CHAMPAIGN — Luke Altmyer threw a touchdown pass and ran for another and Isaiah Williams caught eight passes for 120 yards to lead Illinois to a 23-17 win over Florida Atlantic in a non-conference game Saturday.
It was a bounce-back game for Altmyer, who threw four interceptions in a 30-13 loss to Penn State last week and was benched in the fourth quarter. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 303 yards and wasn’t picked off.
“I called Luke at 8’clock last Saturday night. I didn’t want him to go to bed worrying if he was still our starting quarterback,” said Illinois coach Bret Bielema. “I wanted to let him know I was still behind him and we would come up with a game plan for him to be successful. Then the team picked him up during the week.”
Florida Atlantic’s Daniel Richardson, in his first start after Casey Thompson suffered a season-ending ACL tear, completed 28 of 49 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns. Richardson was intercepted in the end zone by Nicario Harper early in the fourth quarter.
Florida Atlantic coach Tom Herman thought a “winnable game” slipped through his team’s fingertips, but he thinks the Owls have a bright future.
“For the last 10 months (since he became coach), I’ve talked to the team about having faith. Faith is belief without evidence. We got some evidence (Saturday). We have a lot to build on.”
After falling behind 10-0, the Illini (2-2) rallied to lead 14-10 at halftime and pulled away from Florida Atlantic (1-3) in the third quarter before the Owls scored a late touchdown.
Aidan Laughery scored on a 2-yard run early in the quarter, capping an eight-play, 94-yard drive that included a 45-yard pass from a scrambling Altmyer to Williams. Caleb Griffin added a 44-yard field goal later in the quarter.
After committing five turnovers against Penn State, the Illinois offense started slowly against Florida Atlantic.
The Illini marched to the Owls’ 19 on their first drive, then turned the ball over on downs.
On Illinois’ second possession, Altmyer was sacked by Xavier Peters, fumbled, and Jayden Williams recovered for the Owls at the Illinois 28. That led to a 22-yard field goal by Logan Lupo that gave Florida Atlantic a 3-0 lead.
After an Owls’ touchdown on a 19-yard pass from Richardson to LaJohntay Wester, Illinois got back into the game on a trick play. Altmyer took a pitch on a reverse flea flicker and threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Griffin Moore.
Illinois grabbed a 14-10 halftime lead on a 7-yard run by Altmyer that capped an 8-play, 85-yard drive.
Illinois punter Hugh Robertson hit Wester after he’d run out of bounds on a 20-yard punt return, and he was flagged for unnecessary roughness. The penalty gave the Owls the ball at the Illinois 28 and set up a 19-yard touchdown pass from Richardson to Wester on the final play of the first quarter.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Bielema compares Williams, a 5-foot-10, 185-pounder who has caught passes in 29 straight games since switching from quarterback before the start of the 2021 season, to a former diminutive receiver.
“When NFL scouts ask me about Isaiah, I compare him to Antwaan Randle El,” Bielema said, who played in the NFL from 2002-2010.
Florida Atlantic: Wester, the Owls’ career reception leader, was as good as advertised. He had 13 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown.
Illinois: The Illini defense finally looked like the nationally ranked Illinois defense of 2022, holding Florida Atlantic to 97 yards on the ground.
Florida Atlantic: After a bye week, the Owls will play host to Tulsa on Oct.7.
Illinois: The Illini will play at Purdue next Saturday.