Illinois Football: Top 5 Illini wins in the Lovie Smith era

IOWA CITY, IOWA- NOVEMBER 23: Head coach Lovie Smith of the Illinois Fighting Illini before the match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes, on November 23, 2019 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
IOWA CITY, IOWA- NOVEMBER 23: Head coach Lovie Smith of the Illinois Fighting Illini before the match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes, on November 23, 2019 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit
Prev
5 of 6
Next
CHAMPAIGN, IL – OCTOBER 19: Illinois (QB) Brandon Peters (18) throws a pass during a college football game between the Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini on October 19, 2019 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, IL (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CHAMPAIGN, IL – OCTOBER 19: Illinois (QB) Brandon Peters (18) throws a pass during a college football game between the Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini on October 19, 2019 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, IL (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

2. Illinois vs Wisconsin – 2019

This win was such a huge confidence boost for the Illini. Going into this game, Illinois was 2-4 and 0-3 in conference play, while Wisconsin was coming into the game 6-0 and ranked No. 4 in the country. The Badgers also had arguably the best running back in college football at the time in Johnathan Taylor.

On the first possession of the game, Wisconsin drives down the field and scores a touchdown. Then, early in the second quarter, Wisconsin goes up 10-0 with a field goal. On the next possession, Illinois is forced to punt.

Just seven plays after the punt, Jake Hansen forced a fumble that was recovered by Dele Harding. This turnover enabled Brandon Peters to connect with Donny Navarro for a 48-yard touchdown. Illinois only down 10-7 at the time, but right before half, the Badgers kicked a field goal to make it 13-7.

Things didn’t start well for the Illini in the second half. After a three-and-out, Illinois fumbled the ball which gave Wisconsin great field positioning. Shortly after the Badgers got the ball back, they went up 20-7 on a Taylor 5-yard scamper.

Illinois wasn’t done, though. As time ticked down toward the end of the third quarter, Reggie Corbin broke loose for a 43-yard touchdown run. Just like that, the Illini were only down 20-14. Wisconsin would tack on a field goal to extend their lead to 23-14 with less than nine minutes to go in the game.

Things were looking bleak when Wisconsin got the ball back and was driving in Illinois territory with less than eight minutes to go and up nine points. But that is when everything changed in the game.

Johnathan Taylor fumbles the ball, which was recovered by Isaiah Gay. Illinois drove down the field, and Brandon Peters connected with Josh Imatorbhebhe for a 28-yard touchdown. This cut the Badgers lead to 23-21 with 5:53 to go in the game.

Illinois’ defense needed to do something to get the ball back in the offense’s hands. As it looked like Wisconsin was putting a drive together, Illini cornerback Tony Adams intercepted the ball. This great play gave the ball back to the Illini for one final chance to knock off the Badgers.

A big third-down conversion throw from Peters to Daniel Barker, a big run by Dre Brown and good time management by the Illini set up James McCourt for the chance to win the game with four seconds remaining. The snap is offer and, boom, McCourt kicks the ball right through the uprights and Illinois wins the game 24-23.

This win was so huge for Lovie. He did a great job adjusting after halftime. This was the first time the Illinois football team beat a top-five opponent since 2007.