It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for Illinois head coach Lovie Smith’s weekly chat with Illini color analyst Martin O’Donnell.

With the team heading on the road to take on a Rutgers team in a similar position, here’s what Smith had to say.

The biggest thing surrounding the Illini program at this point is the 0-3 start. Though Illinois wasn’t expected to win the Big Ten West, it looked like Smith might have the talent to lead at least an improved Illinois team.

“The message is we can play better,” Smith said. “We have to correct some things we have to play better…It’s how you finish. For us to finish well, we have to play better.”

One of the key returners for Illinois this week should be center Doug Kramer. The senior center has missed time due to injury.

Running back Mike Epstein has also dealt with injuries but has proven to be a nice story for the Illini through three games.

“It helps a lot,” Smith said. “Mike is a good football player. The only thing that’s stopped him from taking center stage is injury. We see the best version of Mike each week.”

The team will fly out for its game against the Scarlet Knights. It’s the first time the Illini has done that in 2020 as the team took a bus to Madison for the season opener for Wisconsin. Despite the COVID-19 circumstances hovering over the Illinois program, it’s a lot of the same.

“We’re going to stay in a hotel like we normally do,” Smith said. “We’re going to play on the same field we normally do. It’s not that much of a difference.”

But I’m sure Illinois would like to see a difference in the final score of Saturday’s game.