Sept. 15, 2007 at Syracuse. The Orange and Blue defeated the Orange, 41-20.
Then, Illinois didn’t win another non-conference road game until Saturday.
Following a disappointingly slow start, Illinois roared back and beat UConn, 31-23, at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, in the Illini’s only non-conference road game of 2019.
Illinois’ next chance to break the streak would have been Sept. 11, 2021 at Virginia. Instead, the streak ends at 4,375 days.
But, at first, it didn’t look like it would be broken.
After a pick six to start the game, the Illini would fall behind 13-0 after they couldn’t stop the Huskies on their next two drives, leading to two field goals. Illinois also only mustered 34 yards of total offense.
The second quarter is when everything changed in favor of the Illini.
The offense started clicking as Brandon Peters was able to get into a rhythm, finishing the half 16-for-20 for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Peters joined Wes Lunt (2014) and Kurt Kittner (2000) as the only Illinois quarterbacks to ever start a season with two games of at least three touchdown passes.
The Illini closed the half with a 53-yard field goal — Army could’ve used a James McCourt — to finish off 24 unanswered points in the second quarter, as the defense held UConn scoreless after an early field goal.
USC transfer Josh Imatorbhebhe hauled in two scores from Peters, including a 13-yard grab in the third quarter to push the Illini ahead 31-23. After a Huskies fumble, the Illini had the ball inside the 10 with a chance to put the game away, but UConn forced a strip sack of Peters, keeping them around into the fourth quarter.
The Huskies were able to turn it into a one-score game with a field goal in the fourth quarter.
Illinois had a chance to ice it with a few minutes left, but didn’t run enough time off the clock. That gave the ball back to UConn, where Dele Harding was able to finish it off with a big-time interception.
Although this road win wasn’t easy, the Illini were able to stave off the Huskies and have a chance to finish non-conference play undefeated next week.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
No Reggie: Already with junior tailback Mike Epstein out for the season, Reggie Corbin never appeared in Saturday’s game. Corbin left last week’s game in the first half after scoring the Illini’s first touchdown of the season. With the duo out, Lovie and Rod had to lean more on Dre Brown, Ra’Von Bonner and Jakari Norwood.
Peters’ Pick-Six: Brandon Peters was off to a rough start, throwing a pick-six to start the game. Then he recovered for arguably the best game of his career.
First-Quarter Targeting: A targeting call on Stanley Green got him ejected from the game. It seemed like a pretty big loss with Kerby Joseph out for the first half after a targeting call against Akron, and defensive back Sydney Brown not making the trip.
TWEET OF THE GAME
That familiar, sinking Illinois Football Feeling ™️— Matty (@matt1all) September 7, 2019
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
It took a hot second, but the Illini’s offense finally got going on Bonner’s longest catch of his career.
Hey! We’re old!
Illinois did not start a true freshman for the second straight game. Entering this season, Illinois had started at least one true freshman in 33 straight games, by far the longest streak in program history.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) September 7, 2019
Oh, and Mercilus’ career has turned out pretty good.
Oluwole Betiku is the first Illini with 3.0 sacks in a game since Whitney Mercilus at Indiana 10/8/2011.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) September 7, 2019
Illinois looks to finish off non-conference play undefeated next Saturday at home against Eastern Michigan, a more formidable MAC opponent than Akron.