Those Were The Days - Rutgers
Detlef is down to one Rutgers win that he hasn't written about: last year. So if we win tomorrow, that means next year he'll write about this year and so on and so on. We basically can't ever lose to Rutgers again is what I'm saying. Here's Detlef to take us all the way back to last October:
On Saturday, Illinois hosts Rutgers, who should be in the Big East or some other conference. Anyhow, I've previously written about the Illinois victories over Rutgers except for last year's, so we will take a quick trip back to last season's win in beautiful Piscataway, New Jersey. On a side note, Rutgers is selling beer at its games this year. Josh Whitman took the cue and did the same! Thanks Josh!
October 6, 2018: Illinois traveled east at 2-2, desperate for a rare road win in the Big 10. The two losses came without A.J. Bush Jr. at quarterback, including a tough loss to South Florida at Soldier Field. Bush returned for this game. Rutgers was a woeful 1-4 which included blowout losses to Ohio State, Buffalo and Kansas! KANSAS! Someone had to win.
Illinois gained a first down on its opening possession but then punted. On its first play, Rutgers threw an interception, picked off by Jartavis Martin at the Rutgers 26-yard line! Illinois took advantage with a 39-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin. Alas, Rutgers responded with a solid 12 play, 75 yard touchdown drive to take a 7-3 lead with 5:18 left in the first quarter. I watched the game at home, getting angrier at Illinois falling behind.
THIS IS ILLINOIS FOOTBALL! After a touchback, Reggie Corbin scampered 52 yards to the Rutgers 31-yard line. Facing a fourth down and one at the Rutgers 14-yard line, Mike Epstein gained three yards for the first down. Then, on third down at the Rutgers two-yard line, A.J. Bush lined up in the shotgun. He dropped the snap, it bounced back to him like a Super Ball and he ran up the middle for his first touchdown as an Illini! Chuck Long praised Bush: "He mishandled the snap but kept his poise."
The Illini defense forced a Rutgers three and out. Sadly, Illinois missed a long field goal on its next drive. Once again, the turnover fairy kissed Illinois. Del'Shawn Phillips intercepted a pass at the Rutgers 47-yard line with 11:44 left in the second quarter. Illinois needed only 54 seconds to score. On third down from the Rutgers 41-yard line, Bush dropped back to pass. He waited and then took off running. A Rutgers defender missed him at the line of scrimmage. Bush ran untouched into the end zone for a 17-7 Illini lead! "A huge play by A.J. Bush and a great decision," said Long.
Illinois forced another Rutgers punt. Carlos Sandy, the return man, dropped the punt but promptly fell on it at the Illinois 27-yard line. The turnover fairy continued to love Illinois! Illinois needed just one play to score again. Reggie Corbin took the handoff, cut left and ran down the left sideline for a 73-yard touchdown run and a 24-7 lead! "Great job up front," commented Long.
Rutgers went into desperation mode. On fourth down and one from its own 34-yard line, Rutgers went for it but the Illini defense threw the running back for a loss! But Illinois failed to take advantage of the short field due to a holding penalty. The punt from Blake Hayes went for a touchback, so Rutgers took over at its own 20-yard line with 4:21 left in the first half.
The Rutgers offense came to life (or the Illini defense went into prevent mode, which prevents you from winning the football game). Quarterback Artur Sitkowski completed all nine of his passes for 79 yards, capped by a short touchdown pass which made the score 24-14 at halftime. I was irate. I felt Illinois should have put the dagger into Rutgers at the end of the first half with the short field.
Rutgers got the ball to start the third quarter and its momentum carried the Scarlet Knights into Illinois territory. The drive stopped at the Illinois 29-yard line where Rutgers missed a field goal, thankfully. The teams exchanged punts and with 4:52 left in the third quarter, the Fighting Illini offense took the field at its own 26-yard line. I was nervous and drank more beer.
Illinois ran with Corbin, Epstein and Bush for a first down. Even when Bush got sacked, he ran for 14 yards on the next play to make it third down and four from the Illinois 43-yard line. Bush completed a pass to Trenard Davis at midfield for a huge first down. Bush ran again, this time for 14 yards and a first down at the Rutgers 36-yard line. A pass interference call gave Illinois the ball at the Rutgers 21-yard line. Bush again hooked up with Davis, this time for 21 yards and Illinois ended the third quarter at the Rutgers three-yard line. However, Bush got sacked for an eight-yard loss. Illinois now faced a third down and goal to go from the Rutgers 11-yard line. Bush got great protection and threw a dart to Ricky Smalling in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown! Smalling caught the pass on his back shoulder with a defender draped all over him! The 12 play, 74 yard drive consumed 5:42 of clock. While I realized Rutgers wasn't a great team, I felt good about the progress of the Illinois offense.
The teams exchanged punts and Rutgers added a field goal to make the score 31-17. With 5:45 left in the game, Rutgers failed at the onside kick. Illinois took advantage to clinch the victory. Mike Epstein took the inside zone handoff, ran up the middle and took it to the house for a 41-yard touchdown run! Nate Hobbs intercepted Rutgers on the next drive to ice the road win!
Illinois ran for 330 yards, a huge number for any team. "That's exactly who we'd like to be -- our personality," Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said of the running game. "This is who we want to be. Offensively when you rush for over 300 yards, you have to be really excited about that." Corbin ran for 137 yards and a touchdown; Bush had 116 and two touchdown runs; Epstein ran for 63 and a touchdown. Bush showed his passing skills with 10 of 18 passing for 89 yards and a touchdown. Trenard Davis was the leading receiver with 5 catches for 59 yards. The defense played well, with three interceptions which meant Illinois won the turnover battle, +3 with zero turnovers on offense.
"It's important because they need to know how to win," Bush said of the Young Illini. "They need to know what it takes to win and how it feels to win, so when we win, then we can build that culture, build that experience with them and that just takes over and that's how you change the program."
One oddity in this game occurred when Center Judge Mike Conklin took a knock to his head when someone threw the football in from the sideline. He sat out a series, dazed, but returned to the game. It's not easy being an official! At 3-2, Illinois returned to Zuppke Field for a big matchup with Purdue. Let's not talk about that one.
Sources: ESPN.com & BTN.com