• Illinois started three true freshmen defensive backs (DB Sydney Brown, DB Jartavius Martin, DB Delano Ware) in game for the second time in program history and the first time ever in a season opener. Last season, true freshmen DB Tony Adams, DB Nate Hobbs and DB Bennett Williams started against South Florida in the third game of the season.
• Illinois’ three true freshmen started tied the the program’s second-most in a season opener in program history (4 in 1980, 3 in 2017).
• Illinois started multiple true freshmen in back-to-back season openers for the first time in program history.
• Illinois’ eight true freshmen to start season openers in the last three years is more than the previous 35 years combined (6).
• Illinois’ started three true freshmen on defense in the season opener for the second straight year.
• Illinois’ three true freshman started on defense is tied for the third-most in a game on defense in program history.
• Freshman CB Jartavius Martin is the third Illinois cornerback to start a season opener since 1980, joining Tony Adams (2017) and Vontae Davis (2006).
• Freshman S Delano Ware is the second Illinois safety to start a season opener since 1980, joining Bennett Williams (2017).
• Illinois used six first-time starters: TE Daniel Barker, DB Sydney Brown, QB AJ Bush Jr., OL Kendrick Green, DB Jartavius Martin, DB Delano Ware
• Illinois’ 21-point third quarter tied the highest-scoring quarter in the Lovie Smith era. Illinois scored 21 in the second quarter against Murray State 9/3/2016.
• Illinois had 12 TFLs, the first time with 10+ TFLs since 10 vs. Michigan State 11/5/2016.
• Illinois leads the all-time series against Kent State 2-0. The Illini opened the 2015 season with a 52-3 win over the Golden Flashes.
• Illinois captains: OL Nick Allegretti, QB AJ Bush Jr., LB Dele Harding, LB Del’Shawn Phillips
• Sophomore LB Jake Hansen tied the Illinois program record with 6.0 TFLs (Jeff Weisse vs. Middle Tennessee 9/12/1998) and had a career-high 15 tackles (10 solo). Hansen had eight career tackles entering the game, all as a sophomore in 2016 before missing last season with an injury.
• Freshman CB Jartavius Martin had his first career interception in the third quarter.
• Senior LB Del’Shawn Phillips had his first career interception in the fourth quarter.
• Senior QB AJ Bush Jr.’s 139 rushing yards is the fifth-most all-time by an Illinois quarterback. Bush is the first Big Ten quarterback with at least 190 pass yards and 139 rushing yards in a game since Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett in 2014.
• Junior RB Reggie Corbin had his first career two-touchdown game. Corbin had 10 rushing attempts for 79 yards, after having 78 rushing yards on 18 carries during the entire 2017 season.
• Junior WR Sam Mays tied a career-high with four receptions and a career-high 47 receiving yards.
• Sophomore RB Ra’Von Bonner had his fifth career rushing touchdown in the third quarter. He had four last season as a true freshman.
• Senior K Chase McLaughlin’s 50-yard field goal in the first quarter was the 35th 50+-yarder in program history. It was the first since McLaughlin’s career-long 53-yarder vs. Minnesota 2016.
• Senior OL Nick Allegretti started for the 25th straight game.
Illinois Head Coach Quotes
Memorial Stadium // Sept. 1, 2017 // Attendance: 31,898
Illinois Head Coach Lovie Smith
On the offense today
“Offensively…we knew we had a lot of weapons and I thought the offensive coaches gave the guys a chance to make plays. Offensive line – that offensive line who stayed together throughout training camp, every snap. They preformed well and just kept going.”
When asked how the offense in the second half differed from the first
“They made some of the same mistakes we made the first half, but when we got in position we made the play this time. First half I thought we were in position quite a few times but we just didn’t make the play.”
Re: AJ Bush
“Well improvement, just how you ran the show. Again it’s been awhile since AJ played. He’s a tough guy, he’s mobile we said that. Thought he ran well, thought he threw some good passes. If we had caught a couple of runs that we’d dropped, the stats would look better if he had protected the ball, no interceptions.”
“There was a confident locker room. And I think it comes from being prepared and knowing it’s about the finish and knowing that we didn’t play our best ball. If we had played our best ball and we were down to fourteen, that’s different. But we knew that we had left a lot of plays on the field.”
Re: Jake Hansen
“Jake’s a good football player. He can do everything we’re asking our linebackers to do. He fits the profile. He can play in space, he’s a good tackler in open field, he dropped the ball today, he has good hands.”
Illinois Player Quotes
Memorial Stadium // Sept. 1, 2017 // Attendance: 31,898
AJ Bush (QB, #1)
On continuing to believe despite being behind
“I told my team that we are gonna win this game. I told them, ‘they aren’t better than us and we’re killing ourselves.’”
“I was cool [at halftime]. I know that if I’m down my team is gonna be down, so it cannot be that way. I was telling coach smith that we were gonna win this game at halftime. I wanted everyone to be calm and cool and that’s how we played in the second half”
On other teams
“Any team that judges us off this game will be in for a rude awakening”
Mikey Dudek (WR, #18)
How was your energy at halftime?
“At first it was a little down, but I think Del’shawn or Hansen stood up and gave a little speech, little pep talk to the team, and everyone got fired up. There was never a doubt in our mind that we weren’t going to come back and win this game. Our coaches were talking to us saying keep believing, the offense played horrible in the first half, second half we really got it going.”
Why do you think it was a struggle early?
“I don’t know honestly. We had a great fall camp, but I think it was just the little things that didn’t matter as much in practice that showed up in the game. That is something, as receivers coach was telling us. We really need to focus on the little things. If you miss a block in practice, it’s not the end of the world, but in games it leads to tackles behind the line of scrimmage and turnovers. Once we got the little things straightened out we were pretty smooth rolling.”
What was the focus of that half time “pep talk”?
“Telling us to believe, telling us we were better than what we were showing on the field. Jake and Del’shawn are both great leaders and really made everyone believe. We were down and losing by 14 points. The crowd was booing, that is not a great feeling. We had to start playing better and faster.”
What switched in the second half?
“Defense forced a turnover, we scored with momentum, especially with our offense. It’s easy to get stuff going with the fast pace we have.”
Jacob Hansen (LB, #35)
At halftime, what did you say to the team?
“We gotta finish this game, we were not out of it by any means. I think we did a good job adjusting, and we turned it around.”
Six tackles for a loss, tying a school record, what does that mean to you?
“It’s exciting, it’s also a blessing. Obviously, I didn’t get to play last year. You take being healthy for granted. I’m just so happy to be able to be here and play a good game with the team. Never had so much fun in my life, playing with my brothers and competing.”
What was the feeling around the defense after that first interception?
“It was a big momentum boost. It helped us out a lot getting us off the field and getting the offense back.”
How did they challenge you today and give you things to take away?
“I think they did a good job with their quick game, but we dug a little bit deeper in the second half and found ourselves.”
What was the mentality of the defense on the last driving, going to that fourth and goal?
“We had to stop them, we needed to do anything we possibly could to get them off of the field.”
Does your performance today give you a gratification or further motivation to prove you can be out there?
“Yeah I’ll tell you what I was pretty nervous going in, but it gave me confidence in myself and my abilities.”
Reggie Corbin (RB, #2)
On the second half
“We decided as an offense and a defense, the second half is a new game. We went out there and we played it like it was 0-0, and whatever happened, happened.”
Keep on believing
“Just keep going. Lock in on your assignments and just keep pushing. Keep trying to push the tempo, and just do what we do.”
Believing in themselves
“The entire time we believed it. We believed in ourselves, we never got down, and you could tell the maturity of the team, we were so calm about it the entire time.”
On the interception
“We just went off that momentum, we just kept building and building, and did what we do.”
Re: second half
“The second half was the entire game for us. The first half was gone. We had to get adjusting, we got a brand new team, young guys, but you can tell our team is matured.
Ricky Smalling (WR, #4)
On the second half…
“The first half, we didn’t play our best football. I knew we could play much better. We came out and executed the plays.”
On his connection with quarterback AJ Bush…
“It feels good. He’s a great quarterback. I think he can find not just me but any other receiver on the team.”
On the message to the team at halftime…
“Basically, we just weren’t playing like ourselves. We’ve seen what we can do. They gave their best shot and we didn’t give ours.”
On the ups and downs of a full game…
“He (Coach Smith) always says start fast and finish strong. That’s what we need to work on as a team, especially when it starts getting hard. We have to finish.”
Nick Allegretti (OL, #53)
Re: second half
“The second half was probably some of the best football we’ve played in a long time, so I was really excited to see that.”
Do you and Tymir and some of the leader-types have to lay down the law and tell guys ‘hey, we need everyone?
“There’s been some mistakes made in the past, but I think we’re a new team and those mistakes won’t be made again.”
Do you feel like the first half was kind of a mulligan? Were you able to get back there and do some stuff?
“There was a chance for us to roll over… we were down 14, had the opportunity to come back from a game. Great experience there. Just played fun, fast football.”
Kent State Head Coach Quotes
Memorial Stadium // Sept. 1, 2017 // Attendance: 31,898
Kent State Coach Sean Lewis
“They played hard, there weren’t a lot of LOAFS (lack of effort plays), they fought and came out fast. Obviously we need to finish stronger and there are going to be some things we need to look at in terms of execution. We need to put our kids in better spots in practice. No moral victories though, we came on this trip to get a victory and we let them off the hook, we beat ourselves down the stretch. For year one, game one, it is something we can certainly build upon.”
With the tempo, you guys had it going, what was it like to see your offense work against a Big Ten defense and have them scrambling?
“It was expected. We have seen it work for the past six years. It’s not surprise it’s what we expect. When we’re running and were clicking, we were in control of our own destiny. It does not matter if it’s a Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12, or SEC team. The offense is proven. We were really pleased with the execution and the way we worked.”
As a former, in your first game as a head coach, was there the same sort of anxiousness you would get before a game as a player?
“There’s always some energy on game day, it’s a special day. We approach practice the right way and tell our kids to treat it like a game. If we show up with the same intensity in practice as we do in a game, the only thing different when you walk through the white lines is there are people in the stands and cameras in your face. For me, I didn’t make a single play. Saturday is for the guys. Sunday through Friday is for the coaches and preparing. There’s always a little bit of good energy on game day for me.”
How tough is it to get everyone to avoid the lulls considering your tempo?
“It’s what we do, it’s who we are, so the lulls don’t bother us. It gives us an opportunity to talk and make adjustments and get on the field and make plays. They played 73 snaps today, regardless our style or not that’s a normal ballgame.”
What’s it like to see Antwon after the journey he had?
“Its great to have a kid get back on the field who loves the game. I’ve talked about it before, his passion and energy he brings, to have him have that moment and just do his regular job. He did his job on that play and let it come to him.”
What was the attitude at halftime?
“ Clear it and move on. We are most concerned with dominating the next play. We gotta finish strong. We finished the first half, now its 0-0. Obviously we need to do a better job sustaining that initial rush, which we did not do. That’s on us as coaches to make sure our kids are prepared for round two.”
What were your takeaways from his game?
“It was good to see him settle in and get used to the game. For him it was his first FBS start. Once he settled in, I was pleased with his composure and his poise. There’s things to clean up in efficiency, but we will get that corrected.”
There were aggressive plays call, including going for it on fourth down, is that something to expect the whole season?
“Yes. We are going to call to win the game. No risk it, no biscuit.”
The quarterback had 18 rushes, is that the number you want him at?
“I don’t have a set number for it, especially week one. With the two quarterbacks, we do have, it gives us some flexibility. He didn’t take any unnecessary hits and did a great job avoiding those, which I was really pleased with.”