Those Were The Days - Michigan
I don't have much to say in this intro here other than to say that I am at my saddest point in 11 years of blogging about Illinois football and tonight's Stream Of Consciousness will nearly unreadable in it's woe-is-me-ness. So Happy Friday everyone! Here's Detlef to talk about the 2009 Michigan game.
Illinois hosts Michigan and its khaki pants-wearing head coach Jim Harbaugh. Wins over Michigan have been few and far between for our boys. There was the 1924 dedication game for Memorial Stadium when Red Grange ran wild. (My most prized Illini possession is a program from that game.) There was the 1983 game before a packed Memorial Stadium that put Illinois on the path to the Rose Bowl. Blue Pants! There was the 2008 game when Juice owned the Big House. There was the 1999 win in Ann Arbor when Rocky Harvey went nuts in the fourth quarter, sparking a comeback win in the second half. And there is the most recent favorite when Terry "Black Cat" Hawthorne, the pride of East St. Louis, demonstrated the Fighting Illini moniker to the college football world. On Saturday, our boys have the same opportunity.
October 31, 2009: Illinois was in a tailspin. The Fighting Illini lost their first game to Missouri in St. Louis and things just got worse. Illinois entered the game at 1-6 with its only win over FCS foe Illinois State. Rumors swirled around the 217 that Ron "Football Guy" Guenther was going to sack Head Coach Ron Zook after Illinois lost to Michigan. Michigan stood at 5-3 and figured to get healthy against a downtrodden Illinois team. However, Michigan had not yet won on the road. It was Halloween with a 2:30 p.m. kickoff on ESPN. This game deserved to have Vincent Price do the public announcing at Memorial Stadium! I attended the game with little hope of a victory.
Illinois started brightly, taking the opening drive from its own 18-yard line for a methodical 12-play drive which took six minutes off the clock. It ended with Arrelious Benn taking a handoff for a three-yard touchdown run. Alas, Michigan responded with its own long drive for a touchdown to tie the score. Illinois had to punt on its next drive but Michigan fumbled the punt. Zach Becker recovered for the Illini at the Michigan 41! THIS IS ILLINOIS FOOTBALL. After gaining a first down, Illinois then missed a field goal so the first quarter ended with the score tied at 7-7.
The teams exchanged punts to start the second quarter. On Illinois's second drive, it was pinned at its own ten-yard line and went backwards. Anthony Santella boomed a 50-yard punt but Michigan took advantage of a short field to kick a field goal. Michigan capitalized on another short field after a shanked punt to convert a field goal for a 13-7 lead at halftime. I went to get a hot dog at halftime and stood behind your typical Michigan fans, already claiming victory. "We get the ball to start the half, we score, we win." I groaned and went back to my seat.
Michigan had the ball on its own 23-yard line, facing a third down and seven yards to go. Quarterback Tate Forcier threw to a wide-open Roy Roundtree at midfield. He shook off a tackler and appeared to be running free for a touchdown. Then….BLACK CAT chased him down, tackled him near the goal line. The ball came loose but the officials ruled it to be a touchdown……until the booth called for an instant replay review. The replay showed that Roundtree's knee was down short of the goal line. So now Michigan had the football, first down and goal from the Illinois one-yard line, with four chances to score.
First down: Carlos Brown tackled for no gain on an inside handoff.
Second down: Carlos Brown off-tackle to the right, no gain.
Third down: Carlos Brown sweep right, cuts inside, tackled for no gain.
Mike Patrick made a big statement on the broadcast. "Now the play by Terry Hawthorne is huge! They could be able to deny them a touchdown!" Craig James (remember him?) praised the Illinois defensive effort. "Just a good job getting pursuit, showing that you care. Can they finish it off?"
Michigan went for it on fourth down. Brandon Minor ran left, dove towards the end zone. Garrett Edwards got penetration, Minor appeared to cross the goal line with the football coming loose at the end, recovered by a Michigan lineman. The officials signaled touchdown…REPLAY AGAIN! But the replay showed that Minor's elbow hit the ground, short of the goal line! Memorial Stadium went wild! "Terry Hawthorne wasn't about to let someone go uncontested for a touchdown" said Mike Patrick.
Illinois now had 99 and ½ yards to go for a touchdown. After gaining a first down to the 12-yard line, Juice Williams threw to Jeff Cumberland for a 17-yard completion for another first down. From the 30-yard line, Mikel "FEED5" Leshoure went to the house! The fans at Memorial Stadium came alive! Instead of being down 20-7, Illinois now had a 14-13 lead. The defense went back to work. Illinois forced a three and out. With seven minutes left in the third quarter, the Illinois offense took over at its own 21-yard line. FEED5 rambled 27 yards and Juice Williams hit Cumberland for a big 34-yard gain. After a pass interference call, Juice connected with London Davis on a two-yard touchdown pass for a 21-13 lead!
Michigan looked and played like a beaten team. It went three and out, for minus 15 yards! A shanked punt gave Illinois possession at the Michigan 45-yard line. Juice found Chris James for a 41-yard gain to the Michigan four-yard line. From there, Juice ran for a touchdown and a 28-13 lead with one minute left in the third quarter. The game had completely flipped thanks to BLACK CAT.
Michigan moved quickly into Illinois territory to start the fourth quarter. But my guy Clay Nurse (I like his name!) sacked Forcier and Cory Liuget recovered at the Illinois 21-yard line! Illinois abused Michigan with a 74 yard drive, all on the ground, ending with a Matt Eller field goal from 21 yards out for a 31-13 lead. Illinois scored a final touchdown on a 79-yard run by Jason Ford after Ian Thomas recovered a fumble. The final score of 38-13 felt awesome!
Illinois absolutely pounded the rock; running for 377 yards with FEED5 having 150, Jason Ford with 128 and Juice Williams with 97. Each of them scored a touchdown rushing. Juice did not need to throw the football but he finished 8/11 for 123 yards and a touchdown. The Illinois offense finished with 500 total yards!
But all people could talk about was BLACK CAT. "It's a big momentum change, particularly on the road," said Michigan Head Coach Rich Rodriguez. "We haven't given ourselves much of a chance because of some of our own errors." "A lot of guys would have quit," said Zook. "Terry didn't quit. He made the play of the game."
The game marked the first time Illinois had defeated Michigan at Zuppke Field since the immortal 1983 victory. My tailgate crew and I tore up downtown Champaign that night. We encountered several depressed Michigan fans the next morning at the hotel breakfast. "Your coach is better than ours," one said. Ron Zook better than Rich Rodriguez? He was on this occasion. I prefer to think of this win as karma for the non-instant replay game with Michigan in 2000.
Illinois finished 3-9 and Coach Guenther kept Coach Zook for two more seasons after making him change coordinators.
*Sources: *ESPN.com; Youtube