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Illinois is headed to a bowl

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It’s happening.

Brad Repplinger - The Champaign Room

EAST LANSING, Mich. — History.

Was this the Brandon Peters game? The Bhebhe game? The #LovieBall game?

Whatever you want to call it, it’s the game that clinched Illinois’ first bowl berth in five seasons.

Bowl teams make comebacks. And now, after the biggest comeback in program history, Illinois is a bowl team.

The now-bowl eligible Illini (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) fought back from a 25-point deficit to defeat Michigan State, 37-34, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

There was Peters’ moment.

On Illinois’ final drive, it was 4th-and-16. Brandon Peters rolled right and turned left.

There was Bhebhe’s moment.

Peters launched a deep ball to the ever-reliable Josh Imatorbhebhe, and set up the Illini for the game-winning score. A fade and flag and few plays later, Peters threw that game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Barker.

And, of course, there was #LovieBall’s moment.

The FBS defense leading the nation in takeaways had another four Saturday, bring its season total to 26. The first came on a Stanley Green interception. The second on a Sydney Brown pick late in the first half. The third came when Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke saw a snap sail over his head.

But the last – and biggest — came when Brown picked off Lewerke for the second time, and returned it all the way for six. Badger killer James McCourt missed the extra point, yet the Illini made that a footnote.

Illinois converted its second takeaway of the day into a Josh Imatorbhebhe 46-yard score — one of two he had on the day, to bring his season total to nine. The second included a s stiff arm and was of the 83-yard variety, the longest play allowed by the Spartans’ defense all season — and the longest play executed by Illinois’ offense in 2019.

Imatorbhebhe ended the game with 178 yards and a pair of scores.

That was good. Peters didn’t get much help from his offensive line, but the Michigan transfer made it work with some incredible throws rolling out of the pocket. Peters ended the day with over 369 yards and three touchdowns — one of them a bowl-clincher.

Air raid was solid, but Illinois’ usually potent rushing attack was completely stifled by the Spartans. Reggie Corbin was held to 29 yards and Dre Brown just 16 yards himself.

But when the Illini needed it, Reggie Corbin caught a 23-yard pass and added a six-yard run into the end zone.

All of that offense was completely necessary.

With a depleted defense, the Illini struggled to stop the Spartans all afternoon. Coming off a bye, the Michigan State offense scored four touchdowns in the opening half after scoring just two in its last three games combined.

Without linebacker Jake Hansen and defensive end Oluwole Betiku — both due to injury —the Illini were already short-staffed up front. Illinois then lost another linebacker in Milo Eifler (ejection) and defensive tackle Jamal Woods (upper body injury) before halftime.

But with the odds stacked against the Orange and Blue, the Illini capped off the biggest comeback in team history after facing a 28-3 deficit.

So whether it was Peters’, Bhebhe’s, or #LovieBall’s game, it doesn’t matter. It’s time for Illinois to bowl.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

  • MILO PUNCH: On the opening drive that ended with the Spartans in the end zone, Milo Eifler was ejected for throwing a punch at offensive lineman Blake Beuter.

This left Lovie’s defense that was already without Betiku and Hansen due to injury without another playmaker in Eifler. But at least Milo apologized on Twitter, right?

  • FOURTH AND GO: In the second quarter, the Spartans faced a 4th-and-1. Instead of punting it away at their own 40, the Spartans went for it and got the first. Michigan State’s offense was then able to turn that into a long drive and made it a 18-point game.
  • BUTTER FINGER RETURN: Following Michigan State’s third touchdown of the game, Justice Williams was back to return for the Illini. Williams initially muffed the kick, picked it up and ran for about 20 yards and fumbled again. The turnover gave Michigan State great position and allowed the Spartans to break the game wide open and get out to a 28-3 lead.
  • JUICED UP FOR NOTHIN: Corbin had a 41-yard run called back from a holding call. Corbin’s run looked like it would set the Illini up to cut into the deficit before half, but instead it gave the Illini a 3rd-and-long that resulted in a Brandon Peters sack.
  • FIELD TRIP: The Illini had just watched Michigan State march down the field to open the third quarter, but Illinois did not break. In the midst of a goal line stand, Lewerke tripped and fumbled the ball and the Illini recovered. #LovieBall struck again, but after further review Lewerke was down before the fumble and the Spartans added a field goal.
  • PICK OR SIX- On 3rd-and-goal, Peters lofted (and underthrew) a wide-open Imatorbhebhe in what would have been the pair’s third TD connection and the game-tying score. But instead, Peters was picked off.
  • NEW LIFE- The Illini got new life on a fourth down incompletion, when a defensive pass interference was called. The Illini got new life, and the Illini took advantage.

TWEET OF THE GAME

It was pregame, but still, we would like this in our veins.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Bhebhe did that thing where he Bhebhed someone again.

And then he did it again.

Oh, and here’s Sydney Brown’s pick-six.

SOUND SMART

But change that to 9 Josh Imatorbhebhe, 2019 tying him with Brandon Lloyd’s 2002 season.

UP NEXT

Illinois will use the next week to celebrate, relax, get healthy and prepare for its next contest. Next up for the Illini are the Hawkeyes of Iowa in Iowa City. The game time is to be determined.