Illini’s Brandon Peters “caught off guard” by QB Rotation Plan in Opener

Following the 45-7 blowout loss at No. 14 Wisconsin, Illinois senior quarterback Brandon Peters said he was caught off guard with the coaching staff’s playing time plan.

MADISON, Wis. -- Brandon Peters knew part of the Illinois season season-opening game plan was to feature specific packages for freshman Isaiah Williams behind center.

Peters was simply confused by the timing and amount Williams got into action during the 45-7 blowout loss to No. 14 Wisconsin Friday night.

Peters, who was returning to Illinois for his second season as the projected starter after transferring from Michigan last August, admitted to being surprised by the amount of times he was pulled out of the Illini’s season-opening loss in favor of the redshirt freshman dual-threat signal caller.

Wisconsin defensive end Matt Henningsen pressures Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters

Wisconsin defensive end Matt Henningsen pressures Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters. Peters ended the 45-7 blowout loss just 8 of 19 for 87 yards through the air. 

Peters said in the post-game media conference that he was told by Illinois coaches that Williams, who was a four-star prospect out of St. Louis in the 2019 recruiting class, was supposed to go in for “three or four plays” and Williams was inserted repeatedly in the first half when the game was still very much in doubt. Peters, who was named one of five team captains earlier this week, said after the dominating loss to the Badgers that the constant yo-yo plan of quarterback playing time made it harder for him to “get in a rhythm” on a night where he finished a disappointing 8 of 19 for just 87 yards through the air and 75 yards on the ground.

“The amount (Williams) was in caught me a little off guard...but like I said, you got to do what the coaches want and roll with the punches,” Peters said.

Peters was looking to build off a 2019 campaign with the Illini that included finishing fifth in the Big Ten in passing touchdowns (18), eighth in yards per completion (12.4), ninth in completion percentage (55.3), ninth in passing efficiency (128.6), 10th in passing yards (1,884), and 10th in total offense (190.6). And all of those numbers including missing two games due to concussion-like symptoms and only having a month of training camp with his new Illini teammates.

Instead, Peters had his third-lowest output of passing yards, total offense and second-lowest number of completions since arriving in Champaign in August 2019.

“Obviously we didn't execute on offense,” said Peters. “We had a lot of errors and we shot ourselves in the foot with not converting on fourth down and penalties. When it comes down to it, we have a lot of work to do.”

In one of the stranger sequences of Friday night’s disaster effort against Badgers, Illinois (0-1) inserted Williams after Illinois had reached the Wisconsin 36-yard-line and the redshirt freshman was asked to execute three zone-read option running plays before Peters was put back in the game to attempt a pass on a fourth-and-2 situation.

“I don’t have much comment on it but it’s at the coaches’ discretion,” Peters said. “Personally, it’s tough sometimes to go in on fourth-and-2 when you haven’t been in the whole drive. That’s tough but you gotta do what the coaches expect. They do what they want and I was just going with the flow.”

Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said the quarterback rotation Friday night was always the plan and ultimately the objective was to “see what you have” in Williams, who finished with five yards rushing and was 0 of 3 passing with an fourth-quarter interception.

“Isaiah has done some good things in practice,” Smith said. “Going in, we had a package designed just for him. So the plan was for him to play. No matter how the game was going, the plan was to get him in the game with that package.”

Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Isaiah Williams (1) throws a pass during the fourth quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium.

Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Isaiah Williams (1) throws a pass during the fourth quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium.

According to Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith on Monday, Williams, who was the Illinois’ highest ranked quarterback recruit since Isiah "Juice" Williams in 2006 and highest ranked recruit at any position since Terry Hawthrone in 2009, was still in a battle with Matt Robinson for the backup role going into this week’s set of practices.

“I’m going to let it play out the rest of the week to see who we go with," Rod Smith said on Monday. "“Isaiah Williams, I think has made about as much improvement as anybody on the team. What we like about him is he’s extremely bright, smart, his quickness — he’s as quick as anyone we have — his throwing has gotten a lot better. I like the progress he’s made. It’s good to have those type of options."