first of all, I think you need to start out with Keith Randolph. The defensive end, he's 6-foot-5, 300 pounds. He's a big, strong guy who has played a lot of football. Barnes, No. 8, middle linebacker, 230 pounds, played a lot of football there. And then Brown, in the secondary, is very experienced." -- Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl
University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players
- University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players