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Watch now: Defensive lineman Keith Randolph Jr. returns as Illinois gets healthy
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Watch now: Defensive lineman Keith Randolph Jr. returns as Illinois gets healthy

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082921-owh-spo-nebillinois-ar23.JPG (notes)

Nebraska's Adrian Martinez, right, gets sacked by Illinois' Keith Randolph Jr. and fumbles the ball in the first half of both teams' season opener Aug. 28. Randolph, who missed the Illini's last two games with a leg injury, returns Saturday at Purdue.

CHAMPAIGN — The injuries have piled up for Illinois through the first few weeks of the season, but as the Illini prepare to face Purdue on Saturday they are arguably the healthiest they've been since their campaign started.

Perhaps the most notable injury update this week is the return of defensive lineman Keith Randolph Jr.. The redshirt freshman missed the last two games with a leg injury but will be back in the lineup against the Boilermakers.

Randolph has two sacks and a forced fumble this season and should help an Illinois defensive line that has struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

"He's practiced the last two days," Illini coach Bret Bielema said Thursday. "He's a guy that definitely brought a lot of energy in the games he was a part of. Excited to get him back with us. We're pretty much up front a lot healthier than we have been, at least on the defensive line."

Starting center Doug Kramer Jr., who was sidelined for last week's game, is also back from an undisclosed injury.

Running backs Josh McCray and Chase Brown, and right guard Julian Pearl will return to action, too. All three were knocked out of last week's contest with undisclosed injuries, with McCray going to the hospital, but Bielema confirmed that they will play in Illinois' first conference road game of the year.

Starting quarterback Brandon Peters is poised to compete in his second full game of the season after returning last week from a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury that he sustained after just 13 snaps in the season opener.

Bielema hopes Peters and the rest of his team can remain healthy, but he's reminded all 74 of the team's travel roster players to stay ready in West Lafayette.

"The game is usually written by the players that come in due to injury, and that's gonna be the case, I'm sure, again on Saturday for players that we aren't even aware of right now that probably are going to get injured," Bielema said. "Guys who step up to the challenge while the game's going on, that's really the story about where we need to be."

Protecting Peters

Peters was 10-of-26 passing for 185 yards with one interception last week against Maryland. The sixth-year senior was also sacked six times.

Kramer's return should help shore up the offensive line as Blake Jeresaty, who filled in at center for Kramer last week, can move back to his usual position at left guard.

Regardless of the position switch, Jeresaty said he wasn't pleased with his performance last week. He and the rest of a healthier offensive line plan to protect Peters much better against the Boilermakers, who are headlined by star defensive end George Karlaftis.

"Obviously, me looking at my personal self, being able to execute my blocks better, that's all we really can do," Jeresaty told WCIA's Marlee Wierda. "Each one of us has to take a look in the mirror and try to execute our job better. That (would) be the best thing to do to help Brandon."

Freshman impresses

Bielema announced Monday that true freshman Kenenna Odeluga will take the field this Saturday at Purdue.

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker starred on both sides of the ball at Illinois high school powerhouse Mount Carmel, helping the Caravan go undefeated en route to the IHSA Class 7A State Championship in 2019.

Odeluga was a two-star prospect, the No. 83 overall player in Illinois and the No. 316 athlete (or utility player) nationally in the Class of 2021, according to 247Sports.

"This week we'll play Kenenna Odeluga because he continues to be very impressive during fall camp and during drills," Bielema said. "He's very athletic, he can run, he can strike, he can hit.

"Everybody was excited about that Josh McCray (touchdown) play (last week), but when I decided to play Kenenna this week was his reaction on that play. He did five bounds and a jumping jack. I swear he did a backflip. It was the emotion on the sideline. You can't coach that. That's real. That's something that's part of his personality."

Big donation

Former Illinois football player Chad Ruskey has gifted the university "six figures" toward the Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Center, while also giving a "substantial donation" to the I Fund and student-athlete scholarships, the school announced Tuesday in a press release.

Ruskey and Illini athletic director Josh Whitman were members of the 2001 Big Ten Championship team. Ruskey went on to become an early employee of Indeed.com and "was one of the key beneficiaries when Recruit Holdings Co., Ltd. acquired the company," per the release. The 2002 grad now lives in Southern California with his family but still has a soft spot for Champaign.

"There's always been a side of me that's interested in trying to help in any way I can," Ruskey said in.the release. "I just say, 'What do you guys need?' 'How can I help?' It's something that my family and my grandfather always built in me. Being able to help Fighting Illini student-athletes with this gift is very gratifying."


Follow James Boyd on Twitter: @RomeovilleKid

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