Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman is throwing all of his support behind Lovie Smith behind the Illini football program, despite a 2-4 start to the season, which includes an 0-3 mark in B1G play.

Whitman, who brought in Smith before the start of the 2016 season, said after the college basketball season that he expected the football and basketball programs to make big strides this year, anticipating postseason appearances for both. He said those expectations were reasonable for 2019-20.

Things are looking pretty bleak on the gridiron. The Illini started the season 2-0 before dropping their next four games. One-possession losses to Eastern Michigan and Nebraska were particularly critical to the team’s bowl hopes. Still, Whitman is throwing his support behind the program in hopes of mustering a rally in the second half of the season.

“We’re going to continue to support them with every ounce of energy that we have,” Whitman told Jeremy Werner of Illini Inquirer. “I hope our fans will do the same thing. We’re going to keep swinging that sledgehammer. More than anything, I’m proud of the effort. I’m proud of the work they’re putting in, and I know how hard it is to not get the results you want week after week. I’m optimistic and hopeful that we’ll get the corner turned here in this last six games.”

In order to reach a bowl game, Illinois would need to win four of its final six games. It’s not impossible, as the Illini still have games against Purdue (2-4), Rutgers (1-5) and Northwestern (1-4) left on the schedule. Winning those three would put Smith’s squad at five wins, needing to steal one game against Wisconsin, Iowa or Michigan State.

Things would have to be much better, especially defensively, in Champaign to make a run. But it’s not out of the question just yet.

Illinois has a huge test this weekend, hosting No. 6 Wisconsin.