COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Illinois looks to keep swimming against Florida Atlantic

Sep. 22—CHAMPAIGN — Motivation and inspiration in athletics can come from many different sports.

Illinois offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. told his group in a meeting a story about Florence Chadwick, a long-distance American swimmer, who became the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions.

But, it was about her experience of swimming from California to Catalina Island (26 miles) that Lunney told his team about.

"She was really close to swimming this long length of ocean. She was almost there, but it was foggy and she couldn't see the shoreline, so stopped early," said Illinois junior tight end Tip Reiman in a video interview with the Illini Inquirer. "When the fog cleared, she was less than a mile away from making it. When she did it again, she knew that when the fog set in, she could keep going."

On her second attempt, fog set in again, but Chadwick kept swimming with a mental image of the island and finished the distance.

How does that relate to the Fighting Illini football team?

"We have been here before, the fog is here, we just need to keep swimming," Reiman said. "We not going to do the same over and over, but we need to keep persistent and intentional — knowing that it is going to show through."

Illinois hopes to snap its two-game losing streak this afternoon when the Illini host the Florida Atlantic Owls at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

"Offensively, the big question will be at quarterback," Illinois coach Bret Bielema admitted. "How Luke (Altmyer) responds and comes back."

In last week's 30-13 loss to nationally-ranked Penn State, Altmyer threw four interceptions, leading to 20 points for the Nittany Lions. Altmyer was replaced by John Paddock in the second half, but Bielema has no plans to change his starting quarterback.

"I Googled on my own Saturday night, college and NFL quarterbacks that have thrown four interceptions in a game," Bielema said. "The list is incredibly long. It happens. It happened in the past, and my guess, it will happen again in the future. I just hope it doesn't happen to him again."

Among the quarterbacks in the NFL that have had four-interception games include former NFL MVPs Lamar Jackson and Cam Newton along with Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence and Matthew Stafford.

"The big thing for any player, obviously the quarterback gets most of the attention, when you have a game that you are not happy with, you have to learn from it. It can't be something carried forward, but it is part of your past. You have to take the things from it, learn from it and grow," Bielema said. "Something we say all the time in our building, adversity is going to strike. You learn more from yourself in moments of adversity than you do in moments of success."

But, how well Altmyer respond remains the question?

"He has the tools, he has the belief in Christ and the conviction to persevere and be created in even better character in these times of adversity," said Reiman. "He is not a guy that you have to watch out for. He is an internal emotional processor as am I. That can hurt you if you don't have the tools, but if you have the tools it can be one of the best attributes you can have.

"I think for him, he has the tools. He knows how to take the steps forward, mentally."

One thing that could really help Altmyer is just an offensive identity.

In their first three games, the Fighting Illini have not established themselves in any phase of football, according to Bielema.

"When I hear an opposing team talk about us, they is usually some commonalities that come out and I just haven't heard that," Bielema said. "If your opponents haven't seen it, than no one is seeing it. There are things that always fluctuate year to year.

"I constantly harp in our building, good teams always do three things, they run the ball, defend the run and cover kicks. We really haven't done those three things. We haven't effectively run the ball consistently for four quarters and we haven't defended the run for four quarter effectively."

Illinois (1-2 overall) is averaging just 123.0 yards per game on the ground. That is 43.2 yards per game less than a year ago when the Illini went 8-5.

" I know what we wanted to be as coaches, we have talked about, now we have to see it come to life," Bielema said.

Florida Atlantic will be without starting quarterback Casey Thompson because of an injury against Clemson. Daniel Richardson is expected to get the start for the Owls (1-2).

Today's game will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network and it can be heard Busey Bank Illini Sports Network, including Danville stations WDNL-FM 102.1 and WDAN-AM 1490.