Illinois, Virginia Poised To Add Pre-New Year's Spice To Bowl Picture
Dec. 27, 1999
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Illinois and Virginia may end up putting on the best show to precede the Millennium celebration.
Both teams went 7-4 despite some surprising losses midway through the year, but had strong finishes to the regular season and are focused on finishing with a win in the Micronpc.com Bowl on Thursday at Pro Player Stadium.
"I'm really happy, pleased and proud for the team, especially the seniors," Illinois coach Ron Turner said. "It's been tough on the field, and it's been tough off the field, but they pulled together. They not only talked about winning, they backed it up. There were a lot of doubters out there, but there were none in here."
This marks the 13th consecutive season Virginia has won at least seven games, putting it in exclusive company. Only powers Florida State, Michigan and Nebraska are on such a streak.
"We're happy to be in the Micronpc.com Bowl this year," Virginia coach George Welsh said. "It's a great reward for us and we're certainly looking forward to it. I know the team will be excited about it. We'll have a good team there, we'll have all our injured players back."
Illinois, which finished sixth in the Big Ten, shook off a three-game midseason losing streak to stun Michigan in Ann Arbor, 35-29. Illinois closed the season with three wins in its final four games.
"The guys hung together and believed in one another," Turner said. "The intensity that they have maintained throughout the last five games is remarkable."
The Illini didn't rely on any one player to carry the load. Both the running and receiving games were by committee and quarterback Kurt Kittner got better as the season progressed.
Kittner completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 2,448 yards and 22 TDs.
Michael Dean (43 receptions, 566 yards, 4 TDs) led the receiving corps, along with Elmer Hickman (33-241-2) and Brandon Lloyd (27-454-2).
Steve Havard paced the ground attack with 731 yards, followed by Rockey Harvey's 692 yards.
Defensively, linebacker Danny Clark led the team in total tackles with 115 and tackles for a loss with 11. The senior will represent Illinois in the Hula Bowl.
Virginia tied Clemson and Georgia Tech for second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference behind No. 1 Florida State with a 5-2 league mark. The Cavaliers suffered a bad loss to Duke midway through the season, but came back to take out Joe Hamilton and Georgia Tech, 45-38, starting a three-game unbeaten streak heading into Thursday.
Thomas Jones carried the Cavaliers offensively, leading the ACC and finishing third nationally in both rushing (1,798 yards) and all-purpose yards (2,054 yards). Both marks also set Virginia and ACC records.
Shannon Taylor led the team with 81 tackles, and Jerton Evans led with four interceptions.
This is the second meeting between Virginia and Illinois. In their first New Year's Day bowl appearance, the Cavaliers fell to the Fighting Illini 31-21 in the 1990 Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.