CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — After back-to-back blowout losses, Illinois has its work cut out for itself before the Illini take the field at Maryland on Saturday afternoon.
“This morning, the message was pretty clear,” said senior captain Nick Allegretti. “We didn’t play well enough, now we have to move on to Maryland. We got a good jump on them.”
The Illinois offensive attack struggled to get much of anything going this past weekend against the Badgers, totaling just 300 combined yards. The Illini also committed five first-half turnovers, too many to overcome against one of the best teams in the conference. It was a game that saw freshman MJ Rivers take over for senior AJ Bush, who finished his day just 2-of-8 passing for 10 yards and two interceptions. Running back Mike Epstein tallied just two rushing attempts on the day before a foot injury sidelined him for the second half and potentially this weekend as well.
The highlight of the day was when senior running back Reggie Corbin cut back across the field and raced 80 yards to the endzone. His touchdown was Illinois’ longest rush in over 10 years and 10th longest in school history.
“I don’t remember most of it,” Corbin said. “It was freezing, and I didn’t have my sleeves on. My clothes were wet because of the snow, I was shaking. I went through my reads, cut back, and I just saw open and I started running as fast as I could. They tried to tackle me, and I was like, ‘it’s a little too cold to be out here any longer, I gotta score now.’ As soon as I scored, I threw the ball and ran straight to the sideline to put a coat on because it was that cold.”
But the most impressive part of the play? Corbin says it wasn’t him.
“Once I saw the film, I saw my teammates and the effort they gave and that was the most impressive part. If we want to talk about anything, it’s about them. The quarterback? Oh my gosh, two blocks for a quarterback? That never happens. [MJ Rivers] should get an A-plus for the team grade after that one. Sam Mays was dominating the corner on the outside too.”
For Corbin, Saturday’s game will be a homecoming of sorts. He’s a guy who’s from Maryland and is familiar with a lot of the faces he’ll be lining up against.
“I know just about all the plays,” he said. “My best friend Marcus Lewis plays cornerback there. I grew up playing against those guys. They went to my rival high school. I’ve known them since they were kids. They’re some of the most talented guys I’ve seen, and I think playing against them my whole life has made me better. I’m excited for the challenge.”
The quarterback situation for Saturday’s game still remains unknown. Neither head coach Lovie Smith or offensive coordinator Rod Smith would comment on any sort of starter yet, but Lovie said that it’s something that will be decided in practice this week.
One thing is certain, Rivers deserves as much of a shot as anyone, and don’t be surprised if that’s who trots out onto the field for the opening drive Saturday.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!