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Illinois an inch from bowl eligibility after beating Rutgers

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One more win.

Brad Repplinger - The Champaign Room

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois finally woke up in third quarter. Now, they have a chance at a bowl game.

After heading to the locker rooms tied at 10 against Rutgers at Memorial Stadium, Brandon Peters took things into his own hands — and legs — when he decided to keep the ball and make a 54-yard run into the 2-yard line. Dre Brown, for the second time, made sure Illinois got the touchdown.

Illinois head coach Lovie Smith noted Brown’s performance: “Senior, captain, makes all of the calls. Whether it was big hits, interceptions, touchdowns. Just outstanding play.”

But it was outstanding play from the whole team in the third quarter.

A defensive touchdown, forced fumble, long pitch-and-catch to Josh Imatorbhebhe and another defensive touchdown later, and Illinois has three straight Big Ten wins in the same season for the first time since 2007.

Illinois’ program has seemed to turn around in the second half of its season, and that continued in the second-half against Rutgers after a 38-10 win.

The Illini (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) had a slow first half, and seemed to be underperforming compared to their last two games — wins over Big Ten teams.

But Illinois players, like wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe, knew they needed to flip the switch out of the showers.

“We knew we weren't playing our best football and they were barely hanging in,” Imatorbhebhe said. “And we knew all we had to do was put the foot on the gas.”

And It was clear coming back from halftime, the Illini weren’t going to leave Memorial Stadium with anything but a win.

The defense capitalized on anything and everything that it could, with two touchdowns, making five total on the season — now tied for the most in the nation. The defense has also forced and recovered a fumble in every game this season, making that an FBS-high of 14.

After being up 38-10, Illinois started to save its energy in the fourth quarter by putting in the second-string offense, led by sophomore QB Matt Robinson. Peters finished his day 6-for-11 with passing completions of 52 and 48 yards.

With its season going better than it has in years, Illinois has proved itself to be a different team, and the Illini just might be going bowling.

“We’re one win away from being bowl eligible,” Smith said. “That is something we’re going to embrace. We can’t talk our way into one.”

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

  • Donny Navarro had a 48-yard reception from Peters and set the Illini up to score their lone touchdown of the first half.
  • Brandon Peters can run.
  • It wouldn’t be a game coached by Lovie without a forced fumble, right?
  • Dele for DPOW?

TWEET OF THE GAME

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Nobody is sure what a clap-off is, but Illinois and Rutgers both seem to know.

SOUND SMART

UP NEXT

The Illini travel to East Lansing next week to take on the Michigan State Spartans (4-4).

Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CT.