Location: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
When superficially reviewing IU's three Big Ten wins last season (not overwhelming, but IU's highest total since 2001), the two that jump out are the home wins over Iowa and Michigan State. But for the Illinois win, however, it's hard to say whether the two later wins ever would have happened. ...Despite the Illini's lackluster performance in recent decades, IU had not won at Illinois since 1979. Early in the second quarter, it appeared that yet another IU season was heading straight down the crapper. After an early 7-7 tie, Illinois pulled ahead 25-7 (it would have been 27-7 but for some Zookery regarding two point conversions).
Now, it helps to understand the psyche of the IU football fan. Those of us who invest emotionally in this program do so not because we are gluttons for punishment, but because we really believe that IU can achieve at least moderate success on the football field. Clearly, anyone who follows IU football closely cannot be described as a fair-weather fan, but we all have our moments. Every person has his limits. As I watched this game in my living room, when Illinois scored to make it 25-7, I was deep in the woe-is-me, this-is-supposed-to-be-fun-but-I-need-a-new-hobby-because-IU-football-is-taking-years-off-my-life mode. At that point, however, the TV cameras caught Terry Hoeppner dressing down every offensive,defensive and special teams player, coach, and waterboy. We've all seen coaches who lose control, but this wasn't that. Hep was simply insisting that the Hoosiers win this game. They stayed strong, came back, and eventually won the game on an Austin Starr field goal as time expired.
As with many of the Illini's games last season, Juice Williams was often spectacular but mostly ineffective. When Illinois took a 19-7 lead, Williams was 4-5. He was 6-9 when Illinois extended its lead to 25-7. Williams was 4-12 the rest of the way for 10-21 total. Whether the blame goes to the Illini offense or the credit goes to the Hoosier defense, Illinois's offense was completely ineffective after pulling ahead 25-7. Illinois began five possessions in the first quarter and scored on all five. After that, the Illini's only score was on a nifty trick play in the third quarter. Otherwise, Illinois's longest drive was 5 plays for 36 yards.
On the IU side, Kellen Lewis was 20-39, not great, but didn't throw an interception and rushed 11 times for 47 yards. Marcus Thigpen returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown. More significantly, Thigpen rushed for 91 yards on 13 carries. Finding a way to replicate that sort of performance is pretty damn important for the Hoosiers this season.
As noted above, it's hard to imagine what would have happened had IU lost this game to fall to 2-4. Well, actually, it's pretty easy to imagine. This win saved the season. IU even managed to avoid a classic "this is how IU loses football games" moment. Early in the fourth quarter, Austin Starr attempted a 33 yard field goal that for all the world seemed to be inside the uprights, but it was ruled no good, the rare disputed field goal call. Not only did IU survive what seemed a typically Hoosier moment, Starr redeemed himself by kicking the game winner as time expired. Finally, the Hoosiers exercised the demons of that other Memorial Stadium. IU and Illinois play every season, and it's nice to know that the "no wins in Champaign since 1979" statistic is dead.