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IOWA CITY — Illinois is undoubtedly a familiar opponent. It’ll be even more familiar now that Bret Bielema is on the Illini sideline.
Here are five Illinois players to keep an eye on this Saturday.
WR Isaiah Williams
In his third year on campus, Isaiah Williams has become the Illini’s go-to receiver.
He leads the Illini with 38 receptions and 376 receiving yards, and it’s not even close.
The next best receiver in each of those categories has less than half of what Williams boasts.
Williams didn’t come to Illinois as a wide receiver, though. He mostly played quarterback until spring practices in 2021.
He had 44 touchdowns — 33 passing, 11 rushing — his senior year of high school in St. Louis and was a highly-touted recruit. The list of schools to offer Williams included Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.
Iowa was on that list, too.
S Kerby Joseph
Six players lead the Big Ten with four interceptions. Three will be playing in Saturday’s Iowa-Illinois game.
Along with Iowa’s Riley Moss and Dane Belton, Illinois’ Kerby Joseph is on that list.
Joseph has been one of the Illini’s most productive defenders in 2021 despite not recording any interceptions in his first three years on campus.
Joseph is the only player at the FBS level to have at least four interceptions and three fumble recoveries in 2021 and has gone five straight games with at least one pick or fumble recovery.
His interception on Nov. 6 ended Minnesota’s last-minute comeback attempt in the eventual 14-6 win.
RB Chase Brown
For the fourth straight week, Iowa is going against a team with an affinity for running the football.
This week, Chase Brown is the high-volume running back to keep an eye on.
Brown has carried the ball at least 30 times in two of Illinois’ last three games. Both came against ranked opponents — then-No. 7 Penn State and then-No. 20 Minnesota.
His 6.0 yards per carry also makes him one of the most efficient running backs in the Big Ten West. He even averaged 6.8 yards per carry against a Penn State defense that limited Iowa’s Tyler Goodson to 3.5 yards per carry
Brown comes from an athletic family in Ontario, Canada. His mother was a figure skater, his father played in the Canadian Football League and his twin brother Sydney also plays for the Illini as a defensive back.
LB Owen Carney Jr.
Own Carney Jr. is listed as a linebacker in 2021. He played defensive line for the Illini before that.
Wherever he’s been, Carney has shown a knack for getting after the quarterback.
Carney, who received All-Big Ten second team honors in 2020, has a team-high 6.5 sacks. Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig is the only Big Ten West player with more sacks.
He has recorded at least one sack and tackle for loss in five of Illinois’ last seven games.
Carney also had seven tackles for loss and five sacks in 2020.
The senior from Miami knows how to have some fun, too.
When he sacked Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, the 6-foot-3, 275-pound linebacker celebrated by trolling Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck’s “Row the Boat” mantra with a rowing motion.
QB Brandon Peters
Some of Iowa’s recent opponents’ quarterback situations — well, Northwestern and now Illinois to be specific — resemble The Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye” lyrics.
"You say goodbye, and I say hello.”
At Illinois, there have been enough goodbyes and hellos at the starting quarterback spot to get through most of the three-minute, 27-second song.
Brandon Peters began 2021 as the starter before suffering an injury against Nebraska. Then Artur Sitkowski started two games. Then Peters retook the starting job. Then Sitkowski started against Penn State. Then Peters took over for the injured Sitkowski and started the last two games
Bielema has not used Peters in a high volume since Sitkowski suffered the season-ending arm injury.
Peters had 19 throws against Rutgers and nine against Minnesota. The low volume has worked out well so far for the Michigan transfer. He completed 21 of those 28 passes.
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