Illinois posts costly 34-14 win over Western Illinois
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) _ Illinois beat Western Illinois 34-14 Saturday, but the victory came with a price.
Illinois quarterback AJ Bush injured his left leg in the first quarter and didn’t return. M.J. Rivers finished the game, providing a needed spark for an Illinois offense that’s had trouble getting started early in both games this season.
Bush’s injury didn’t appear serious.
Rivers was 9 of 16 for 105 yards and two touchdowns for Illinois (2-0). Mike Epstein rushed for 105 yards on eight carries. Reggie Corbin ran for 63 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries.
Sean McGuire went 24 for 36 for 276 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for Western Illinois (0-2). Tony Tate rushed for 41 yards to lead the Leathernecks.
Illinois also lost wide receiver Edwin Carter, injured while making his second touchdown catch of the game. Carter was seeing more playing time Saturday because of the season-ending injury to star receiver Mike Dudek last week.
McGuire was sharp early in the game, but the Illini adjusted at halftime and McGuire was forced to scramble often to avoid pressure. One of his two interceptions came a he was chased from the pocket. Michael Marchese intercepted for Illinois and returned it 41 yards to the 3. Reggie Corbin ran it in on the next play for Illinois.
Carter’s second touchdown catch gave Illinois its first lead of the game early in the second quarter, but it was a costly catch. Rivers faded back, threw high into the end zone and Carter had to leap to catch it. He was hit hard just below the knees and did a complete flip in the air, landing on his head. He held onto the ball.
Carter was able to leave the field with assistance and did not return. The extent of his injury was not known.
Chase McLaughin’s 54-yard field goal for Illinois early in the third quarter was the third-longest field goal in school history. It was the longest Illini field goal since 2012.
Both Kent State and Western Illinois were expected to be easy nonconference wins for the young Illini. Both were victories, but neither came easily.
While Rivers was able to spark the offense, it’s unlikely he will slide into the starting spot unless Bush’s injury is serious.
When healthy, Bush is a dual-threat who can run at will. But except for the third quarter of the opener, he’s had difficulties moving the Illinois offense.
Western Illinois hosts Montana next Saturday.
Illinois faces South Florida next Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago.