Illinois Illini head coach Lovie Smith is just glad to be bringing his team home. It is where the heart is, after all.

Smith expressed his excitement to Illini color analyst Martin O’Donnell on the Thursday Walkthrougha weekly interview showcase for the Illinois’ head coach. 

“It’s our home turf. We know it as well as anyone. There won’t be a sellout crowd, but I think it says something when your parents are in the stands,” Smith told O’Donnell. “When people that you love are in the stands. It will still have a University of Illinois feel and we can’t wait to play at home.”

It all makes sense. The Illini were on the wrong end of a 45-7 beating last Friday night in Madison to open the Big Ten season. It was a game in which the Badgers more than doubled up the Illini in multiple statistical categories beyond the scoreboard, including yards gained, turnovers, penalties, and time of possession, which Wisconsin dominated at 43:28 to 16:32.

“The truth of the matter is, some of our guys hadn’t had truly live work [since] bowl game,” Smith continued.

“So that was a long time ago. We don’t want to make excuses, that’s what we don’t want, but that’s just reality. I think we will see, and not just at the University of Illinois, big improvements or more what a team really is and what type of team you are after that first game.”

Illinois will return Saturday to the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium in Champaign for an noon EST Halloween kickoff against next door neighbor Purdue. There will be limited in person attendance at the game, including family, which is what excited coach Smith.

The Boilermakers are coming off a home upset victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes, a win they managed to pull off without their head coach Jeff Brohm, who was forced to watch from home after testing positive for Covid-19.

Illinois and Purdue will kick off at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday.