Illinois prepares for Connecticut in Week 2
September 5, 2019
After steamrolling through a 42-3 win against the Akron Zips, Illini Football picks back up at East Hartford Saturday afternoon for their second match of the season against the Connecticut Huskies.
The Illini are coming off of a statement victory in which they controlled both sides of the field. Transfer Brandon Peters shined in his debut as quarterback, throwing three touchdowns, 163 passing yards and scoring his own rushing touchdown.
Illinois’ defense held Akron’s offense in an absolute stranglehold, highlighted by a first-half from Jake Hansen which included six tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception. His energy was met across the board by the entire defense, who only allowed the Zips one field goal conversion early in the first quarter.
Despite coming off of a blowout victory, last Saturday the Illini lost junior running back Mike Epstein to a knee injury that’ll keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.
“Mike has been through so much, such a good football player,” said head coach Lovie Smith. “As was the case with Marquez Beason, these are guys that will come back as strong as ever, but they won’t be a part of the actual Saturday’s this year. What Mike should see is that he has battled it. This is a little bit different of a situation than Dudek because he has a lot of eligibility left. He’ll come back as strong as ever.”
Kerby Joseph will also miss out on playing time at U-Conn this Saturday. The sophomore defensive back was ejected from the game against Akron after being called for targeting. He was starting for sophomore safety Sydney Brown, who missed the home-opener after suffering a hamstring injury. Brown is close to returning, but it remains undetermined whether or not he’ll play on Saturday.
Connecticut will enter Saturday after winning their home opener against Wagner College 24-21. They were bolstered by the play of running backs (junior) Kevin Mens and (grad student) Art Thompkins, who rushed for a combined 243 yards and scored a touchdown each. In his debut at quarterback, transfer student Mike Beaudry hit 14 of 21 passes for 158 yards, with one interception.
“Randy Edsall is an outstanding football coach, so any football team that he’s coaching, there’s a certain type of football you can expect: disciplined football, hard-nosed football,” Smith said. “They had a tough one opening up the season, but that’s what it is.”
The Huskies are hoping this opening win of the season sparks a turnaround for the program. Last year the Huskies finished 1-11, and 0-8 in the American Athletic Conference. The lone win last year came against Rhode Island, 56-49. The 1-11 record was good for 126th, just rounding out the bottom of the barrel in the NCAA.
Last year the Illini’s struggles were the most glaring on the road, finishing 1-5 in games away from Memorial Stadium. Despite the abysmal record the Huskies sported last year, winning this road game is imperative for the Illini.
“For us, it doesn’t matter who our opponent is. We’re going on the road. We haven’t had a lot of success on the road. We haven’t won a non-conference game on the road since 2007. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it sounded pretty good to tell the team. There’s a lot at stake. Good football teams can’t just play at home. You have to be able to go on the road. I’m anxious to see how we respond to the second game.”