After spotting Connecticut the first 13 points, Illinois took control with a 24-point second quarter and held on for a 31-23 victory Saturday afternoon in East Hartford, Conn..
Graduate transfer quarterback Brandon Peters completed 22 of 33 passes for 225 yards and four touchdowns to guide Illinois (2-0) to its first nonconference win on the road since 2007. Two of Peters’ scoring strikes went to USC graduate transfer Josh Imatorbhebhe, who entered the game with four career catches.
Defensive end Oluwole Betiku Jr., another of Illinois’ three USC graduate transfers, stacked up 3.5 of Illinois’ five sacks. The one-time five-star recruit has five sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss in two games.
Connecticut freshman quarterback Jack Zergiotis, a Montreal native making his college debut, hit 21 of 31 passes for 275 yards, with two interceptions. The Huskies revealed 90 minutes before the game that Week 1 starter Mike Beaudry would sit out due to a shoulder injury.
Connecticut (1-1) opened the scoring on Illinois’ first possession when junior defensive back Tyler Coyle snared a slant pass meant for junior wideout Ricky Smalling and raced 52 yards down the sideline for the score.
The Huskies added field goals of 35 and 29 yards by Clayton Harris on their next two drives to take a 13-0 lead three seconds into the second quarter.
That’s when Peters started connecting with a wide variety of Illinois receivers and stacking up points.
He hit junior running back RaVon Bonner for a 28-yard score at 11:43 of the second, found Imatorbhebhe for a 9-yard strike at 5:51 and lobbed an 18-yard pass to wide-open sophomore tight end Daniel Barker with 0:55 left in the half to give Illinois a 21-13 lead.
Illinois pushed its margin to 24-13 as the first half expired when junior kicker James McCourt bombed a career-long 53-yard field goal into the wind. Junior safety Mike Marchese set it up with a red-zone interception that he returned to the Illini 46 with 21 seconds left.
The Huskies pulled within 24-20 on its first second-half possession when junior running back Kevin Mensah raced around left end and dove across the goal line for a 2-yard score with 11:36 left in the third.
Illinois answered later with Peters’ fourth touchdown pass of the afternoon. After the Huskies committed back-to-back facemask penalties, Peters found Imatorbhebhe open for a 13-yard flip and a 31-20 lead.
Harris’ third field goal of the day pulled Connecticut within one possession with 11:39 left in the game.
Trailing 31-23, the Huskies regained the ball at their 14 with 3:38 left. Zergiotis’ strong right arm produced one first down, but then Illinois senior linebacker Dele Harding picked him off on third-and-5 near midfield with 2:13 left.
Illinois managed 130 rushing yards despite playing without its top two running backs. Senior Reggie Corbin is week-to-week with a hip pointer while junior Mike Epstein suffered a season-ending knee injury during the season-opening win over Akron.
UConn finished with 10 net rushing yards thanks, in part, to the five sacks that cost the hosts 30 yards.
—Field Level Media