CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — For the first time in Illinois head coach Lovie Smith’s tenure, he brought up a bowl game with his team. The Illini are one win away from the postseason for the first time under Smith after a 38-10 win over Rutgers on Saturday.
Lovie usually isn’t a guy who puts more emphasis on one game over another but that’s exactly what he did after beating Rutgers. Calling next week’s game at Michigan State the biggest in his four years, as the Illini are just one win away now from making their first bowl trip in five years.
“Next week that’s what’s at stake, so we’re going to embrace that,” Lovie said.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to actually be talking about it, being so close to it,” Dele Harding said.
“It’s something they haven’t done in a long time here and we’re so close, we still have three games left to play,” Josh Imatorbhebhe said.
A big second half paved the way for the blowout win over the Scarlet Knights, fueled by 21 third quarter points and a defense that forced three turnovers.
“To actually be coming out this year and getting picks and punch outs and strip sacks and everything it the book,” Harding said.
“We know when we come out flat we gotta pick it up in the second half, really that’s all,” Nate Hobbs said. “We just find a way to do that, turn it on by any means and it starts on defense and we know that.”
It’s the third straight win for the Illini, they haven’t done that in the Big Ten play in one season since 2007. Just to be playing meaningful football in November shows just how far this team has come since starting the year 2-4.
Illinois travels to Michigan State next.