AJ Bush gives Illini needed boost


Austin Yattoni

Illinois quarterback AJ Bush (1) talks to Kent State defensive lineman Matt Bell (93) and wide receiver Lon’kevious McFadden (83) after the game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018.

By Tatiania Perry, Staff writer

Illinois has had two notable running quarterbacks in its recent history: Nate Scheelhaase and Isiah “Juice” Williams.

In his time at Illinois, AJ Bush has put himself in the conversation with such players, and he’s only played three games in the orange and blue.

The graduate transfer came to Illinois after losing the starting quarterback job at various schools, including big ten foe Nebraska. Bush was the first Illinois quarterback with multiple 100-yard rushing games in a season since Scheelhaase’s four in 2010.

In Saturday’s game at Rutgers, Bush ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns and threw for a third. In his return to the starting role, the big running game lead to a 38-17 victory.

The win not only broke a two-game losing streak for Illinois but also ended a 13-game, 700-day losing streak in the Big Ten, the last win being a 31-27 victory over Michigan State in 2016.

“I wasn’t here last year so my whole mindset was ‘we need to win a game regardless of the emphasis put on it’,” Bush said. “I wasn’t thinking about the first Big Ten win; I just wanted to win, and that’s what I wanna do with the rest of the season — keep winning games.”

Bush was crucial in scoring: he ran for a 41-yard touchdown in the second quarter and was consistent up the middle throughout the game.

He also made an important block in one of Corbin’s big gains.

Standing at 6 foot 4 and weighing 225 pounds, Bush doesn’t look like quite the blocker but was happy to play that role.

“It was cool,” Bush said. “I kind of just got thrown in the fire. I was carrying out my fake then I saw Reggie, I was like ‘alright then he makes his cut if he makes his last cut then I have to take off,’ then he went and made the last cut so I just took off.”

Offensive coordinator Rod Smith knew that despite missing two games to injury, Bush was a reliable QB. In his debut, Bush collected 139 rushing yards against Kent State.

In his third collegiate start at Rutgers, he had the first multi-touchdown game of his career.

Overall I thought mentally he made some good decisions with the football,” Rod Smith said. “He did some good things and obviously he gives us something at the quarterback position as well that makes defenses account for a number to deal with.”

Now 3-0 as a starter, Bush is excited to be back in the swing of things and not having to worry about his hamstring injury.

Bush said his young team has built up momentum and he would like to see that continue.

“I expected us to do great things I’ve always believed in this team since I got here,” Bush said.

No matter what the statistics say, Bush knows that there’s always room to grow. He recognizes that the team is still building and still have ways to go, whether it be in his own pass game or the rushing game.

“Stats have their own story but I feel like all the plays are there to be made,” Bush said. “There is going to be a game where the passing is clicking and when the passing is clicking the run is clicking then that’s when the numbers come.”


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