When Brandon Peters lofted a 52-yard touchdown pass to Josh Imatorbhebhe, the crowd at Memorial Stadium went wild as the Illini put the “dagger” in the Rutger Scarlet Knights.
Illinois ultimately clinched a 38-10 victory over the Big Ten’s bottom feeder, and also inched within one win of bowl eligibility. The Illini have three chances to do just that.
Peters and Imatorbhebhe are in their first season in Champaign as the Illini are closing in on their first bowl appearance in five seasons. Aside from their big play ability, both players have some bowling experience that they have brought to the Orange and Blue.
Peters transferred from Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan squad that beat the Illini 42-28 earlier this season, while Peters was injured. Michigan has been in 15 bowl games since 2000 and are eligible for a bowl game this season as well. Peters played in the 2018 Outback Bowl with the Wolverines and is no stranger to the pressure that comes with leading a team.
Peters has thrown for 1,117 yards and 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions in his first year with the Illini. In games he has started and finished, Illinois is 5-2. Peters understands that the foundation is being built this year.
“We can set a norm here, definitely with this season,” Peters said.
Peters made mention as well, without getting too far ahead, that the roster construction is in a good place.
“With the guys that are coming back [next season] I think it’ll give us a confidence, and an example of what’s needed to make that type of run [to consecutive bowl appearances],” Peters said.
His go-to target all year long has been Imatorbhebhe. Bhebhe transferred from USC, a program which has won five Rose Bowls alone in the wide receiver’s lifetime. The graduate transfer was a part of a team that won the Rose Bowl and is a veteran when it comes to making big plays.
Bhebhe has made 25 catches for 420 yards and found the end zone seven times in his lone season with the Illini. He’s also closing in on the school record for receiving touchdowns in a season.
“I just got here in July, but I can sense this change in confidence,” Imatorbhebhe said. “Our practices have been getting more and more competitive with every single win. I can only imagine how competitive this week’s practices are going to be especially now that a bowl game is within arms’ reach.”
The attitude that comes from perennial bowl teams that are used to winning is what can change the culture at Illinois into a program where winning is an expectation and not a surprise.
Peters and Imatorbhebhe are certainly a part of it.
“The confidence is building and when we step on the field, we believe we’re going to win. When you get to that point as a team or as a program, that’s how dynasties are created,” Imatorbhebhe said.
The next step to truly laying that foundation is to secure that next win and lockup a bowl game for the first time since 2014.