Complete games in which the Illini dominate conference opponents from start to finish are few and far between these days, but one such matchup occurred in Piscataway on Oct. 6, 2018.
Illinois came into the game at 2-2 overall and was looking at a golden opportunity to break its 13-game conference losing streak. Prior to this game, the Illini hadn’t beaten a Big Ten opponent since Lovie Smith’s first non-Rutgers conference win against Michigan State in 2016.
The Illini took an early lead on a Chase McLaughlin field goal, which was soon erased later in the first quarter by Rutgers rushing touchdown, giving the Scarlet Knights a 7-3 advantage. Illinois retook the lead just before the end of the first quarter on a 3-yard scamper by AJ Bush, and would keep the lead throughout the afternoon.
AJ Bush would take another one to the house on a 41-yard rush early in the second quarter to give Illinois a 17-7 lead. Reggie Corbin would then put the Illini firmly in driver’s seat with an impressive 73-yard touchdown run to give Illinois a 24-7 advantage.
Reggie Corbin Touchdown pic.twitter.com/KqvXV7qpZ3— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) October 6, 2018
Although the offense started racking points up quickly, the defense also brought its A-game by picking off Artur Sitkowski three times. Jartavius Martin, Nate Hobbs and Del’Shawn Phillips all recorded interceptions on what was clearly a bad day for Sitkowski.
Illinois cruised through the second half, while picking up touchdowns from Mike Epstein and Ricky Smalling on their way to a 38-17 victory.
The win was a huge morale boost for a team that was itching to rid itself of its conference losing streak. Beating Rutgers in such a convincing fashion also solidified the Scarlet Knights’ place in the Big Ten’s cellar, which was confirmed by their abysmal 1-11 finish on the season. Though Illinois’ struggles were far from over on the season, this game was a much needed respite for the Illini and their long-suffering fans.
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