CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Three defensive takeaways, including a pick-6, and timely offense carried red-hot Illinois past Rutgers 38-10 on Saturday.
Dele Harding had 12 tackles and an interception return for a touchdown late in the game to lead Illinois (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten Conference).
Brandon Peters was 6-of-11 passing for 120 yards and one touchdown. Dre Brown carried eight times for 31 yards and two touchdowns. Josh Imatorbhebhe had three receptions for 56 yards and a score.
Johnny Langan was 5-of-10 passing for 86 yards and a touchdown for Rutgers (2-7, 0-6). He also threw one interception. Aaron Young carried the ball 12 times for 67 yards to lead the Scarlet Knights. Mohamed Jabbie had three receptions for 64 yards and Rutgers' only touchdown,
The Illinois defense was a force all afternoon, The Illini led the nation in fumble recoveries, was second in forced fumbles and second in turnovers gained coming into the game and did nothing but pad those numbers.
The game was tied 10-10 at the half, but Peters unleashed a 54-yard scamper midway through the third quarter to the Rutgers' 2-yard line to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Brown. On the next Rutgers possession, Nate Hobbs recovered a Langan fumble and ran it 32 yards for a touchdown to put Illinois up 24-10.
Harding forced a fumble with 4:48 left in the third quarter and Illinois scored on the next play, a 52-yard touchdown pass to Imatorbhebhe. Early in the fourth quarter, Harding picked off a Langan pass and ran it back 54 yards for a touchdown.
After a slow first-half start, Illinois' defense helped open the offensive floodgates. Many wondered how Illinois would handle its newfound success on the heels of a one-point comeback win over then-No. 6 Wisconsin two weeks ago and a decisive victory over Purdue last week.
Illinois answered those questions and then some, giving Smith, whose job had been in question just a few weeks ago, some breathing room.
Rutgers showed signs of life but folded under the Illini's withering defense.
Rutgers: Following a bye week, things get considerably worse for the Scarlet Knights Nov. 16 when they host No. 3 Ohio State, 48-7 winners over Nebraska on Saturday.
Illinois: The Illini travel to Michigan State next Saturday to play the Spartans, who lost to Penn State 28-7 on Saturday.