Rapid Reaction: Illinois uses big second half to blast Rutgers, moves within one win of bowl eligibility
Final score: Illinois 38 Rutgers 10
Brief recap: The first half was interesting in Champaign. Illinois built an early 10-0 lead and appeared to be on its way to an easy victory. But Rutgers stormed back and tied the game at 10-10 by halftime, creating some concern for Illini fans. But when the second half started, Illinois really got dialed in. Three second half turnovers were costly for the Scarlet Knights, as the Illini won the final 30 minutes by a score of 28-0. Brandon Peters was effective with his arm and his legs and the defense was opportunistic for a third straight week.
Key moment: With a 17-10 lead in the third quarter, Johnny Langan was rushed out of the pocket and was headed toward a decent gain before Illinois’ Isaiah Gay poked the ball free and Nate Hobbs caught the loose ball and returned it 36 yards to the end zone. A two-score lead in the second half was enough to secure the victory for the Illini.
Key stat: Illinois was able to force three Rutgers turnovers, all in the second half. It’s no surprise that, after a 10-10 tie at halftime, the Illini outscored the Scarlet Knights 28-0 in the final two quarters after getting some key takeaways at critical times.
Key player: The player responsible for two of Illinois’ takeaway definitely deserves the recognition. Dele Harding came away with a fumble recovery and a pick-six in the second half of the game. He was all over the field defensively for the Illini.
What it means for Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights showed some really good fight in the first half on the road after a win over Liberty a week ago. But Rutgers just didn’t have the talent or the depth to hang with Illinois for a full 60 minutes. Second half turnovers were costly and really sunk the Scarlet Knights late. Now, Rutgers has officially been eliminated from the postseason, falling to 2-7 on the year.
What it means for Illinois: Who would’ve thought a few weeks ago when the Illini were sitting at 2-4 that they’d be on the verge of bowl eligibility? But with three straight wins over Wisconsin, Purdue and Rutgers, Lovie Smith and company are 5-4 and need just one more victory to get a guaranteed postseason berth. Games against Michigan State, Iowa and Northwestern will be challenging, but this team is playing with a ton of confidence and momentum right now.