Beat Writer Q&A: Matt Stevens Answers IlliniGuys Questions beat writer Matt Stevens answers subscriber questions related to Illinois basketball and football teams.

Matt Stevens, IlliniGuys Staff Writer

December 18, 2021

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Several IlliniGuys subscribers had questions for its newest beat writer.

Therefore, what better way to answer all of these questions from football, basketball or something outside Illini athletics than have Matthew Stevens compile the entire list and give his thoughts in a comprehensive Q&A mailbag format.

However, I must apologize that I’ve been late in answering some of these questions but in a very wrong and intended consequence, the news of the transfer portal and National Signing Day surrounding Illinois has provided clearer answers.

Without further ado….

Question No. 1 - From @Auggie - If no additions are made to the OL room what looks like a starting 5 to you next year?

The good news for this question is I believe Illinois will be able to find an offensive lineman in the transfer portal to possibly play guard or tackle for the 2022 season.

Therefore, let me answer this question this way:

  1. If Illinois finds a guard in the transfer portal…

Isaiah Adams (LT), Jordan Slaughter (LG), Josh Kreutz, Transfer (RG), Julian Pearl (RT)

  1. If Illinois finds a tackle in the transfer portal…

Transfer (LT), Julian Pearl (LG), Josh Kreutz, Jordan Slaughter (RG), Isaiah Adams (RT)

Question No. 2 - From @houstonwolves - The coaching carousel is going to take quite a few spins in the next few weeks. How is this going to affect Illinois?

I don’t believe it will in a large way. I think the obvious guys who I think could be hot commodities as coordinators on the Illinois defensive coaching staff (Ryan Walters, Kevin Kane and Andy Buh) are content with their salary and really believe in the idea that the continuity of staying together could continue to provide high-level results for the Illinois defensive players. On the offensive side, I don’t think Bielema wants to make a move after just one season and has a lot of faith in Tony Petersen and the system they’re trying to implement.

Question No. 3 - From @cmore79 - If Matt Campbell moves on from Iowa State, do you see us making a run at Nate Scheelhaase? Do you think we will have any staff turnover this winter?

No and no, for a lot of reasons. I don’t foresee a scenario where Campbell leaves Iowa State. I was told by sources inside the football program that Bielema reached out to Scheelhaase but it wasn’t for a coordinator position and the former Illini quarterback declined that offer. No, I don’t think Bielema wants to make a move with his coaching staff.

Question No. 4 - From @IIAi - Looking back and assessing this year, how do you evaluate it? You had told us all at the beginning of the season to not expect a bowl because talent is still the same. This team arguably could have or should have won 7 to 9 games if they closed a few a little better.

I disagree with the idea that this 2021 season should have been an 8-9 win season. Yes, I pegged Illinois for three wins because the super seniors were a group that needed to be rebooted because they’ve been around nothing but losing in their college careers. I’ve also been consistent that the 2022 season needed to be this dropoff because the roster would have so much turnover in it where the personnel wouldn’t be around losing so much and yes, I buy that this coaching staff has proven they can produce high level results with players perceived (incorrectly a lot of the time) to have limited potential development.

I think this staff kicks themselves because the end of the Maryland game was botched, and the Rutgers game should’ve been a win. However, UTSA dominated them in most aspects and the fact Illinois made it a seven-point game is more of an indication to me that UTSA nearly botched the end. To expect to win that Purdue game on the road with a 9-6 score is kind of ludicrous. However, you could say they drastically overachieved by defeating both Penn State and Minnesota on the road in the way that they did.

Question No. 5 - From @phoenix_illini - Do you think longer term this staff can out-recruit Iowa, Wisconsin, Minny and Michigan State for the relatively few three-star defensive linemen produced in Chicago/Chicago suburbs outside of the far Southwest and South suburbs (where HS staffs seem to still have some connections to Illinois...)?

Yes. And they think they’re already doing it.

Let me explain. First, I think in this 2022 recruiting class that Joey Okla should’ve been at Wisconsin and for all the people that say, “but Matt, they never offered him”, that’s fine but they never offered him BECAUSE they didn’t want to lose a recruiting battle to Illinois on an in-state product when Illinois put in the time and resources. Matt Fries should be at Rutgers. Iowa wanted Aidan Laughery badly. Hunter Whitenack should’ve been offered by Purdue, Indiana and even possibly Notre Dame. Indiana and Michigan State offered and put resources toward recruiting Shawn Miller. Illinois beat a serious run by Tennessee for Gabe Jacas. Michigan and Penn State both offered Elijah Mc-Cantos but he chose to go from Miami, Fla. to Illinois.

Question No. 6 - From @Stump4 - Do you think winning is the answer to getting fans back in the stands?

Yes. But to quote current Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin, “you need to also have an elite experience” and that involves improving the overall tailgating aspect around Memorial Stadium and making it a community thing for fans to go to the game instead of watching it on their couch in a climate-controlled room.

Question No. 7 - From @west coast Illini - What effect has the season had on in-state high school coaches (specifically in areas that Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota have dominated the past decade) and influencers?

I spoke specifically to George McDonald, Tony Petersen and Terrance Jamison about this topic and all three of those men told me that the optimism and enthusiasm is very high among high school coaches and administrators about Illinois keeping their word in valuing in-state talent. When they walk into schools with the block ‘I’ on their shirts, they’re excited instead of making fun of them behind their backs. The high school coaches are noticing when Illinois takes players like Jordan Anderson, TJ Griffin, Henry Boyer, James Kreutz and Clayton Leonard because they want to sell their players on staying home for their families to be able to see them play in college at the University of Illinois.

Question No. 8 - From @Auggie - Is Josh Whitman or any of the medical people associated with the program in Bret’s ear about getting healthier?

Believe it or not, I get this question a lot from Illini fans. I answer it the same way. You know who I hear is on Bielema the most about getting healthier and getting in better shape (by the way, don’t we all need to be in better shape?) so he can experience a longer and better lifespan? His wife Jen. And good for her because she wants her husband around and healthier. So, I think Bret Bielema hears it plenty at home. I also know Bielema and Brad Underwood have discussed how the Illini basketball coach managed to lose a lot of weight in an offseason.

Question No. 9 - From @The Jersey Leshoure - Are there any position groups other than offensive line that Bielema is particularly adept at scouting, such that if we see him take a lower ranked guy or guy with few offers, we can know to sort of give him the benefit of the doubt?

Yes. Linebacker and defensive line. So, the perfect example of this is Bret Bielema wanted to offer James Kreutz after he saw his senior year tape at Loyola Academy so while he’s a low-rated prospect, when you get the seal of approval from Bielema and John Holecek, you immediately give the benefit of the doubt.

Question No. 10 - From @BFA - Honest breakdown of Brandin Podziemski? I was elated to have him enroll and hope he produces.

I think Podziemski has a great opportunity to continue to learn what this team and the program wants in a point guard while knowing he’s not going to be counted on much for the Illini’s 2021-22 season. I’m sure he thought he’d be more of a contributor as a true freshman, but I’d like to think he’s learning so much by being guarded by Trent Frazier every day in practice while on the scout team.


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