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Illinois holds off Kent State in ugly season-opening win, 31-24

AJ Bush and a trio of tailbacks delivered in the 2018 debut.

Kent State v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It wasn’t pretty, but the Illini came out with the win.

Illinois won its season opener against the Kent State Golden Flashes on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, 31-24.

“There was never a doubt in our mind that we weren’t going to come back and win this game,” said wide receiver Mike Dudek. “[Linebackers] Jake Hansen and Del’Shawn Phillips both great leaders and linebackers for us really made everyone believe.”

After a sluggish first half, the Illini offense finally began to click in the third quarter, getting three touchdowns from three different running backs. Junior running back Reggie Corbin led the backfield corps with 79 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including this 39-yard score in the third quarter that tied it up.

In his first start with the team, quarterback AJ Bush delivered. The senior finished his day with 190 yards passing and another 139 on the ground.

On the other sideline, Kent State head coach Sean Lewis may have found his quarterback of the future in Woody Barrett. The sophomore transfer racked up 270 yards through the air, threw two touchdown passes, and added another 117 on the ground, including a rushing touchdown of his own.


Freshman cornerback Jartavius Martin’s third quarter interception turned the tide for the Illini. Running back Reggie Corbin capitalized off the turnover with a touchdown run. Illinois would go on to score twice more in the third quarter.


Sophomore linebacker Jake Hansen tied a school record with six tackles for loss. He also finished with a game-high 15 tackles.

AJ Bush’s 139 rushing yards are the fifth-most in school history by an Illinois quarterback.


“I knew we were going to win the game,” Bush said. “I told Coach Lovie that we were going to win the game at halftime. I want everyone to be calm and cool, and that’s how we played in the second half... Any team that judges us off this game will be in for a rude awakening.”


The Illini will look to put their undefeated record on the line next Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT when they welcome Western Illinois to Champaign.

The Leatherbacks dropped their season opener to Montana State, 26-23.