Points off turnovers work to Illinois favor in win over Rutgers
For the first 30 minutes in its fourth game cast as the visitors this season, the Rutgers football team looked poised to turn the script on the road. Outside of SHI Stadium, the Scarlet Knights (2-7, 0-6) have not won on the road since in this Midwest setting of Champaign, Illinois, back on Oct. 14, 2017.
After Illinois tacked on 10 points in the opening quarter, courtesy of a Dre Brown 10-yard run and a 33-yard field goal from James McCourt, the hero of their 24-23 upset over then-No. 6 Wisconsin two weeks ago, Rutgers battled back in the second quarter to match the Big Ten West opponent's score at 10 apiece.
The Knights controlled the football on offense at the start of the second quarter at the Fighting Illini (5-4, 3-3) 38-yard line. After short rushes from true freshman running back Kay'Ron Adams, redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Langan connected with junior wide receiver Mohamed Jabbie for a 31-yard strike to the end zone.
The haul marked Jabbie's first career touchdown in three seasons of active play (he redshirted in 2016).
Jabbie, a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, had a game-high 64 receiving yards, a career-best, to go along with a team-high three receptions. He had not seen a lot of time this season as a wideout.
For Langan, the score marked his third career passing touchdown while he has two scores on the ground this season. The former Boston College quarterback finished the day going 5-of-10 with 86 passing yards and 41 rushing yards, marking the third time that he has accumulated at least 40 yards in his first season on the Banks.
While Rutgers' three-game streak of zero points away from Piscataway ended on Saturday, the Knights were unable to separate themselves from Illinois. Rutgers' first two drives of the second half resulted in quick three-and-outs.
The Illini broke first in the second half, with senior Dre Brown scoring his second touchdown of the day on a short 2-yard run. Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters had ran 54 yards to bring the ball to the Knights' 2-yard line prior to Brown's end-zone trip.
Peters finished the day with 6-of-11 with 120 passing yards and a 52-yard touchdown to the Illini wideout Josh Imatorbhebhe, his seventh score of the year.
Following Peters' score, Rutgers started its next offensive drive in search of a response to the 50-plus yard touchdown that had just ensued several moments ago. After Jabbie picked up 4 yards on his lone carry of the game, Illinois' Isaiah Gay sacked Langan while the football jarred loose on third and short.
The Illini's cornerback Nate Hobbs, who notched a career-high 10 tackles in the upset win over the Badgers, scooped up the fumble and ran 36 yards for the defensive touchdown, giving his team a 24-10 lead with under 8 to go.
It marks the second time this season that a Langan fumble has resulted in an opposing touchdown. On the first play of the offense's drive in Indiana back on Oct. 12, the redshirt freshman fumbled on the team's own 25-yard line, while Reakwon Jones of the Hoosiers recovered the ball for a touchdown.
“Obviously the fumble for the touchdown was really big, and when we still thought we were in it we turned it over again," said interim head coach Nunzio Campanile. "Those turnovers were critical for field position, and then we turned it over twice for touchdowns, obviously that’s tough."
But, the deficit for the Knights got even more on their next drive, a similar unfolding of events would reign supreme. After an Illinois unsportsmanlike penalty moved the ball 15 yards up the Memorial Stadium turf from the Rutgers 23-yard line, the Knights appeared to be driving, especially after two short Langan runs and a 7-yard pass to Jabbie that brought up a first down near midfield.
Then, the second fumble of the day recovered by the Illini occurred. This time, it was Adams with the fumble, the second back behind fellow true freshman Aaron Young. Sophomore running back Isaih Pacheco did not play over the weekend. Two Illinois offensive plays later, Imatorbhebhe hauled in a touchdown.
Going into halftime, Rutgers had allowed 73 rushing yards to the Illini running backs. At the end of 60 minutes, the visitors allowed 204 rushing yards. While no members of Illinois' backfield rushed for more than 100 yards combined, a group of Peters, Reggie Corbin, Brown and Ra'Von Bonner rushed for a total of 249 yards.
For Campanile, a loss is not how the team wants to go into its second and final bye week. But, the stretch following next weekend is riddled with top 25 powerhouse Big Ten opponents in No. 3 Ohio State and No. 5 Penn State with Michigan State sandwiched in between the two.
The Knights will regroup before welcoming the surging Buckeyes (8-0, 5-0), and likely Heisman nominee Justin Fields to SHI Stadium on Nov. 16.
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