Illinois hosts dangerous UTSA, eager to go 2-0 under Bielema

Sep 1, 2021, 10:32 PM | Updated: Sep 2, 2021, 10:39 am

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — New coach Bret Bielema took the first step last week toward restoring relevance to a tired Illinois football program by beating favored Nebraska in an early Big Ten conference matchup.

But questions linger in Champaign. Is Illinois as good as it looked in beating the Huskers with its backup quarterback? Is Nebraska really that bad?

Some of those questions may be answered Saturday night when an underrated and dangerous UTSA opens its season at Illinois (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten).

In his first year as coach last year, Jeff Traylor led the Roadrunners to a respectable 7-5 record. UTSA had one of the best running attacks in college football, ranking No. 18 in the nation and gaining 216 yards per game on the ground.

Traylor understands his opponent and was full of praise for Bielema, who coached at Wisconsin before a stint at Arkansas.

“Illinois is a very coach Bielema-looking team,” Traylor said. “He’s won three Big Ten championships at Wisconsin and took Arkansas to three bowl games in a row. Watching that Nebraska game, you can tell he’s already made his presence felt at Illinois. They are a good football team.”


UTSA is above all else a running team. The Roadrunners are led on the ground by running back Sincere McCormick, who carried 249 times for 1,467 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2020.

UTSA is known for holding onto the ball. The Roadrunners only averaged 0.9 turnovers per game in 2020, 12th in the nation.

If there is a weakness in the Roadrunners’ offense, it’s the passing game. Last year, UTSA threw for just 193.6 yards per game, which ranked No. 99 in the nation.

Senior Frank Harris is back at quarterback. While his team concentrates mostly on the running game, with Harris rushing for 528 yards last season, he can pass when he needs to. Harris had a 63.6% completion rate last year, when he threw for 1,630 yards.


Illini starter Brandon Peters went down early in Saturday’s game against Nebraska with an injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder. While Bielema wouldn’t completely rule him out for the UTSA game, he seemed to indicate that Rutgers transfer Artur Sitkowski, who shined against the Huskers, would be making his first start at Illinois.

In three seasons at Rutgers, Sitkowski threw eight touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. Last week, he was 12 of 15 passing for 124 yards, two touchdowns and no picks.

“Art’s a guy that was just impressive once he got here, so I wasn’t surprised at how he handled the moment,” Bielema said. “I didn’t know how he was going to play (against Nebraska), but I knew the handling of it wouldn’t be an issue. It’s just his demeanor. He’s so serious, but he also has a good light to him.”

Sitkowski took his coach’s praise in stride, but made it clear he’s already moved on.

“It’s just one game,” Sitkowski said. “We gotta look forward to UTSA. It’s a long season and we have a lot of things we have to do. That game’s behind us.”


Much of the buzz early this season has been about the newly configured Illinois receiver corps. Along with several starters returning, former QB Isaiah Williams was converted to receiver to take advantage of his speed and athleticism. The move paid off and Williams made six catches for 41 yards and a touchdown against Nebraska.

Also moving to wideout is speedy defensive back Marquez Beason, who had a summer hamstring injury. Beason began practicing with the team on Tuesday, but Bielema wouldn’t say if he can be ready on Saturday.

“He is making great strides,” Bielema said. “We’re hoping to get him back sooner rather than later.”


Illinois has 41 seniors on its roster, including 21 super seniors who received an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic. The super seniors represent the most in Power Five. Illinois’ 20 other seniors still have one year of eligibility remaining following this season — if they choose to use it — and are listed as juniors on the roster. Combined, Illinois and UTSA will field 77 seniors.

“They obviously mirror us, in that we are both veteran football teams. I don’t think I’ve seen that many seniors on the field before,” Bielema said.


More AP college football: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant (7) looks to drive against Chicago Bulls' Coby White (0) during ...
Associated Press

Reports: Suns get All-Star Kevin Durant in trade with Nets

PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns pulled a midnight blockbuster on Wednesday, acquiring 13-time All-Star Kevin Durant from the Brooklyn Nets, according to multiple reports. The outlets, citing unnamed sources, said the Suns added Durant to a starting lineup that already includes an All-Star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker, along with center Deandre […]
1 day ago
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, left, dribbles around Golden State Warriors forward An...
Associated Press

Lillard has triple-double, Blazers beat Warriors 125-122

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard had 33 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds as the Portland Trail Blazers rallied past the Golden State Warriors 125-122 on Wednesday night. It was just the second triple-double of Lillard’s career, and first this season. “I didn’t shoot the ball very well. But I think I approached the […]
1 day ago
Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving smiles as he warms up prior to an NBA basketball game against t...
Associated Press

Irving scores 24 in Dallas debut, leads Mavs over Clippers

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kyrie Irving came out charging in his Dallas debut, keying a big run to open the game and sparking his new teammates in front of a cheering Luka Doncic on the bench. Irving scored 24 points and the Mavericks never trailed in beating the Los Angeles Clippers 110-104 on Wednesday night. […]
1 day ago
Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) goes to the basket as Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jaden McD...
Associated Press

T’wolves top Jazz in matchup of teams trading with Lakers

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Anthony Edwards scored 31 points and Jaylen Nowell added a career-high 30 to lead Minnesota to a 143-118 win over Utah on Wednesday night amid word the Timberwolves, Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers were part of an eight-player swap hours ahead of the NBA trade deadline. “It was crazy, the […]
1 day ago
Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (14) is congratulated after scoring during the second period of t...
Associated Press

Benn breaks scoreless tie early in 2nd, Stars top Wild 4-1

DALLAS (AP) — Captain Jamie Benn broke a scoreless tie 23 seconds into the second period of his 1,001st career game, and the Dallas Stars beat the Minnesota Wild 4-1 on Wednesday night. Benn’s 20th goal on a perfect feed from 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston started a three-goal second for the Western Conference-leading Stars. Radek […]
1 day ago
Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green (4) signals after making a 3-point shot, next to Sacramento Kings...
Associated Press

Fox’s late FTs gives Kings 130-128 win over Rockets

HOUSTON (AP) — De’Aaron Fox had 31 points, including three free throws with less than a second left, to lift the Sacramento Kings to a 130-128 win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night. Fox missed a 3-pointer with .3 seconds left. But Eric Gordon fouled him to set up the game-winning free throws. “I […]
1 day ago
Illinois hosts dangerous UTSA, eager to go 2-0 under Bielema