Those Were The Days - Western Illinois
I went to post this earlier today but the site was down. So this week's TWTD is arriving a little later than it's usual Friday morning timeslot. For this week's post, Detlef takes us back to one of those rare seasons where everything went right for the Illini: 2007. I'll let D take it from there:
Illinois hosts in-state cousin Western Illinois on Saturday. Illinois has never lost to a FCS school so please keep it going, football team! Illinois last hosted Western Illinois in 2015, winning 44-0. Since I wrote about a 2015 game last week, I went into my vault for this week's tale. That game occurred during a memorable Rose Bowl season. THOSE WERE THE DAYS!
September 8, 2007_: _ Illinois hosted the Leathernecks under the lights at Memorial Stadium. I drove to the game from Joliet with my best friend Josh, a WIU alum who was rooting for the Illini. It had rained all day which left Blue Lot a big swampy mess. It still rained lightly at kickoff. Our boys were coming off a tough, close loss to Missouri in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. FURG! Illinois needed to shake off that game and put away a lesser foe.
Of course, they did not. Illinois slept through the first quarter. Its two drives stalled around midfield resulting in punts. Fortunately, WIU also could not do anything on offense, with the first quarter ending scoreless. The second quarter opened with both teams trading punts. WIU again stalled on offense and punted to Kyle Hudson, who busted a big return of 34 yards to the WIU 32. Finally, Illinois got a big play. Daniel Dufrene took the handoff and ran 32 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Illinois lead. The rest of the second quarter consisted of stalled drives by both teams so UI led 7-0 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Illinois started at its own 29. Rashard Mendenhall ran 15 yards. Arrelious Benn ran for another 11. More carries by Dufrene and Mendenhall led to a Juice Williams nine-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 lead. Rashard Mendenhall ran eight times for 48 yards in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Western Illinois was impotent on offense, failing to get a first down in the third quarter.
The teams exchanged punts in the fourth quarter. Illinois took over at its own 36 with 12:47 left. Juice Williams threw to Benn for a 28-yard gain. From there, it was more Rashard Mendenhall, capped with a 16-yard touchdown run and a 21-0 lead that stood up.
It was not a perfect performance, given the UI struggles to move the ball. But the effort of the defense was tremendous. WIU had only 4 first downs the entire game and just 152 yards of total offense. WIU also punted 11 times! Illinois had 277 rushing yards with Rashard Mendenhall's 152 leading the way.
"Going over 100 yards is a huge credit to the offensive line," said Mendenhall. "It was an excellent game by the defense." J Leman (11 tackles) praised the big uglies up front. "As a defense, we go as our defensive line goes. They played lights out." Kevin Mitchell had nine tackles and Dere Hicks had an interception. Ron Zook was pleased with the program's first shutout in seven years. "They took on the challenge and did a great job of shutting them down. I'm really beginning to like the look in their eyes." Yes, Zooker said that, channeling his inner Ron Turner.