CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- When it comes to injuries to veteran players, Illinois head coach Lovie Smith has two basic policies.
The Illini (3-4, 1-3 in Big Ten) had two key veterans leave the field during the upset win against Wisconsin last weekend. The status of junior wide receiver Ricky Smalling (lower body) and junior defensive end Oluwole Betiku Jr. (lower body) are considered questionable Saturday against Purdue (2-5, 1-3 in Big Ten) for the 11 a.m. kickoff at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Smalling left the game against Wisconsin on the first snap of the game and needed to be helped off the field by the Illinois training staff. The Chicago native leads the Illini in receptions (24) this season and is second in receiving yards with 225. Smalling’s potential absence and Illinois’ announcement of Trevon Sidney’s season-ending surgery, could leave the Illini with only two wide receivers with starting experience for the game on Saturday. Smalling has had just three catches for 49 yards in his previous two games against Purdue.
The only comment about Smalling by Smith this week was to confirm it was obviously less serious than the injury issue of Sidney but hasn’t leaned either way whether Smalling would play Saturday.
Betiku left the Wisconsin game in the first half but not before adding two sacks in the win. Betiku, who is a graduate transfer, is tied for sixth in the nation with eight sacks this season and is a needed weapon against the Purdue passing attack, especially considering the recent troubles the Boilermakers offensive line has endured this month.
“We are optimistic and hope to have ‘Wole back this week,” Smith said Monday in addressing
Smith’s first rule about injuries is obvious. Smith does everything to not tell the media anything until the day of the game.
“Even if we know, we’re not going to tell you,” Smith said two weeks ago prior to the Wisconsin game.
Brandon Peters, who missed the previous game against Michigan, admitted to media Saturday that he passed the concussion protocol by the middle of the week and no announcement was made on his status until Saturday morning.
Therefore, nobody should expect to hear any news about either Smalling or Betiku before his pre-game radio interview on Saturday morning.
The second rule for Smith is more toward his previous NFL background when he suggested two weeks ago that veteran players don’t need to be available for practice at a certain time to be ready to start or play on Saturdays. While some college coaches are comfortable ruling out players if they’re not active for practice by Thursday or Friday, Smith said prior to the loss vs. Michigan that he’s just fine with allowing a veteran player with little or no practice time for the week to still be a significant part of the game plan.
Isaiah Williams, who was ruled out of last weekend’s game against Wisconsin with an undisclosed injury, was not active for practice Tuesday and isn’t likely to play this weekend. The true freshman, who was a four-star prospect in the 2019 recruiting class, has played in three games this season but has also missed two games with injuries (at Minnesota and vs. Wisconsin). Over the final five games this season, Williams still has one game to play before Illinois will need to determine his status to secure his redshirt year.