Coveted 3-0 start never comes to fruition, as Illinois turns attention to Big Ten play
CHAMPAIGN — For Reggie Corbin, it was nice to be back on the field. Not that he was happy with the results on the scoreboard, though, with Illinois losing 34-31 to Eastern Michigan.
The senior tailback, who missed the Illinois-UConn game with a hip pointer, ran 18 times for 144 yards and a touchdown.
“It felt good,” Corbin said. “I tried to move as quick as I could and not get hit.”
He said there were some limitations.
“But I’ll be all right,” Corbin said. “Adrenaline takes over. That crowd did a heckuva job. They definitely helped me stay in the game.”
Corbin scored on a 28-yard run midway into the fourth quarter to cut Eastern Michigan’s lead to seven.
Illinois coach Lovie Smith was happy to have Corbin available.
“He showed at times exactly why we say he’s our best football player,” Smith said.
Corbin is in his final season. And is looking for his first bowl appearance.
What will he do to help the team avoid another slide?
“I’ve played many good teams and we’ve taken many losses,” Corbin said. “This is not going to define our season at all. We beat ourselves. If you watched the game, we played horrible on our side of the ball. ... If we fix that, it probably wouldn’t be close at all.”
What was the locker room like after the game?
“Quiet,” Corbin said. “Definitely quiet. We’re all going to come in (Sunday). We’re going to learn. We’re going to start in on Nebraska. We’re going to move on, and we’re going to practice even harder this week.”
Even down two scores Saturday, Corbin remained confident.
“We have faith in Coach Rod (Smith),” Corbin said. “It was all on us. The play calls were there.”
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After two successful weeks and two wins, quarterback Brandon Peters suffered his first loss as an Illini.
Did Smith ever consider making a change at quarterback?
“There were a lot of us that struggled (Saturday),” Smith said. “Brandon was just a part of it. Brandon is our quarterback. A lot of people have to do a better job. Brandon being one of them. Me being one. A lot of us didn’t do well (Saturday).”
Peters and the offense shouldered part of the blame.
“There were plays to be made,” Peters said, “and we didn’t make them.”
The Eagles sacked him six times and got close many other times.
“They did a great job bringing pressure all day,” Peters said. “Missed communication. Missed assignments. It is embarrassing to lose like this. We’ve just got to keep pushing. There’s still a lot of football to play.”
Peters, who finished 22 of 37 for 297 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and one fumble, said the Eastern Michigan defense didn’t do anything he didn’t expect.
“We just didn’t execute,” he said.
Peters got popped a few times, but was able to continue.
“It really didn’t affect me,” he said.
The nine penalties Illinois committed bothered Peters.
“We need to stop making stupid penalties,” he said. “That’s putting us behind the chains.”
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Move over, Dan Beaver. James McCourt earned a place next to you in the Illinois record book. The junior kicker nailed a 57-yard field goal in the first half, tying Beaver for the longest in school history.
“I just found out,” McCourt said. “It would have been nice to get the win with that record.”
It wasn’t a first for McCourt from that distance.
“I hit a couple during camp.” McCourt said. “The coaches tested my range. I can go farther. Hopefully, I will get a shot later in the year. Hopefully, a 60.”
McCourt battled Danville native Caleb Griffin during camp for the starting job.
“We had a really good battle, and he’s a great kicker,” McCourt said. “We push each other every day, and I still have to keep making my kicks because I know that he is right behind me.”
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Josh Imatorbhebhe continues to pile up catches for the Illini. The Southern Cal transfer had four more for 91 yards, including the game-tying 36-yard touchdown with 1:44 left.
“Any time we’re down, we never feel we’re out,” he said. “(Brandon) threw it up, and I did my best to make a play. He did a good job finding me on that last drive.”
Imatorbhebhe wanted the win.
“It’s hard to find the good in this because it wasn’t good at all,” he said. “If we clean stuff up, I feel we’ll be good down the line.”
How were the players after the game?
“People are hurt,” Imatorbhebhe said. “We have a lot of expectations.”
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Linebacker Dele Harding won’t get to check off one of his career goals: to start the season 3-0. Saturday was the last chance for the senior.
“It’s a tough loss,” Harding said.
Harding doesn’t want the loss to linger.
“We’ve got to move forward, not let this affect the rest of the season,” Harding said. “Tomorrow is a new day.”
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The Illini defense didn’t have a handful of players available because of injuries and suspensions.
Defensive backs Tony Adams and Stanley Green, defensive linemen Kenyon Jackson, Lere Oladipo and Jamal Woods didn’t participate.
“Lere has been suspended, (and) broke team rules,” Smith said. “It hurts, but everybody is missing guys.”
The injured players are not considered to be out long term.
“They were close,” Smith said.
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In the final seconds of the first half and trailing 23-17, Illinois missed a chance to add points when it failed to call timeout.
“Coaching mistake,” Smith said. “On me.”Bob Asmussen