PISCATAWAY—After a career that included stops at Nebraska, Iowa Western Community College and Virginia Tech, AJ Bush is getting a chance to play as a graduate transfer at Illinois, and he’s helping to turn the program around.Bush ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns and threw for another in his return to the lineup as Illinois used a big ground game to beat Rutgers 38-17 Saturday, sending the Scarlet Knights to their fifth straight loss.The win not only snapped a two-game losing streak for Illinois (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten), but it also ended a 13-game losing streak in the Big Ten, dating to 31-27 decision over Michigan State in 2016.Reggie Corbin ran for a career-high 137 yards, including a 73-yard scoring dash, as the Illini rushed for 330 yards and had 419 yards in total offense. Mike Epstein added 41-yard touchdown run with 5:07 to go.
”That’s exactly who we’d like to be – our personality,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said of the running game. ”This is who we want to be. Offensively when you rush for over 300 yards, you have to be really excited about that.”
The three wins in a season ties the most for Smith in his two-plus seasons. The Illini were 2-10 last season and winless in the league.Jonathan Hilliman scored on a 32-yard run and freshman Art Sitkowski added a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Vokolek to get Rutgers (1-5, 0-3) within 24-14 at the half. Gavin Haggerty added a 20-yard field goal with less than six minutes to play, but Epstein scored on the first play after Illinois recovered an onside kick.Illinois, which had seven interceptions coming into the game, picked three more, including one on the first pass of the game by Sitkowski (29 of 49 for 267). It set up a 39-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin for a 3-0 lead after less than four minutes.Hilliiman’s TD run gave Rutgers its only lead, but Bush scored twice and Corbin went the distance in opening a 24-7 Illini lead.