Randolph, Illini defense come up big in win over 49ers – STLtoday.com

Illinois defensive lineman Keith Randolph Jr. (88) celebrates his interception of a pass by Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Champaign, Ill. Illinois won 24-14. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Two weeks ago, defensive lineman Keith Randolph Jr. was sidelined with what he initially thought was a torn right ACL. Saturday he highlighted Illinois’ dominant second-half defense with his first college interception, which just happened to be overshadowed by a historic performance from Chase Brown.
The fourth-year running back rushed for 257 yards — the fourth-most in a single game in program history. He also had two touchdowns in the Illini’s 24-14 win.
Randolph wanted to get in the end zone, too, by turning his fourth-quarter pick into a pick six. He just needed a little help.
“If Johnny (Newton) would’ve blocked better, it would’ve been to the crib,” Randolph said, laughing. “I tried to hurdle (a Charlotte player), but I gotta realize that I’m 300 pounds now. It don’t work like that no more.”
Randolph intercepted a pass from 49ers quarterback Chris Reynolds at Charlotte’s 30-yard line and returned it all of two yards. Newton, a fellow defensive lineman, said Randolph’s short return was exactly what he expected.
“Keith told me he was gonna house it. He told me I didn’t block for him, but I knew Keith wasn’t going nowhere. He too slow,” Newton said, laughing. “But that was an amazing pickoff.”
Randolph’s interception helped the Illini shut out Charlotte in the second half, and it marked the second turnover his team caused in the game.
Fourth-year safety Sydney Brown forced a fumble in the second quarter, and another fourth-year safety, Kerby Joseph, was able to recover the loose ball. Joseph has now recorded a turnover in four straight games (interception at Virginia on Sept. 11, fumble recovery against Maryland on Sept. 17, pick at Purdue on Sept. 25 and fumble recovery against Charlotte on Saturday).
“How does the ball keep finding my hands? I say the ball don’t find me, I find it,” Joseph said. “Wherever that ball go, I go and if it’s in the air, I’m in the air, you feel me? If it’s over on the other side, I’m gonna be on the other side with it. That’s really my motto.”
Perhaps even more pivotal than Joseph’s fumble recovery, however, was his pass breakup of a potential 12-yard TD from Reynolds to tight end Ryan Carriere in the third quarter. Charlotte’s Jonathan Cruz missed a 29-yard field goal on the next play, and the 49ers were never able to recover.
Brown ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run on Illinois’ first play of the ensuing drive to close out the third quarter and give the Illini a 24-14 lead heading into the final period.
Owen Carney Jr. made sure that Reynolds, who threw two TD passes in the first half, wasn’t able to engineer a late comeback. The fifth-year linebacker sacked Reynolds on back-to-back plays during the 49ers’ last drive to cap off another strong defensive performance for Illinois.
After losing 42-14 at Virginia on Sept. 11, the Illini have limited their opponents to a combined 47 points in their three games since.
“That energy, that moment right there is like no other,” Carney said of his consecutive sacks. “It’s a big a momentum swing for the team and then for me, it’s like it all paid off. Preparation Monday through Thursday, extra film, everything felt like it was worth it.”
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Illinois defensive lineman Keith Randolph Jr. (88) celebrates his interception of a pass by Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Champaign, Ill. Illinois won 24-14. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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