Bob Asmussen | Illinois quarterback situation remains up in the air

Nov. 10—Illinois football coach Bret Bielema made two public appearances Thursday. And talked about his quarterback situation at both places.

In a perfect world for the Illini, Luke Altmyer returns to his starting quarterback spot Saturday against Indiana when the Illini and Hoosiers kick off at 11 a.m. at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, with last week's hero John Paddock ready to step in if needed. But as of Thursday morning, banged-up Altmyer hasn't been cleared to play.

"Monday, there were some things that kicked in right after the game," Bielema said during his Thursday media session with reporters at the Smith Center in Champaign. "Tuesday, we were hopeful that he was going to get involved a little bit on Wednesday, but that got pushed back, so he hasn't officially been cleared. But I'm kind of planning that way. I feel that everything is going to come through."

To cover all bases, Illinois will have Paddock, redshirt freshman Donovan Leary and first-year freshman Cal Swanson available.

"Obviously, John has had a very good week," Bielema said. "He's had a really good fall camp to where we are today, even though you guys just saw him for the most part in a live situation."

If Altmyer is cleared Friday, will Bielema feel comfortable putting him on the field?

"I would," the third-year Illinois coach said. "I think nine games into it, just because of who he is and what he's able to accomplish.

"The quarterback position is unique. We've even dabbled with Cal Swanson, who brings a different skill set than everyone else."

Early Thursday afternoon during the Illini Quarterback Club luncheon at Atkins Golf Club in Urbana, Bielema updated the members on the team's injury situation. The news was mostly positive.

Altmyer's situation remains a concern.

"He's done everything he can," Bielema told the packed room of Illinois supporters. "In that moment, where he's at, it's really just about how he recovers."

Feeling betterIllinois running back Reggie Love III, who has missed four games with an injury, is expected back for the Indiana game.

Kaden Feagin, one of the top freshman running backs in the nation, will start and Love will be in reserve.

"Reggie just coming back from where he is, he's been gone five weeks, I don't think he's ready for a 50-play game," Bielema said. "But I think he's ready for a 20-30-play game and how many ever carries that plays out."

Bielema expects the two to take the bulk of the carries Saturday.

The Illinois coach likes the Feagin-Love combination.

"It was the way the games started at the beginning of the year with Reggie and Josh (McCray), then you lost Josh," Bielema said. "To have Kaden playing the way he is now is a pretty secure early down back. Reggie, with the experience he has, I think it gives you a little bit more of a complete tandem."

And tandem tailbacks have been a prominent part of Bielema's offenses at Wisconsin, Arkansas and now Illinois.

The one exception was in 2022, when Chase Brown became the featured back and just missed leading the nation in rushing.

"I've always had two guys and a lot of times they were not opposites, but different types," Bielema said.

Strong wordsBielema hasn't talked much in recent weeks about the ongoing scandal at Michigan. The Wolverines have allegedly spied on opponents, with staffers or representatives of the team attending opponents' games in violation of the rules.

Late in the 2022 season, Illinois dropped a two-point decision to the Wolverines at Ann Arbor. Illinois led the game until late.

I asked the coach on Thursday: "Was there anything weird in that game?"

"I appreciate the question," Bielema said. "Obviously, we don't play them this year. You just get so consumed where you're at. When the point in time comes where I can say something, I'll have a lot to say."

He gave reporters a hint of what those comments might include.

"I played in this conference. I coached in this conference at two different schools," Bielema said.

Then, he pointed to an example of a coach handling a potential advantage the proper way.

"I literally got a call from a coach the day after we played them," Bielema said. "It was (Pat Fitzgerald) at Northwestern. We're at a home contest there. He called me and said, 'Yesterday, we had a chance that your signals were coming over our headsets.' He told his people to put them down, change the channel and competed in the game. I thought that was the highest moment of integrity."

Bielema talked about the start of his career, when he was a graduate assistant coach at Iowa. His job was to find out when the opponent signaled personnel to go on the field.

"That's how I started as a young assistant GA," he said. "You gather information every week that way, which is totally legal."

Bielema doesn't have time to pay too close attention to the issues at Michigan. But ...

"If something was going on off-campus, like it's been noted that (the Wolverines) were at our games before we played that game last year, that's sickening. It's disgusting," Bielema said. "I'll let them figure that part out. As coaches, we've just got to hold the integrity of the league. Everybody's got to feel that everybody's playing by the same rules and go forward from there."