COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Illinois gets ready for Chattanooga, Thursday night

·3 min read

Sep. 23—CHAMPAIGN — Are you ready for a gameday Saturday at Memorial Stadium?

Now, before everyone starts getting upset, yes, the Illinois Fighting Illini are playing the Chattanooga Mocs tonight, Thursday night, in a 7:30 pm. contest on the Big Ten Network.

Bur for the Illinois football team, it's a gameday Saturday.

"It's been a little bit of a unique preparation," said Illinois coach Bret Bielema, whose team also played on a Friday earlier this season at Indiana. "I'm watching Monday night football, but writing in my staff notes talking about tomorrow being Thursday morning."

You see, Bielema and Illinois started their preparation for Chattanooga, rated No. 9 in the latest Coaches Poll for FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) teams, on Sunday, which would be the team's normal Tuesday.

"We just changed the days in our mindset," said senior tight end Luke Ford. "Today (Sunday) is a Tuesday, tomorrow (Monday) will be a Wednesday, Tuesday will be a Thursday and Wednesday will be like our Friday as we will go to the hotel.

"Coach has his sayings and one of his favorites is 'it's not about what happens, it's how you react or respond to what happens. This week is going to be one of those things that we have to respond to."

Bielema's other popular saying is "respect all, fear none."

That one will also be used this week as most people believe that a Big Ten program should have no problem beating an FCS team.

"Those outside (of our building) view things differently than the people in the building," Bielema said. "I don't even know if our guys will say FCS, and I know I haven't."

And did Bielema use this past Saturday's victory by Southern Illinois, a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, over Northwestern 31-24 as a reminder to his players?

"That's an easy one to serve up, but every Saturday is a constant reminder, not just FCS, but anybody can get anybody on any given football day," Bielema said. "It really gets down to how the two teams show up on Saturday (or Thursday, in this case). You don't have to do anything but perform at your best, and usually the things you do there are good enough to put yourself in a position to win.

"This Thursday night (tonight) it will be Chattanooga, but it's 11-on-11 in all three phases of the game."

Bielema's message about Chattanooga being a good football team, one that had a first-round draft pick this past April in guard Cole Strange to the New England Patriots, has been well received by the Illinois players.

"I've watched film and I can tell, this is a good team and they have some really talented players," said Illinois sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Williams. "We are approaching this game the same way we did week 1 with Wyoming. They weren't a Big Ten opponent but we prepared for that game just like it was a Big Ten game. That's the same thing we've done this week."

A big part of the preparation for the Mocs, who are 3-0 including a 38-20 win over Eastern Illinois on Sept. 10, is getting ready for their ground game led by junior Ailym Ford, who is averaging 110.3 yards per game with four touchdowns.

"They have a really good running back," Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. "He plays behind his pads and he is hard to bring down because of a low center of gravity. He gets vertical, he likes playing north-to-south."

While tonight's game will be shown on the Big Ten Network, it can also be heard on the Illini Sports Network, including Danville stations WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.