COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WCIA) — Illinois football has faced plenty of adversity this season. The Illini took just their second lead of the season against a Power 5 team in the first quarter at Maryland Saturday. It’s been one of those seasons for the Illini, who had higher expectations coming into year following the best season since 2007. But things haven’t gone according to plan for the Illini, who had dropped back-to-back games coming into Saturday against the Terps, still in search of their first Big Ten win of the season.
Despite all the setbacks in losses at Kansas and Purdue, to go along with home losses to Penn State and Nebraska, Illinois played its most complete game of the season in College Park, posting a 27-24 win thanks to a walk-off Caleb Griffin 43-yard field goal.
“We kind of got together this week and we talked as an older group and we’re like, we’ve got to right this ship,” Griffin said after the game winning kick. “There’s nothing else, it’s pretty simple, like we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing. We all have to step up our game and I think you saw that today. Every phase of the game played a little bit better than they have in the past.”
“You know I think the biggest thing, they’ve been through a lot right?” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said. “They’ve stuck together, they’ve practiced extremely hard. The will this week, I thought, as crazy as it is, I told them throughout the course of the week, everybody is trying to tell you why you can’t. I want to tell you why you can.”
One thing Illinois established was the run game. After posting just 21 rushing yards a week ago against the Cornhuskers, the Illini ran for 131 yards against the Terps, including 84 yards from true freshman Kaden Feagin. It was the first collegiate start for the Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond native, playing in place of Reggie Love III who did not make the trip out with an injury. Feagin ran for his first career touchdown, scoring late in the first half on a 4th and 1 from the two-yard line to tie the game at 14 going into the break.
“I mean it means a lot,” Feagin said about the opportunity. “That’s why again I came in the spring to get a better feel for it, get a feel for the coaches and stuff and it felt really good, them giving me that opportunity.”
“When you have a guy that big running the football and he starts to physically dominate guys, it’s awesome,” Illinois receiver Casey Washington said. “It’s like smash mouth football, backyard football and I’m just excited for him and the team and the win.”
Illinois returns to the field Saturday hosting Wisconsin for Homecoming in a 2:30 kickoff on FS1.