Those Were The Days - Indiana
The 70's are a blind spot for me with Illinois football. My dad would speak of the 60's, he and I expereienced the 80's together, I was a student in the 90's and obssessive fan after that but I don't know much about the 70's. This week Detlef takes us back to 1977 and the first year of the Gary Moeller era.
Illinois hosts Indiana on Saturday, which is also Veterans Day. I trust the Marching Illini will play some patriotic tunes. Perhaps it will perform a duet with Hoosiers fan John Mellencamp? Anyhow, this week's column recalls the first Illinois football game I ever saw. This game made me into the diehard Fighting Illini football fan I am today! Just like a marriage, it's been for better and worse.
October 22, 1977: My father, a proud Illinois alumnus, took my mother (a big fan), my sister (not a fan) and me (about to become a diehard fan) to Champaign for this matchup. The Fighting Illini entered the game at 2-4 under first-year head coach Gary Moeller. Indiana stood at 2-3-1 under head coach Lee Corso. We drove from Joliet in my parents' 1976 Chevy Malibu Classic. We took the back roads from Joliet, driving through Campus (an actual town), Chatsworth, and Elliott. We arrived at the Holiday Inn in Rantoul where the car died. My parents found a mechanic to fix the vehicle. Meanwhile, my sister whined about going to the game. My mother agreed to take her to the swimming pool while my father took me to Memorial Stadium. I still recall a bunch of Cub Scouts walking behind the scoreboard from our seats in West Main. As for the game itself, I must rely on my research.
A crowd of 50,298 awaited kickoff on a sunny, pleasant fall day. On its opening drive, Illinois engineered a 54-yard touchdown drive behind quarterback Mike McCray. He capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run. The drive included a 19-yard run by James Coleman (Brother Rice) and a McCray pass completion to Dan Bulow (Tinley Park). In the second quarter, the Illinois defense forced another Indiana punt. However, the Illini were backed up at their own 12-yard line. McCray dropped back and threw a bomb to Bulow for a 45-yard completion to get Illinois into Indiana territory. From there, Illinois ran the football, capped by a Coleman eight-yard touchdown run. The extra point failed. Indiana continued to misfire on offense so the score remained 13-0 in Illinois' favor at halftime.
Illinois continued to hold a 13-0 lead in the third quarter. The Indiana offense, struggling all day, finally put together a competent drive. The Hoosiers faced a fourth down and inches to go at the Illini 13-yard line. The defense went into its "short defense" as explained by Fighting Illini linebacker John Sullivan: "My job is to just blitz at the quarterback. Everyone else is pinching. He tried to go outside, but there was no way he was going to get there." Sullivan smacked quarterback Scott Arnett. Sullivan feared the referee would give Indiana a favorable spot (shades of the game at Fresno State years later?) "but he marked it right." This Indiana drive was an exercise in futility: 17 plays, 7:30 of time consumed for zero points.
Illinois took over and salted the game away with an 83-yard drive. Freshman fullback Wayne Strader (GENESEO!) literally dragged Indiana defenders on a 37-yard run to midfield on the first play of this drive. Three plays later, Illinois was at the Hoosier 26-yard line. Strader bounced off one of his own blockers, shed another tackle, and rumbled into the end zone for a touchdown. Illinois converted the two-point conversion and held a 21-0 lead that proved insurmountable. Indiana scored a late touchdown for the final score of 21-7 for a Fighting Illini victory!
The Illinois defense bent but did not break. Indiana ended up with 278 yards rushing but only seven points. This was due to the Illini defense forcing three turnovers. The Illinois offense ignored the pass (95 yards passing) but enjoyed 282 yards of rushing. This included 103 yards from Strader, 82 yards from Coleman and 42 yards from fullback Charlie Weber (Elgin Larkin).
Moeller's recent quarterback switch to Mike McCray continued to work. "The thing I like about Mike-he doesn't do negative things, the things that put you into trouble," said Moeller. Moeller also praised the running of Strader. "The thing he's doing that is so important for a back is his feet are always moving." McCray, a native of South Bend, Indiana enjoyed the win over his state school. "It meant so much to me, just to be able to play good against them."
Sources: "Indiana controls ball, but Illinois sets pace" by Robert Markus. Chicago Tribune: October 23, 1977.