Illinois scored touchdowns on its first three possessions to set the tone for a 42-3 victory over Akron in a non-conference season opener in Champaign, Ill.
Michigan graduate transfer Brandon Peters, who joined Illinois in June with two years of eligibility, threw for 163 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for a fourth score as the Illini won their home opener for the 22nd consecutive year - the fourth-longest streak in the nation.
Illinois, which ranked 128th out of 130 teams in defense last season, kept an opponent out of the end zone for the first time since head coach Lovie Smith’s debut - a 52-3 victory over Murray State on Sept. 3, 2016.
Akron (0-1), picked fifth in the MAC East race by coaches and media, finished with two turnovers, six sacks allowed and 190 total yards under new coach Tom Arth. The 38-year-old took over the Zips after two seasons as Tennessee-Chattanooga’s head coach.
Illinois (1-0) marched 63 yards for a score on the game’s opening drive. Senior running back Reggie Corbin carried the ball five times for 35 yards - capped by a 3-yard touchdown blast up the middle at 11:53 of the first. Corbin, who rushed for 1,085 yards in 2018, received just one more carry as Illinois rotated five running backs throughout the game.
Akron raced to Illinois’ 11 on its first possession, but the Zips were forced backward on three straight plays and settled for junior kicker Jerry Fitschen’s 42-yard field goal.
Illinois responded with another brisk, run-heavy drive that junior running back RaVon Bonner wrapped up with a 10-yard run through the left side for a 14-3 lead.
Shortly after Illinois junior linebacker Jake Hansen (one interception, one fumble recovery) stripped Akron junior quarterback Kato Nelson deep in Zips territory, Peters connected with junior slot receiver Trevon Sidney - one of three Southern Cal graduate transfers — for a 10-yard strike on the first play of the second quarter to push Illinois’ lead to 21-3.
Peters’ 20-yard keeper with 2:04 left in the second quarter gave Illinois a 28-3 advantage at the break.
Peters’ afternoon came to a close with 4:30 to go in the third after hooking up with tight ends Justice Williams and Daniel Barker for easy touchdowns on rollouts to extend Illinois’ margin to 42-3. Peters was 8-of-9 passing for 80 yards after halftime.
Illinois starting safety Kerby Joseph was tossed from the game in the third quarter after a targeting violation. He’ll have to sit out the first half of next week’s game at Connecticut. Running back Mike Epstein, who paced Illinois with eight carries for 45 yards, left the game with a left knee injury late in the third.
Akron’s Nelson finished 10-of-24 passing for 122 yards and one interception before giving way to redshirt senior Robbie Kelley with nine minutes to go.
—Field Level Media