CHAMPAIGN – A team that has promised to lean on youngsters used 20 players who made their Illini football debut Saturday.
The list of newcomers that participated in Illinois’ 42-34 season-opening victory over Southern Illinois included six true freshmen, 10 redshirt freshmen and four transfers.
The true freshmen were Aaron Bailey, Jaylen Dunlap, Darius Mosely, Dionte Taylor, Dawuane Smoot and Tyler White.
The redshirt freshmen were Robbie Bain, Taylor Barton, B.J. Bello, Devin Church, Cedric Doxy, Zach Hirth, Javaris Little, T.J. Neal, Joe Spencer and LaKeith Walls.
The junior college transfers were Martize Barr, Abe Cajuste, Tim Clary and Zane Petty.
Good call: As it turned out, Tim Beckman’s decision to go for a 2-point conversion pass following Jon Davis’ second-quarter touchdown gave Illinois an extra cushion at the end. Rather than kick the extra point, Beckman had holder Tim Russell throw a pass to tight end Matt LaCosse.
Had he opted for the one-point conversion, SIU could have been just seven points down rather than eight with under a minute to play.
“Going for two was in the game plan and everyone on our team knew we were going to run that fake today,” Beckman said. “It’s something I used to have to defend, but a team called Boise State used to do that all the time.
“Plus I know our man Russ can do it. He’s an ex-quarterback.”
Big return: V’Angelo Bentley’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter was the longest by a single player in Illini history. Travis Williams and Eugene Wilson used a lateral play for a 100-yard return against Purdue in 2002. It was also Illinois’ first kickoff return for a touchdown since A.J. Jenkins went 96 yards against Indiana in 2008.
Notes: Running back Dami Ayoola did not play Saturday but was not injured. He sat out for an unspecified disciplinary action. … Steve Hull played wide receiver for the first time in his career and had two receptions for 64 yards. … Linebacker Jonathan Brown led the Illini defense with nine tackles. ... Safety Earnest Thomas III and linebacker Mason Monheim had eight each. Bryan Presume led the Salukis with 10 tackles.