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Illinois at Nebraska, 11/10/18

Illinois quarterback AJ Bush runs into the end zone for a touchdown against Nebraska on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

AJ Bush finally got to play in Memorial Stadium. And he played well, setting a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback.

But the Illinois signal caller didn’t get the result he’d hoped for when he returned to the school where he was a backup — but never got in a game — for two years.

“It’s obviously something I’m going to really keep in mind when I’m older,” Bush said of playing in Memorial Stadium. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the win.”

Bush, who was a backup to Tommy Armstrong at Nebraska in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, transferred to Iowa Western Community College, then Virginia Tech before taking enough classes in his final semester in Blacksburg, Virginia, to be able to be a graduate transfer at Illinois.

Named the Illini starter to begin the season after spending most of his career as a backup, Bush now has four games in which he has run for 100 yards, including Saturday’s school record-setting performance in which he ran the ball 25 times for 187 yards and three touchdowns.

“It’s cool, but I didn’t get the most important stat I wanted,” Bush said. “You ball out, but LeBron scores 60 and they lose. It’s like that.”

Illinois coach Lovie Smith praised Bush’s performance in the 54-35 loss — and knew that playing in Memorial Stadium was important for him.

“Whenever you come back to a place you called home, it’s special; that was the case for AJ," Smith said. “AJ’s a good football player. You have an athletic quarterback like that, that can run the football, it’s tough on any defense. … AJ did an awful lot to put that many points on the board. We just came up a little short.”

Illinois not only came up short on the scoreboard, but it lost three fumbles, two on muffed punts and one by Bush, and he threw two interceptions. Plus the Illini defense was gashed by seven Nebraska plays of 20 yards or longer.

“When you turn the ball over like that — I think we had five or so — it's tough to win,” Smith said. “When you continue to give up big runs on the defensive side of the football, run and pass, it's tough duty. When you have a couple mishaps like we did in the special game against a team like this at home, it's tough to win.

“AJ running the football did some good things. Offensively, we did some good things. A game like today when both defenses are struggling a little bit, you have to be able to match score-for-score.”

Illinois had a chance to get back in the game in the second half, Smith said, only to see Nebraska go on a 17-play, 82-yard, nearly eight-minute third-quarter drive that essentially sealed the win.

“That drive, where they converted four or three first downs, you can't allow that to happen,” Smith said.

Guard Nick Allegretti said that Bush was more fired up for Saturday’s game than previous contests. But Bush said that wasn’t the case.

“I just wanted to go out and have a good game and try to make it as less about me as possible,” he said.

But he did engage in some on-field chatter with the Huskers, that both he and Allegretti said was good-natured.

“They’re all my boys, so it was just talk,” Bush said. “It wasn’t anything serious. Those were the same guys I hosted on official visits, so they’re still my boys.”

Those boys, including Mikale Wilbon and Jerald Foster, with whom Bush exchanged text messages this week, came up to greet, hug and take pictures with the former teammate after the game.

“It was cool,” Bush said. “It just shows you what kind of the relationship I had with them when I was here. I really appreciate that. I know it was a competitive game, I’ve still got love for them."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or kwolgamott@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSWolgamott.

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Entertainment reporter/columnist

L. Kent Wolgamott is an entertainment reporter and columnist.

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