NCAA Football: Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Virginia Cavaliers Preview, Prediction & Odds -- Sept. 11, 2021

by Chuck Sommers

Game time: 11 a.m. ET, Sept. 11, 2021
Venue: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, VA
Where to watch: ACC Network

Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks


DraftKings: UVA -10.5; O/U 54; UVA -400, Illinois +300
BetMGM: NL
Caesars: UVA -11; O/U 54.5

Season record
Illinois: 1-1 (1-0 Big Ten)
Virginia: 1-0

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Illinois - Virginia preview and analysis


Recent form
Illinois: Lost 37-30 vs. UTSA on Sept. 4
Virginia: Won 43-0 vs. William & Mary on Sept. 4

Poor Illinois. It only took a week to figure out who the Fighting Illini really were in the Bielema Era.

The allure of defeating Nebraska in the Week 0 matchup went away quick when Illinois lost 37-30 to the UTSA Roadrunners in the Conference USA member’s first win over a Big Ten team, despite UTSA opening as 5-point underdogs.

Life doesn’t get easier for head coach Bret Bielema in his first season after an opportune chance to go to 2-0. Now after a split in Champaign, the Illini have to go to Charlottesville and take on a Virginia Cavaliers team that is primed to get back to ACC contention.

What Saturday showed was that Illinois is not quite there yet. UTSA outgained the Illini by 101 yards with the time of possession near even (30:42 for UTSA, 29:12 for Illinois). And while Illinois fought back until the end and lost by a touchdown, it shouldn’t get to that point.

Illinois football is not going to win with Artur Sitkowski throwing the ball 43 times and completing only half his passes, whereas his contemporary QB Frank Harris going 20-of-32 for 280 yards and a touchdown for the first big win in Jeff Traylor’s tenure at UTSA.

If the Illini quarterback is going to pass that many times, Illinois better be prepared to run when called upon. Between five players, the Illinois ground game combined for 129 yards on 35 carries. Sitkowski led the way with 30 yards on seven carries.

It didn’t help that Illinois’ defense got smacked around. UTSA ran the ball 50 times for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Sincere McCormick, the Roadrunners’ star running back, carried it 31 times for 117 yards. That would be a good day for the Illinois defense on any other night, except Davis had eight carries for 32 yards and a touchdown, and Brenden Brady scored the other two on the ground with 11 carries for 67 yards.

To expect Illinois to go on the road and stop a talented offense in Virginia is dangerous thinking. The Cavaliers made quick work of William & Mary, shutting out the Tribe to a tune of 43-0. Brennan Armstrong had 339 yards and two touchdowns, and only needed to go 21-of-31 to do it. Considering a 5-5 campaign last season, anything strong to start is good for the Cavs.

But it’s not the air Illinois has to deal with. Virginia makes its money on the ground with coach Bron. Eight players combined for 206 yards and three rushing touchdowns for the Cavaliers on Saturday. It’s a veteran offense that returned eight starters from a year ago with 82 percent of the total offense back, as well.

Prediction


For as much as the want and desire of Illinois getting back to the top of the college football mountain, there will be rough patches. This will be one of them. Virginia could look too far ahead with North Carolina the following week, but Mendenhall is too grounded of a coach to make sure that doesn’t happen. Virginia takes care of business at home to set up a showdown with an angry UNC team that may have some rankings implications. Virginia wins 34-20.

Betting trends


Illinois is 5-4 in its last nine as a road underdog.

Virginia is 13-1 in its last 14 home games straight up, 10-3 against the spread. The over is also 10-3 in that stretch.

Players to watch


Illinois: The Illini are going to need more out of their running backs. Reggie Love III had only 10 carries for 34 yards. Sitkowski, for as dangerous of a dual-threat he can be, can’t do it all.

Virginia: If a receiver breaks out again for another big game, Cavaliers wide out Dontayvion Wicks can build off his four-catch, 94-yard outing on Saturday.

Statistical leaders


Illinois:
Passing: Artur Sitkowski -- 390 yards, 5 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Mike Epstein -- 107 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Isaiah Williams -- 142 yards, 1 TD
Defense: Keith Randolph Jr. -- 2 sacks

Virginia:
Passing: Brennan Armstrong -- 339 yards, 2 TD
Rushing: Iraken Armstead -- 54 yards
Receiving: Dontayvion Wicks -- 94 yards
Defense: Nick Jackson -- 12 tackles

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Chuck Sommers

About the Author:

Chuck Sommers has camped outside of sportsbooks since he can remember, learning the tricks and nuances of the trade. He still has nightmares of betting $5,000 on the Raiders in the Tuck Rule game but has since turned that to 25 years of veteran handicapping greatness. You can find him mostly in the shadows at the Red Rock or Aliante casinos wondering if the over is cashing on any given Sunday.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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