Beat writer SCOTT RICHEY breaks down five hot topics ahead of the kickoff against the Huskies:
Show up or tune in
East Coast Illinois fans in the Connecticut area for Saturday’s game should be aware that Rentschler Field isn’t on the UConn campus in Storrs. The Huskies’ home field, in fact, sits approximately 22 miles to the west in East Hartford.
Can’t make the trip or don’t live nearby?
The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network with Dave Ryan and Corey Chavous on the call. The latter is a Vanderbilt graduate and played 11 seasons in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams.
Illinois coach Lovie Smith shared a bit of program history with his team this week. “I’m told we haven’t won a nonconference game on the road since 2007,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it sounded pretty good to tell the team.” It’s true. Illinois’ last nonconference road win came in 2007 at Syracuse, and the Illini have just one other this millennium with a 2001 victory at California. “There’s a lot at stake, and good football teams can’t just play at home,” Smith continued. “You have to be able to go on the road.”
You like that?!
Brandon Peters’ 20-yard rushing touchdown in Illinois’ season-opening win was a big hit with his teammates. The Illini quarterback even wound up tying for third on the team in rushing against Akron. Looks like he’s a running quarterback after all. “I told you he wasn’t an oak, right?” offensive coordinator Rod Smith said. “I tried to tell y’all. Big boy can get up and scoot when he wants to. He got on the headphones and said, ‘Coach, I think that’s my longest run ever.’ I said, ‘Well good. It ain’t going to be your last one. Better not be.’”
Putting student in student-athlete
Eleven Illinois football players have already combined to earn 12 degrees. The extra? It belongs to redshirt senior wide receiver Justice Williams, who caught his first career touchdown pass in the season opener against the Zips. The Frisco, Texas, native earned his bachelor’s in business management in August 2018, a master’s in business administration last month and is currently working on a second bachelor’s in Spanish.
Predicting the future
Illinois’ opener turned out to be an easy cover of the 17-point line with a 42-3 rout of the Zips. The Illini are even bigger favorites — 20 1 / 2 points — Saturday on the road. Reasonable given each team’s first game, as Illinois put up a blowout and UConn held on for deal life in a 24-21 victory against FCS foe Wagner. Beating Akron is one thing. Winning on the road for the first time in a dozen years is another and something Illinois has to do to show progress is being made.
Illini 40, Huskies 21