CHAMPAIGN — When Illinois sophomore receiver Darius Millines broke a tackle for a 45-yard touchdown on Saturday against Arkansas State it was enough inspiration for senior wideout A.J. Jenkins.
"It's a competition," Jenkins said. "When he scores, I know I need to get at least one. Darius is a great receiver, but we all know who No. 1 is. Believe that."
The victory put Illinois at 1-0 for the first time since 2006 after losing the previous four season openers to Missouri in a series that ended last season.
Full of lofty predictions and self compliments, Jenkins has backed up his bravado. Alongside Millines, who is quieter off the field but not on it, the Illini feel capable of producing a 1-2 receiver punch.
The two receivers were Nathan Scheelhaase's only targets during a 95-degree scorcher at Memorial Stadium. Jenkins walked the talk of his predication of recording at least 100 receiving yards in every game and also made good on his promise to outdo Millines' touchdown with a 72-yard score of his own.
Jenkins and Millines became the first Illini receiving duo to each have at least 100 yards in receptions in a game since 2008, when Jenkins and Arrelious Benn combined for the mark. Jenkins finished with 148 yards on 11 catches, while Millines — who had just two career receptions before Saturday — grabbed five passes for 119 yards.
Scheelhaase displayed his growth with a career-high 267 passing yards, completing 16 of 23 passes.
What offensive coordinator Paul Petrino liked most was that after the running game slowed, the Illini were able to adapt with the aerial attack.
"We're still going to win with the run first, but it was the ability to adjust," he said. "They start taking away a little bit and we can throw too."
Running back Jason Ford started the game with a bang, picking up 67 of his game-high 93 rushing yards on 22 carries in the first quarter before Arkansas State stacked the box to defend against him. Ford also scored two touchdowns, but was responsible for a safety when he was tackled in the end zone.
Arkansas State took an 8-7 lead in the second quarter after converting field goals of 47 and 49 yards, but Illinois' defense helped close the door early to questions about its ability to create turnovers.
The Illini recovered two Arkansas State fumbles and linebacker Trulon Henry made a Cirque de Soleil-style interception, rolling over a diving intended receiver who bobbled the ball as Henry swooped in and caught it.
"I'm really proud of us," coach Ron Zook said. "The defense kept us in the game, especially in the first half."
Illini air it out in victory over Arkansas State
Jenkins, Millines combine for 267 receiving yards
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