The Fighting Illini got things rolling after halftime and used a strong second half to defeat Kent State, 31-24. The win marks the seventh straight season-opener victory overall and 13th at Memorial Stadium.
After a slow start, the Illinois offense found its rhythm after halftime, racking up 301 of its 469 total yards and outscoring the Golden Flashes 28-7. The Orange and Blue put together four scoring drives in the final two quarters, highlighted by two touchdown runs by junior running back Reggie Corbin.
Corbin finished the day with 79 rushing yards on 10 attempts after totaling 78 rushing yards on 18 carries all of last season. Saturday also marks the first two-touchdown game of his career.
After missing all of last season due to injury, sophomore linebacker Jake Hansen had quite the return, tying a program record with six TFL's as part of his 15 (10 solo) tackles on the day. Graduate transfer quarterback AJ Bush Jr. didn't disappoint in his first FBS start, as the Alpharetta, Georgia, native finished with 329 total yards, including the fifth-most rushing yards in a game by an Illinois quarterback in program history (139).
Leading 31-24 late in the fourth quarter, the Illinois defense needed a stop in their own red zone to seal the victory. After forcing Kent State into a fourth down, senior linebacker Del'Shawn Phillips picked off a Woody Barrett pass in the end zone to give Illinois the ball back with two minutes to play.
The interception is the first of Phillips' career and was the second for the Illini defense on the day.