Those Were The Days - Glasnost Bowl
I'm hopping on a plane here in a few hours, bound for Hartford. I'm pretty sure Detlef is already there. No, I won't be joining him for his tailgate because the DEMC confuses and frightens me. I'll be headed to the pressbox early where I will pace and pace and pace. Yes, even for UConn.
Here's Detlef's TWTD column for this week. There's no UConn game to look back on, so he took this one to Russia.
Illinois travels east to play at Connecticut. Illinois and UConn have never played each other. Last year, this would have featured two of the worst defenses in college football history. I will be at the game with some of my tailgate crew. We don't care if the score is 59-56 or 7-3, PLEASE WIN ILLINOIS! We plan to visit Yale University and Brown University in my quest to visit every Ivy League school. Anyhow, I went back into the vault to find a story to get you fired up for the game.
September 4, 1989: Illinois had high expectations for the 1989 season, coming off a surprising 6-5-1 season in 1988 that included an All-American bowl loss to Florida. Head Coach/Athletic Director John Mackovic brought discipline to the program and Illini Nation hoped 1989 would be the year to win the Big 10.
However, Illinois faced a daunting non-conference schedule that would make Coach Guenther proud. Illinois opened the season at Southern California on Labor Day. This game was to take place in Moscow (the old USSR, not Idaho) as the infamous "Glasnost Bowl." Raycom Sports previously agreed to televise the Glasnost Bowl but pulled out in June, citing problems in hotel accommodations and other logistical issues. Thus, the teams moved the game to USC. (For more information on the Glasnost Bowl, go to Wikipedia. It is quite interesting). Further, Illinois would play at Colorado in its next game. Illinois entered the game ranked 22nd; USC was ranked fifth. This would be a tough game.
The game featured lots of defense and lots of punting which made Illinois defensive coordinator Lou Tepper smile! The teams combined for just 23 first downs and 21 punts! USC led just 3-0 at halftime. In the third quarter, the Trojans made a big special teams play. USC blocked a punt and Marcus Hopkins returned it 37 yards for a touchdown, giving USC a 10-0 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Illinois quarterback Jeff George threw an interception at the Illinois 42. USC took advantage with another field goal, giving USC a 13-0 lead with just seven minutes remaining. Thus, Illinois gave up on the run (25 carries for 35 yards) and decided to air it out. "We went into our two-minute offense with 6:50 to play," said Mackovic. "Gradually, our pass protection got a little firmer."
Up to this point, George was just 17 for 30 passing with 107 yards. USC's defense had been tough to crack all night. But then George dropped back to pass and tried to throw the ball to wide receiver Mike Bellamy underneath and Illinois found some good luck. "The linebacker tipped it a little and it went over Mike's head and right into Shawn's hands," said George. When Shawn Wax caught the tipped pass, he broke out of the tackle of USC free safety Cleveland Coulter and raced 53 yards for a touchdown.
Now down 13-7, Illinois' sensational defense went back to work. Linebacker Darrick Brownlow sacked USC quarterback Todd Marinovich and the ball came loose, but the officials called the play an incomplete pass. USC punted and Illinois took over on its own 20 yard line.
Jeff George took over in the two minute drill. He quickly moved Illinois down the field with crisp passing, including a critical 21 yard reception by Shawn Wax that put Illinois at the USC 30 yard line. USC kept its safeties close to the line of scrimmage. Illinois decided to try play action. "We decided why not play-fake, see if the guy bites," said wide receiver Steve Williams. George executed a pump-fake and found Steve Williams all alone in the end zone for a 20 yard touchdown pass and a 14-13 Illinois lead. "We faked the quick out and went downfield," said Mackovic. George went 6 for 8 passing on the winning 80 yard touchdown drive. Thus, on the two critical drives for Illinois, George went 8 for 11 passing with 141 yards.
Now with the lead, the Illinois defense, solid all day, needed to make another stop during the final 2:19. Cornerback Henry Jones intercepted USC's first play after the kickoff, managing to keep one foot inbounds while wrestling the ball away from USC wideout Marlon Washington. "I had two hands on it and I yanked it away. I had one foot inbounds. One ref tried to take it away from me, but the other saw it and gave it to me," said Jones.
Illinois then punted but left USC with no timeouts and under a minute to play. USC could not move the ball and Illinois had an improbable victory. The Illinois defensive effort cannot be ignored. The Fighting Illini held USC to just 79 yards rushing on 39 carries! Further, Illinois allowed only 120 yards passing. "We take pride in playing 60 minutes of football," said Illini safety Marlon Primous. Mackovic summarized the efforts of Jeff George. "Jeff George just had a sensational second half. A great quarterback leads his team to victory, especially a come-from-behind victory." George finished 27 of 43 passing with 248 yards. Shawn Wax had three catches for 87 yards and a touchdown.
After going 7-1 in the Big 10, second behind Michigan (a home loss that still gnaws at me) Illinois finished 10-2 with a win over Virginia in the Florida Citrus Bowl. The 1989 Illinois team, in my opinion, is the best Illinois football team to not win the Big 10 title.
Sources: "Fantasyland, a day early" by Robert Markus. Chicago Tribune, September 5, 1989. Credit to Detlef's parents for the research and to Mrs. Detlef for copy editing.