CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The Bret Bielema era is off to a great start for the Illini who beat Nebraska 30-22 in the season opener. The Week 0 matchup against a Big Ten West opponent was full of surprises, with the new Illini team finally getting to show off to the college football world.
“I’ve been talking about this game for a while, I know you guys are probably tired of me talking about having the opening kickoff of college football, and to have it be a win, is just like the perfect ending,” says Bielema. “The perfect period at the end of the sentence for what we did today, can’t get overly excited about what it means or what it’s going to do going forward, because we have a team, UTSA, that’s coming in here, that’s got a lot of returning starters, and won a lot of games a year ago, so we’ve got our work cut out for us, but it is a good end to the day.”
Illinois’ first score of the game came from a safety following a Blake Hayes punt, putting them ahead 2-0. Nebraska responded with a touchdown and a field goal, before Illinois tied the game at 9-9 following a touchdown from Mike Epstein. The Illini running back led the backfield with 75 yards, and a touchdown.
Art Sitkowski led the Illini offense at quarterback, after Brandon Peters left the game with an injury and did not return. Sitkowski was sacked on his first play of the game, but from there the momentum quickly changed. The Rutgers transfer went 12-15 on the day, with 124 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Luke Ford scored his first touchdown of his collegiate career, while Isaiah Williams scored his first touchdown as an Illini wide receiver after making the switch from quarterback.
Duece Spann also added in his first career reception, in a surprise a 45-yard catch from Sitkowski. Spann had only played in one game prior. Defensively, five Illini recorded sacks, including Calvin Hart Jr. who recovered a fumble for an Illini touchdown.
The Illini will return to Memorial Stadium on September 4th to take on UTSA.