CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In his Illinois debut on Saturday, quarterback Brandon Peters showed more than 30,000 Illini fans that he can pass and run and do both pretty well.
Peters, a graduate transfer from Michigan, went 14 of 23 for 163 yards and three touchdowns through the air, while running for another touchdown to lead Illinois past Akron, 42-3.
Peters also rushed six times for 36 yards and showed surprising mobility for a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder known more for his arm than his legs.
“Still want to say Brandon isn’t a running quarterback?” Illinois coach Lovie Smith joked after the game. “He had a good day for us, I’d say.”
Peters was decisive all afternoon despite a tendency to overthrow a few balls, and appeared to show few jitters before his first Illinois start.
“He’s been through a lot, so I was glad to see him go out there, go down the field and boom, score right away,” Smith said. “He’s a confident guy, just what we’re looking for in a quarterback.”
While Smith, in his fourth year at Illinois, said earlier this week his team is striving for relevancy, first-year Akron coach Tom Arth is looking to find something to build on.
Both teams were 4-8 last year, although the Zips fired longtime coach Terry Bowden.
DEFENSIVELY SPEAKING — Smith, a former NFL coach known for his tough defensive teams, took over as defensive coordinator for Illinois when Hardy Nickerson resigned last October. Smith was determined to toughen things up, defensively, and he did just that.
Akron quarterback Kato Nelson was 10 of 24 with an interception for a Zips offense that struggled from the opening play.
The Zips managed only 64 yards rushing against a stifling Illinois defense led by linebacker Jake Hansen, who had seven tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
Last season, Illinois gave up 41.7 points per game, which ranked 126th of 130 teams in the nation. The Illini allowed 261.6 yards per game on the ground, 124th in the nation.
Last year’s pass defense was a bit better, giving up 260.2 yards per game through the air. On Saturday, the Illini held the Zips to less than a 50 percent completion rate while allowing Nelson only 122 yards with one interception.
RUNNING DEPTH — Illinois has no shortage of talent in the backfield, led by Reggie Corbin, who piled up 1,085 yards and averaged 8.5 per carry last season.
Both Corbin and RaVon Bonner rushed for touchdowns on Saturday.
Corbin carried six times for 38 yards, while Bonner carried six times for 38 yards in a balanced ground attack by the Illini.
Akron was led by Deltron Sands, who rushed 13 times for 39 yards. Brandon Lee carried nine times for 30 yards.
BALANCE — The Illini put up an impressive 401 yards of total offense, including 207 on the ground and 194 passing, while holding Akron to a total of 192 yards.
“We’re getting there,” Smith said. “We want to be a balanced team, and we played a lot of players today. We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish.”
Akron: The Zips were outclassed and outgunned, putting up a dismal 128 yards passing into a swarming Illinois secondary.
Illinois: Illinois passed both tests on Saturday, starting with the quarterback position and ending with defense. Neither disappointed.
Akron: Hosts UAB next Saturday.
Illinois: Travels to UConn next Saturday.