East Hartford, Conn. — Brandon Peters set career highs, throwing for 225 yards and four touchdowns as Illinois overcame an early 13-point deficit to beat Connecticut, 31-23, on Saturday.
It was the first nonconference road win for the Illini (2-0) in a dozen years.
“Whenever you can eliminate a bad streak like that, it’s a positive thing,” said coach Lovie Smith. “We’re going to be a good football team this year. Hopefully, there will be more of those.”
Jakari Norwood had 62 yards to lead a rushing attack that accounted for 130 yards.
Jack Zergiotis, making his first start in place of an injured Michael Beaudry, completed 21 of 31 passes for 275 yards for the Huskies (1-1).
Coach Randy Edsall said the true freshman won the starting job.
“He’s got a little bit of the ‘it’ factor,” Edsall said.
UConn, a three-touchdown underdog, jumped out to an early lead when defensive back Tyler Coyle stepped in front of a Peters pass in the first quarter and returned it down the left sideline 52 yards. Clayton Harris added two early field goals.
But Ra’Von Bonner got the Illini rolling, taking a screen pass and weaving 28 yards down the right side for a score. That was the first of three second quarter touchdown passes for Peters, the Michigan transfer, and the Illini put up 24 unanswered points.
The Illini closed the half with a 53-yard field goal from James McCourt, set up by a 29-yard interception return from Michael Marchese.
“We just all came together and said, ‘We’ve got to do better,’” Norwood said. “We started off bad. We started off slow. We were like, ‘We got to pick it up. We’ve got to lock in and make more plays.’”
Illinois fumbled its first handoff after a 68-yard second half kickoff return from Dre Brown and UConn drove 59 yards, getting back in the game when Kevin Mensah dove into the end zone from 2 yards out.
But an interception by Dele Harding stopped a late UConn drive to preserve the win.