Illinois vs. Wisconsin: Game notebook


Freshman M.J. Rivers drops back to pass in Illinois game against No. 23 Wisconsin Saturday. The Illini lost 49-20.

By Tatiania Perry, Staff writer

A change under center

M.J. Rivers relieved AJ Bush of his duties under center at the 6:36 mark in the second quarter. After two interceptions and just 10 yards passing on eight attempts from Bush, the coaching staff decided to go with Rivers’ arm talent, even if it meant sacrificing Bush’s legs.

Rivers’ presence gave Illinois a glimmer of hope as Reggie Corbin immediately broke off an 80-yard touchdown run to cut the 14-0 deficit in half. After the Illini defense forced a three and out on the following drive, Rivers had an opportunity to fully bring them back into the game. But his third down pass was intercepted by Wisconsin’s Olive Sagapolu, setting Wisconsin up in Illinois territory.

Turnovers plagued the Illini, and by the time Rivers attempted his next pass, the score was 28-7. However, Rivers did lead one other touchdown drive, after a Jimmy Marchese interception gave the offense a short field to work with. Although his stat line did not jump out, Rivers once again showed his throwing advantage over Bush, only this time, it seems as though he might be here to stay as the team’s starting quarterback.

Turnover streak continues

Stanley Green’s interception late in the first half extended the Illini’s Power 5 forced-turnover leading streak to 21 games.

While some believe that more forced turnovers lead to more wins, the Illini are a contradiction to the rule as they are 5-16 during the streak.

Illinois is also near the top of the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision in turnover margin at +8. That statistic may also be misleading, as Kansas leads the nation (+13), one of the few Power 5 schools whose struggle is comparable to Illinois’.

Having such a streak can be a positive takeaway from an otherwise lackluster performance, but the defense, particularly the secondary, still has issues when it comes to assignments and tackling, leading to chunk plays for opposing offenses.

Wisconsin had two players, Jonathan Taylor and Taiwan Deal, cross the 100-yard barrier, and both had runs of over 15 yards, including Deal’s 39-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Corbin continues to shine in loss

Reggie Corbin bounced back from the Purdue game when he had difficulty finding holes to break through and finished with 100 yards rushing and a touchdown.

His 80-yard touchdown in the second quarter was easily the Illini’s brightest moment all game as the junior tailback abandoned the blocking scheme to his right, cut left and used key blocks from Rivers in front of him and Sam Mays beside him to take the ball to the house.

Corbin now has 584 yards rushing on the season to go along with six touchdowns, behind only Taylor and Penn State’s Miles Sanders for the Big Ten lead in rushing scores.

If Rivers takes over the starting job at quarterback, the respect opposing defenses would have to pay toward his arm could open up more running lanes for Corbin going forward.


M.J. Rivers: B-

After subbing in for Bush, Rivers once again showed his good arm, competence and poise in the pocket. The true freshman came in and collected seven completions on 13 attempts for 80 yards. Though he threw an interception early, he still showed great control over the ball and made smart decisions. Rather than getting frustrated or flustered, like it seems his older counterpart did, Rivers remained calm and put together four-scoring drives.

Defense: D-

Week after week, the defense has struggled to stop the run; this week was no different. Aside from the two interceptions to add onto the Illini’s forced turnover streak, the defense was sub-par.

Players like Bobby Roundtree, Del’Shawn Phillips and Jartavius Martin were wonderfully underwhelming; there were no stand-out plays or significant tackles on the field. The team did look more cohesive, but conservative.

Stanley Green: B+

Green came out and had what the statistics would say was the best game of his career. He had his second career interception during the second quarter and returned it for 49 yards. He also racked up 16 tackles, a career best.

Green has had a bit of an underwhelming season, and seizing the opportunity for the defense was a huge help for the team. Without Green’s pick, the Illini would’ve had one less touchdown.

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