Juice Williams looks for running room around Iowa's Brett Greenwood. (AP Photo/Brian Ray)
Oct. 13, 2007
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Illinois quarterback Eddie McGee scanned the field and spotted an open receiver in the end zone.
What he didn't see was Iowa's Brett Greenwood, who happily cradled McGee's game-ending blunder.
Greenwood intercepted McGee's pass at the goal line with 1:12 left and the Hawkeyes upset No. 18 Illinois 10-6 on Saturday, snapping the Illini's five-game winning streak.
Jake Christensen threw for 182 yards and a touchdown and Albert Young added 99 yards rushing for the Hawkeyes (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten), who broke an eight-game losing streak in Big 10 play and knocked off a ranked opponent for the first time since 2005.
Trailing 10-6 with 2:28 left, McGee -- in relief of Isiah "Juice" Williams -- found freshman Arrelious Benn for completions of 28 and 24 yards that put Illinois on the Iowa 12.
But under pressure, McGee threw a pass that hit Greenwood in the numbers, sealing Iowa's fifth straight win over Illinois.
"He tried to force it in there," Illinois coach Ron Zook said of McGee, who came in after Williams had fumbled early in the fourth quarter. "He led him too far."
The Hawkeyes held the Illini (5-2, 3-1) to 24 points below their season average, slowing down their dangerous option game and star running back Rashard Mendenhall. Iowa held Illinois, the nation's fifth-ranked rushing attack, to 137 yards on 35 attempts.
Mendenhall had just 67 yards on 15 carries, his lowest output since the Illini's season-opening loss to Missouri.
The Hawkeyes needed this one. Iowa had looked awful in losses to Indiana and Penn State the previous two weeks, and though its offense again failed to put up points, the defense came through with one of its best efforts of the season.
"It's been a tough period for our football team certainly, and we're just getting tremendous leadership from guys that are very visible," said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose team broke a four-game losing streak. "I think our guys can feel good about things."
A few breaks didn't hurt, either.
Iowa took a 10-6 lead with six seconds left in the third quarter, thanks in part to a fortuitous penalty. The Hawkeyes were called for an illegal formation on third-and-2, when Albert Young was stopped short of the first down.
Given a second chance, Christensen found Brandon Myers for a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Luck shone again on the Hawkeyes midway through the fourth quarter. McGee had found an open Joe Morgan for an apparent 83-yard touchdown pass, but the Illini were flagged for an ineligible receiver downfield. They were eventually forced to punt.
"When you're struggling, things tend to go against you," Ferentz said. "You just have to try to generate energy, play hard and hope things go your way."
Illinois took a 6-3 lead on its first possession of the second half. Williams found Benn for 35-yard completion as the Illini marched inside the Iowa 10. But three times the Hawkeyes stuffed Illinois inside the 6 yard line, forcing Jason Reda's 23-yard field goal.
The teams traded field goals in the first half, when Iowa drove into Illinois territory several times but only came away with three points.
Reda hit a 46-yard field goal late in the first quarter to open the scoring. Iowa, which hasn't hit a field goal longer than 41 yards this season, failed to convert fourth downs at the Illinois 32 and 28 in the first quarter.
Christensen also misfired on two passes at the Illinois 10 late in the first half, leading to Daniel Murray's 28-yard field goal with 26 seconds left before halftime.
Williams was 9-of-15 passing for 98 yards, and he rushed for 41 yards on 10 carries. Benn had 87 yards receiving for the Illini, which was trying to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2001.
Illinois was playing as a ranked team for the first time since the 2001 season, though that status is now in jeopardy. Despite the loss, Zook was adamant that won't shy away from inserting McGee for a change of pace next week against Michigan.
"Right now, Juice is the starting quarterback. But that doesn't mean that Eddie won't play," Zook said.
Christensen played much better in the second half, completing 8-of-9 passes without taking a sack and leading Iowa to its first win since beating Syracuse 35-0 on Sept. 8.
"We've never had a loss of confidence. Our belief in each other is starting to pay off," Christensen said. "I think it will benefit us down the road."