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Watch now: Illinois football hits the road, locks in on 'creative' Virginia offense

Watch now: Illinois football hits the road, locks in on 'creative' Virginia offense

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Orange Bowl Football

Brennan Armstrong is one of four Virginia quarterbacks who played in the Cavaliers' season-opening win against William & Mary last week.

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois cornerback Tony Adams Jr. believes he and his team didn't play up to their potential in last week's 37-30 home loss to UTSA, giving up 497 yards of total offense and 280 through the air. The Illini have a chance to regain their footing Saturday at Virginia, but Adams is well aware that nothing will be given to them.

"They not gonna have no sympathy for us," Adams said in a post-game interview last week.

The Cavaliers are 18-2 at home over the last four seasons, including a 43-0 season-opening win against William & Mary last week.

They played four quarterbacks in that victory, a rarity for any football team let alone one at the Power Five level, so Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters fully understands that if his team plans to get back on track, it must keep its antennas up in Charlottesville.

"I got to work with (Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae) at the University of Arizona, my first full-time job, and he's the king of designer of the weeks," Walters said Monday. "Every different formation possible, you'll see every shift in motion possible. He does a good job with his scheme. ... Sometimes they'll have two quarterbacks in there at the same time. They're both athletic so you just kind of have to be aware of which personnel grouping is on the field and what you're going to get out of those. I have a lot of respect for him as a play caller."

Junior Brennan Armstrong is the Cavaliers' starting quarterback and primary thrower. He completed 21 of 31 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns against William & Mary, notching the second 300-yard passing game of his college career.

Redshirt freshman Iraken Armstead slots in as Virginia's backup quarterback. He threw one incomplete pass in his team's season opener but rushed for a team-high 54 yards on five carries.

Freshman Jacob Rodriguez and senior Keytaon Thompson are the Cavaliers' other two rotational quarterbacks, though they are now simply listed on the team's latest depth chart as "football players," according to The Daily Progress' Bennett Conlin.

Rodriguez had three carries for 31 yards against William & Mary, while Thompson totaled five carries for 43 yards and hauled in a team-high five catches for 66 yards.

"We're just maximizing any good football player on our team, putting him out there in as many unique, creative but productive ways as we can," Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said, per 247Sports' Jacquie Franciulli.

First-year Illini coach Bret Bielema said he has a lot of respect for Mendenhall, who he's known "quite a while." He described Mendenhall as a defensive-minded coach, despite all of the attention surrounding his team's creative offense.

One defensive player Bielema noted that Mendenhall appears to be very high on is free safety Joey Blount. The 6-2, 195-pound senior has amassed 227 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, 15 pass breakups and six interceptions in 44 games for the Cavaliers.

"You could seem him on film," Bielema said Thursday. "He's a guy that is constantly communicating, giving a lot of directive. They use him in unique ways. They do a lot of different things with him, (and) as a defensive coach you appreciate a player that plays as many different roles as he plays. They put him in a variety of different spots. You can see the trust factor."

Illinois, led by quarterback Artur Sitkowski, has not thrown an interception this year and plans to keep it that way with Blount lurking in the defensive secondary. Sitkowski, a Rutgers transfer, assumed the starting role in the season opener after Brandon Peters went down with a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury. In Peters' absence, Sitkowski has completed 34 of 57 passes for 390 yards and five touchdowns.

Sitkowski will start again against Virginia with Peters being a "game time decision," according to Bielema.

Regardless of who ultimately receives the most snaps under center, Bielema said all of his players must learn from last week's mistakes against UTSA in order to end Virginia's nine-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents.

Illini defensive backs coach Aaron Henry echoed Bielema's message.

"We can't allow mistakes to beat us more than once," Henry said Tuesday. "So just preparing for this upcoming game, Virginia is a different offense than UTSA, they do some different things. So understanding that, guys had (Monday) off and I've seen more guys (in the building) this past off day than I've seen since I've been here because guys are eager, guys want to be successful.

“I told my guys, (Tuesday), ‘Success is a moving target, and you gotta be willing to move with it.’”

Follow James Boyd on Twitter: @RomeovilleKid


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