Brandon Peters will start behind center for Illinois in the program’s first bowl game in five years.
The Illini’s fourth-year junior quarterback and Illinois head coach Lovie Smith confirmed Friday he was cleared for full activities during the Redbox Bowl media conference.
“He’s been good for a period of time,” Smith said Friday. “There’s no lingering effects from his last concussion or anything like that, and he’s ready to go.”
Smith held out Peters for the regular-season finale loss to Northwestern following the crushing hit he received near the end of the loss at Iowa in the previous week.
On a third-and-nine play near the end of the game, Peters rolled to his right and attempted a pass that went incomplete. After the pass exited his hand, Iowa defensive back Geno Stone launched his shoulder above the neck area of Peters’ body with most of the impact ending up in Peters’ face. The result of the play was no personal foul penalty to Stone, either for targeting or a late hit on the quarterback and Illinois training staff immediately leading the signal-caller into the locker room. These two facts were the most disturbing to Smith.
Peters, who started 10 of the 12 games this season, said he tried to convince Illinois team doctors to let him play against Northwestern but the medical staff held him out of his second game of the season due to concussion protocol.
“It’s been frustrating for sure, but I feel great,” Peters said. “I’m fully prepared and ready for this game. So, yeah, I feel good.”
Peters said he passed the protocol the Monday after the loss and has practiced with the Illinois team in the last two weeks in preparation for Monday’s 3 p.m. CST kickoff against California (7-5) in the Redbox Bowl. Illinois offensive lineman Kendrick Green confirmed following the first on-campus bowl practice earlier this month that Peters was the first-team quarterback he was snapping the ball to as the sophomore is moved to center for this game.
“I tried everything in my power to play in that Northwestern game, but (team doctors) said no. I was pretty upset about it. But the process was all the same (as earlier in the season,” Peters said.
Peters completed 130 of 238 passes (54.6 percent) for 1,611 yards for 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season and Illinois is 6-2 in games where he played the entire football game. Peters currently sits tied for fifth among Big Ten Conference signal-callers in touchdown passes despite missing two games. Illinois lost the two games backup Matt Robinson was forced to start (vs. Michigan and vs. Northwestern) and the Illini managed to go just 27 of 52 for 338 yards and one touchdown in those two combined losses.
Peters is one of just two active players for Illinois to have played in a bowl game, along with Western Michigan transfer running back Chase Brown. The former Michigan transfer started the 2018 Outback Bowl for the Wolverines completing 20 of 44 passes for 186 yards and two interceptions in a 26-19 loss to South Carolina.
“It’s good to have my main guy back,” Illinois senior tailback Reggie Corbin said Friday. “I tell him every day, ‘When in doubt, just hand it off.’ But I have full confidence in him at the wheel of this team. Couldn’t have a better driver.”