By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst
November 15, 2023
(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)
CHAMPAIGN — In his weekly media conference, Illinois head coach Bret Bielema hinted that he’s never had a quarterback lose his starting position because of an injury.
And he’s not going to start going against that trend this weekend when the Illini travel to No. 16 Iowa.
In an appearance Wednesday morning on Sirius XM Big Ten Radio Show, the Illinois third-year head coach confirmed that he intends to start Luke Altmyer for the 2:30 p.m. CST kickoff in Kinnick Stadium over fifth-year senior walk-on John Paddock.
“As of (Tuesday), Luke has been totally cleared to play,” Bielema said on his appearance. “Because of that, he is our starting quarterback before he left and that's where I sort of see it now. ... If there's any part of that that gets gray we have a guy that has proven he can play.”
In the midst of the radio interview, Bielema confirmed that Altmyer had been fully medically cleared for contact before the Illini’s practice session on Tuesday morning and the Illini head coach has decided to put the Ole Miss transfer back in the starting lineup after he missed last week’s 48-45 overtime win over Indiana.
“I’ve never been a coach who has put a player in a position that they’ve lost by injury,” Bielema said on Monday inside Memorial Stadium. “I kind of went through that my first year, right?”
The next time Bielema is set to met with local reporters is slated to be Thursday inside the Smith Family Football Complex in Champaign for his final media session before kickoff against the Hawkeyes.
In the win over the Hoosiers, Paddock set a Memorial Stadium record with 507 passing yards on 24 completions over 36 attempts and his passing yards total are the most ever by an Illini quarterback in the home stadium.
Paddock went 13-for-19 with 316 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the first half, which was the most passing yards in a half for the program since Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 340 yards in the first half on Aug. 31, 2013, vs. Southern Illinois and the most first-half passing yards by a Big Ten quarterback since CJ Stroud threw for 393 yards on Nov. 20, 2021, vs. Michigan State.
Altmyer, who had started the previous nine games for Illinois this season, has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,883 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while also providing three rushing touchdowns. Altmyer was removed from the 27-26 victory at Minnesota last weekend during the final drive after the transfer from University of Mississippi took a hit to the head/neck area that Bielema said “got his bell rung” and was immediately ruled out and taken to the sidelines by athletic trainer Jeremy Busch.
Before the injury, the Starkville, Miss. native was fourth in the Big Ten in total offense (240.6 yards/game) behind only Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa, Ohio State’s Kyle McCord, and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy. In Altmyer’s last six games, he has completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,312 yards (218.7 yards/game), 10 passing touchdowns compared to just three interceptions.
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