It is good to see former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema back in the Big Ten. Bielema is taking on a solid rebuilding project with the Illinois Fighting Illini, who will make their way into Happy Valley this weekend for Penn State’s homecoming game. Bielema has always had a way of rubbing some people the wrong way, but he has never been one to be bashful about where his program stands.
Unfortunately for Bielema, his Illini aren’t exactly standing on much solid ground as he works his way through the first season on the job. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Bielema was pretty blunt in assessing the roster he inherited from former Illini head coach Lovie Smith. To put it simply, Bielema recognizes his roster is not exactly overflowing with quality talent at some very key positions like the offensive line.
“I don’t believe we have a player in the two-deep that they’ve recruited here over the last three years that is really significantly doing anything for us in the playing department,” Bielema said in assessing the recruiting and player development of the program and offensive line prior to his arrival. “That’s a major concern.”
It can take a lot for a head coach to come out and rip a former coach the way Bielema just did as he knows his offensive line is in for a long afternoon against Penn State’s defensive line this weekend. But the comments should send some ripples through the Illini locker room as well. Perhaps this acts as a rallying call for the entire Illinois offensive line to rise up in practice and in this weekend’s game.
Bielema has had his ups (Wisconsin) and downs (Arkansas) as a head coach, but he knows a thing or two about winning in the Big Ten. That starts with having a Big Ten-worthy offensive line. It is an offensive line that has allowed the third-most sacks in the Big Ten this season (15, tied with Purdue; Nebraska’s 21 sacks allowed leads the Big Ten), but Penn State’s defense comes into this weekend’s game with the second-fewest sacks in the conference (11; only Indiana has fewer with nine). Could something give this weekend, even with Penn State no longer with the services of PJ Mustipher?
At the very least, Bielema is not at all optimistic about the status of his offensive line, and there is a chance the Illini will be riding with a backup quarterback in Artur Sitkowski.
Penn State hosts Illinois on Saturday, Oct. 23 at noon eastern.
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