Illini Notebook: Illinois Looks To Derail Wolverines

Brian Barnhart
Brian Barnhart

Oct. 18, 2007

It is time once again for the Michigan game!. It is truly amazing to me that in these days of college football parity (South Florida is #2 in the country and Kentucky is in the Top 10) that the University of Illinois has defeated the University of Michigan in a football contest at Memorial Stadium only once since 1957. Just one time! Of course, that was the magical Rose Bowl year of 1983 and, as all Illini fans over a certain age remember, the score was 16-6. In fact, there are still a lot of homes in Champaign-Urbana that have an old panoramic picture of Memorial Stadium from that day as a reminder of the glorious win over the Wolverines. While that picture is a nice one, I say it is time for new one--one from 2007 and another Illini win over Michigan.

The Illini have won a handful of times down through the years at Michigan Stadium (alias, the Big House). Take note of the years 1966, 1993 and 1999, years when the Illini went on the road and upset Michigan. But the Illini have not defeated Michigan in ANY game since Rocky Harvey dove into the endzone at Ann Arbor in 1999 (another famous picture that is hanging in many homes around the state of Illnois.) The Illini have also managed a couple of tie games with the Wolverines, including a 3-3 tie at home in 1985.

There were a lot of fireworks at Memorial Stadium the night of Sept. 23, 2000, when Michigan squeezed past Illinois, 35-31.

Michigan started the 2007 season with two losses in a row, one of course, being the stunner at home against Appalachian State, and then a lopsided loss to Oregon, also at home. In fact, Michigan has played six of their first seven games in the friendly confines of the "Big House." But they are still very dangerous, and have one of the best running backs in the Big Ten with Mike Hart and a top-notch quarterback in Chad Henne. They also feature receiver Mario Manningham, who has nearly 40 catches already this year, so the Illini secondary will be tested.

As a lifelong Illini fan, I would remind you that if Michigan senses any kind of doubt on the part of the Illini after their tough loss at Iowa, the Wolverines will make sure to take advantage of it.

A lot of discussion was held after the Illini loss at Iowa about how and why the Illini lost. I thought it was pretty simple, really. The Illini could not keep their defense off the field. Iowa had only converted about 29 percent of their 3rd down situations for the season prior to the Illinois game. In the game at Iowa City, they converted 10 of 17. The time of possesion was also in Iowa's favor. Also, the Illini settled for a field goal after starting, 1st and goal, at the Iowa 2-yard line early in the third quarter. You also cannot lose the turnover battle and hope to win, and the Fighting Illini had a pair of costly miscues in the second half that killed their chances of winning the game. So, as they say, 'when you win, you win as a team, and when you lose, you lose as a team.'

Still it has been remarkable to watch the Illini surge during this past month. The option game has emerged as one of the best in the country, and before last week's game, Rashard Mendenhall was being mentioned as a Heisman Tropy candidate. Juice Williams has been a magician with the football as he dodges tacklers at the line of scrimmage and even tricks the network televison cameras with his ball fakes to either Mendenhall or Arrelious Benn.

Now for some random thoughts from the radio booth...

  • J Leman has continued to have a remarkable season, but now his running mates at linebacker, Brit Miller and Antonio Steele, have been quietly putting together great seasons as well. Prior to the Michigan game, Miller had racked up 38 tackles on the season and Steele was tied with Kevin Mitchell in tackles with 46. Steele has also recovered a fumble this year.

  • Hasn't the new north end zone been amazing? The students and band have done a great job making that end of the field very tough on opponents. I can't wait to see what the west side looks like when it is done next season.

  • Future Illini opponent Minnesota has played some wild games, haven't they? Losing to Bowling Green in overtime, to Miami of Ohio in three overtimes, to Florida Atlantic, 42-39, and in two overtimes to Northwestern, 49-48. They have also given up 119 points in their last three games.

  • The Illini still have a say in the Big Ten race, but isn't it amazing that no matter how many different teams in the conference make a run at the championship, Michigan and Ohio State are ALWAYS in the mix somewhere?

I was happy for Ron Zook and his new contract extension. He and his staff really deserve it for all the hard work they have put in the last three years. I have been in Coach Zook's office when times were really tough, and I am happy for him and the entire football family. They deserve the success they are now enjoying, and the good news is, things are only going to get better!!!

Go, Illini!

Brian Barnhart