CHICAGO — Twenty-five aperitive yards would accept exorcised the demons of aftermost year’s accident at the easily of South Florida and briefly asleep any miscues that the Illini had during Saturday’s rematch.
Instead, with six abnormal larboard from the South Florida 25-yard line, apprentice quarterback M.J. Rivers II uncorked a brawl that landed in receiver Ricky Smalling’s easily out of the aback of the end area as time expired.
The blunder was the end of a gut-wrenching 25-19 accident to South Florida at Soldier Acreage in Chicago that came bottomward to the final comedy of the game.
“It’s tough,” said active aback Mike Epstein of the d advancing bottomward to the final play. “It hurts.”
Rivers accomplished 20 of 29 for 168 yards and started in abode of amateur AJ Bush Jr., who larboard aftermost week’s d adjoin Western Illinois at the alpha of the additional division with a hamstring injury.
“I could accept done way bigger for my team,” Rivers said. “There are things I bare to apple-pie up and get bigger at so I can advice my aggregation win.”
Illinois got the brawl bottomward by six with 2:24 larboard in the d and all three timeouts, defective to bisect 75 yards to snatch a achievement aback from South Florida.
Rivers was 7-of-8 on the final drive for 63 yards afore the final incompletion.
“You dream of a quarterback advancing bottomward to the aftermost drive to win the game,” Illinois arch drillmaster Lovie Smith said. “M.J. put our aggregation in a position to win it, we aloof didn’t accomplishment it the way we will in the future.”
The d came one year afterwards the Illini catholic to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. and absent 47-23 at the easily of the Bulls.
“When we accept a day like today, it’s aloof tough,” Smith said. “It’s boxy for our team. We’ve appear a continued way. Aftermost year aback we played South Florida, we weren’t absolute aggressive adjoin them. This year is a absolutely altered game.”
Illinois’ abiding of active backs shouldered the offense. Reggie Corbin ran for 32 yards on his additional backpack of the d and was anon followed by a 43-yard scoring access from Mike Epstein on the additional Illini drive of the day.
It was the final time the Illini accomplished the end zone.
“It’s a committee,” Corbin said. “It is what it is. It may be somebody else’s blemish d aing week, but acutely we didn’t do abundant because we should accept denticulate a lot more. I booty that on myself and I anticipate the added active backs do as well.”
Epstein led the aggregation in hasty for the additional after anniversary with 113 yards and Corbin answerable advanced with 93 of his own.
The blow of the scoring was provided by article Chase McLaughlin who breach the uprights with four acreage goals of 26, 46, 53 and 41 yards.
“It feels good,” McLaughlin said of his four acreage goals, “but in the end the aggregation didn’t win. That’s what I’m there to do is advice the aggregation win. If I go out there anniversary comedy that I’m alleged and try to do the best that I can and we can hopefully get a win out of it. Today it didn’t happen.”
Holding the Illini out of the end area on four drives larboard the aperture aloof accessible for the Bulls to affected seven after drives after a point from the aboriginal to the third quarter.
“It accustomed the advance not to widen and we were able to break in the game,” USF drillmaster Charlie Strong said. “When you are bottomward 13-7, again they go 16-7 and again 19-7, you aloof acquainted like ‘We were still in the game.’ Because we can bang and we can get touchdowns; we aloof knew we had to get them.”
The Illini (2-1) led for 57 minutes, 36 abnormal afore South Florida (3-0) quarterback Blake Barnett took advantage of a absolute defensive assignment to acquisition Darnell Salomon streaking advanced accessible bottomward the larboard amusement for a 50-yard touchdown amalgamation to accord the Bulls a 25-19 lead.
Barnett, a alteration from Alabama and Arizona State, was 23 of 40 with two touchdowns and two interceptions while throwing for 411 yards, and active aback Jordan Cronkrite rushed 22 times for 139 yards and a score.
Until the fourth quarter, the Illini aegis activated the backbone of the accepted metal bar that angled and angled afore assuredly snapping in the fourth quarter. South Florida tallied 199 of its 626 absolute yards in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 changing points.
Barnett absorbed up with Salomon to accessible the division on a 14-yard scoring bang to cull the Bulls aural arresting distance.
“You attending at the stats and of advance they had a lot of absolute yards at the end, but until we alpha giving up big casual plays, we were in appealing acceptable appearance throughout,” Smith said.
Memories of aftermost division aren’t bit-by-bit up. This d started a accelerate of 10 after losses.
That’s not how the Illini or chief captain Nick Allegretti see this season.
“We’re a bigger team,” Allegretti said. “We are not the aforementioned aggregation we were aftermost year. We attempt more, we comedy harder and with added effort, we accept added talent. We’re a absolutely altered team. I anticipate we’ve apparent that in the aboriginal three amateur and we’re activity to see that for the blow of the year.”
Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25
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