Final Score: Illinois 31 UConn 23
Brief Recap: Probably not a game Lovie Smith and the Illini really want to remember, even though it was a win. The good news is that Illinois snapped a seven-game road losing streak in non-conference games. But the Illini really had to scrap and claw their way to a win in a game they should’ve won relatively easily. Connecticut jumped out to an early 13-0 lead, thanks to a pick-six thrown by Brandon Peters. But credit Illinois, once they took at the lead midway through the second quarter at 14-13, it didn’t relinquish. The defense allowed just 10 points in the second half, enough for Illinois to improve to 2-0 on the year.
Key Moment: UConn was on its own 9-yard line with a 10-0 advantage and a chance to take a three-score lead early in the second quarter. But the Illinois defense shut down the drive, allowing the Huskies to score just a field goal on the drive. Had the defense not held UConn to a field goal on that drive, what would have been the mindset for the Illini trailing a bad UConn team by three scores?
Key Stat: Illinois had three turnovers against a bad UConn defense. Yes, the Illini won the game, but that’s a concerning stat to take away from this one.
Key Player: Welcome to Illinois, Josh Imatorbhebhe. He finished the day with four catches for 42 yards and two touchdowns, but made some really nice snags over defenders during the game. He wasn’t the most popular target for Peters on Saturday, but he made some big plays.
What it Means: Illinois’ mission of finishing the non-conference schedule 3-0 now comes down to a home game against Eastern Michigan. And for a team hoping to finally go bowling, that’s a big thing. Nobody expected Illinois to be anything but 2-0 at this point in the season, but expectation and execution are two totally different things. If the Illini can get to 3-0 next week, they can start to taste that bowl eligibility, needing just three conference wins to hit that goal.