CHAMPAIGN — Rod Smith grabbed a TV microphone, leaned over a chair and prepared to ask quarterback Brandon Peters a question as a temporary member of the media.
Seconds before Smith walked up, Peters was asked about his Illinois receiver group and what they do to make his job easier. When he noticed Smith waiting in the wings to fire off a question, Peters laughed and momentarily lost his train of thought before getting back on track and answering the question.
For what it's worth, when it was Smith's turn to ask a question, he asked Peters how he was able to overcome the "dreadful playcalling by the offensive coordinator" in Saturday's win at UConn. Smith, of course, being the aforementioned offensive coordinator. No complaints from Peters in that regard.
Monday's media interaction with Smith was Peters' latest regrouping effort in a 48-hour span. The first, and most important, came on Saturday. His third pass attempt of the day was intercepted by Huskies' defensive back Tyler Coyle and returned for a touchdown. The offense was "sleepwalking" early in the game, Smith said, and fell behind 13-0 in the second quarter.
Illinois regrouped in the second quarter behind three touchdown passes from Peters and a stingy defensive performance, eventually scratching out a win against a team that's expected to struggle for the remainder of the season.
"We definitely, I think, played a lot of not great football that game, really," Peters said. "We made a lot of mistakes. I think if we play the football that we’re capable of playing, we would have handled UConn a lot easier."
The win was hardly perfect, and head coach Lovie Smith, Rod Smith, Peters and the players know there were too many mistakes in the game, but they also see the value in being able to regroup and come out with a win.
Lovie Smith noted after the game "you could make a case" that a game like that wouldn't have netted a win in previous years. It did on Saturday.
“Last week I talked about improvements you usually make from Week 1 to Week 2," Lovie Smith said. "I can’t say that was totally the case with us. Hopefully from game two to three we can really clean some things up then.
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“At the same time, you never apologize for a win. We had opportunities there to put a little bit of distance between us, after we got behind, I might say. You want your football team to go through adversity to see exactly who we are. I thought we met that challenge."
After Peters' pass was intercepted, Rod Smith said Peters got on the headset and already knew what went wrong on the play. Peters was expecting man coverage and didn't get it. In fact, UConn threw different schemes at Illinois that forced an offensive re-calibration. There was no panic on the sidelines.
The wounds — three total turnovers, a missed opportunity on fourth down and nine penalties — were self-inflicted. Peters was 10-for-10 at one point in the second quarter and the offense got rolling to close the first half.
“I think we found out about our whole team," Rod Smith said. "We were on the road, got down 13-0 and nobody panicked. Our kids were resilient. We made adjustments when we needed to. Brandon started making plays, the wideouts started making plays and the O-Line did a good job for the most part.
“Every game there is going to be adversity our guys have to encounter. That was the first one and I think our guys responded well to it."
From here, the competition increases in a big way. Eastern Michigan comes to town at 11 a.m. Saturday before Big Ten play starts with Nebraska at 7 p.m. on Sept. 21. The players know adversity will strike again. That's part of college football. But UConn provided Illinois with a place to start.
“I feel like it gives us a lot of confidence," receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe said. "Now we have a frame of reference any time something goes south or goes sour, like, ‘Hey, we were in this before and we got out fine.’ It gives you confidence when you’re in a storm to remember it’s not the end."