Illini looks to snap nonconference road losing skid vs UConn
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Illinois hasn't won a regular-season road game outside the Big Ten since 2007, but the Illini have a good chance to snap that streak Saturday when they visit UConn.
The Huskies haven't beaten any team in the Bowl Subdivision since October 2017.
Both teams are 1-0 this season after vastly different season openers. UConn matched its win total from last year's 1-11 season, using a strong running game and an improved defense to squeak out a 24-21 win over Wagner of the Championship Subdivision. The Illini took a 28-3 lead and routed Akron 42-3.
"For us, it doesn't matter who our opponent is. We're going on the road. We haven't had a ton of success on the road," said Illinois coach Lovie Smith. "There's a lot at stake and good football teams can't just play at home. You have to be able to go on the road, so I'm anxious to see how we respond in the second game."
Here are some things to watch for Saturday as the two programs meet for the first time:
Illinois started five transfers against Akron, including quarterback Brandon Peters. The transplant from Michigan threw for 163 yards and three touchdowns and had a 20-yard touchdown run. Defensive lineman Oluwole Betiku Jr., a graduate transfer from Southern Cal, had six tackles, three for losses and 1.5 sacks.
"They did a good job in free agency this offseason, in terms of picking up guys from the (transfer) portal," said UConn coach Randy Edsall.
The Huskies also have some key transfers, including quarterback Mike Beaudry, who led Division II West Florida to the national championship game in 2017. He threw for 158 yards against Wagner, but had an interception returned 71-yards for a touchdown. Tailback Art Thompkins, who came from Toledo, ran for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Thompkins combined with Kevin Mensah (144 yards) for 235 rushing yards for the Huskies. Illinois, which had the second-best running game in the Big Ten last season, rushed for 207 yards against Akron. That was below the Illini's 2108 average of 243 yards a game.
Illinois junior running back Mike Epstein suffered a season-ending knee injury against Akron, after missing much of the last two seasons with foot problems. Epstein has played 13 games over three seasons and rushed for 802 yards and scored seven touchdowns.
Wide receiver Ardell Brown, who transferred to UConn from Division II Seton Hall, is expected to make his season debut after missing the Huskies opener with an undisclosed injury. Brown caught 81 passes for 1,267 yards as a Pirate last year and won a starting job in camp this summer.
UConn allowed 185 yards of offense to Wagner. That was an improvement for UConn, which set records by giving up an average of 617 yards and 50.4 points in 2018. Illinois rolled up 401 yards against Akron.