Those Were The Days - Rutgers
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I'm in one of those "WERE those the days? Or was it just some temporary high before it all fell apart again" moods. Even my nostalgia is tinged with "but life is meaningless" right now. Maybe it's the fact that this week, Detlef takes us all the way back to... 2019 and our win over Rutgers (and I know what happens in the next game and then the next six games after that).
Anyway, I'll stop being all depressed. Here's Detlef:
This week our boys travel to lovely New Jersey to face Rutgers. Greg Schiano has returned to coach at Rutgers for a second time which seems like an odd career choice. Hopefully Illinois can continue the misery it inflicted on Rutgers in last year's contest. Due to the lack of a long series history between the two schools, I went all the way back to last year's contest for this story.
November 2, 2019: We tailgated in Lot 31 on a cool, blustery day in the 217. Illinois entered the game at 4-4, with momentum on its side after a massive win over #6 Wisconsin and a road win at Purdue. Meanwhile "Ruptures" as Lou Holtz once called Rutgers was down on its luck. The Scarlet Knights entered at 2-6, having fired head coach Chris Ash earlier in the season. Illinois figured to gain more momentum against an overmatched Rutgers team.
Illinois opened the scoring in the first quarter with an eight-play, 78-yard drive capped with a Dre Brown touchdown run of 10 yards. This included a long, over-the-shoulder catch by Donny Navarro. A few minutes later, James McCourt drilled a 33-yard field goal for a 10-0 Illinois lead and all seemed well.
THIS IS ILLINOIS FOOTBALL. Rutgers responded early in the second quarter with a touchdown pass of 31 yards where the Rutgers wide receiver Mohammed Jabbie took a heavy hit at the goal line but held on to the football. The Illinois offense sputtered in the second quarter with Peters being sacked twice. Rutgers took advantage with a final drive before halftime of 66 yards that ended with a field goal. The first half ended at 10-10 and I drank some Fireball, hoping for a turnaround.
After stopping Rutgers on its opening drive, the Illinois offense went to work. Brandon Peters faked a pitchout and scampered 54 yards all the way to the Rutgers two-yard line. From there, Illinois went into the wildcat formation! Dre Brown took the direct snap and took it into the end zone for a 17-10 lead. On the next drive, Rutgers quarterback Johnny Langan scrambled but Isiah Gay knocked the football loose. The football went directly into the hands of Nate Hobbs who grabbed it and ran 36 yards for another touchdown. With a 24-10 lead and 7:29 left in the third quarter, the wheels came off the Rutgers bandwagon.
On the next possession, Rutgers lost a fumble near the Illinois 45-yard line. A few plays later, Peters dropped back, under a heavy rush, and got off a deep pass before being hit. Josh Imatorbhebhe caught the pass with two defenders on him at the Rutgers 20-yard line and ran into the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown pass and a 31-10 Illinois lead. Early in the fourth quarter, Rutgers had the ball at midfield. Langan dropped back under pressure and threw over the middle. Dele Harding stepped in front of the pass and went 54 yards for a pick six and the final score of 38-10. Incredibly, the last three Rutgers possessions on offense had ended with Illinois takeaways.
Illinois ran for success, gaining 204 yards on the ground. Dre Brown ran for 31 yards and two touchdowns. In addition to his pick six, Dele Harding had 12 tackles. Milo Eifler and Stanley Green Jr. each had 10 tackles. Head Coach Lovie Smith praised the defense. "Outstanding play, really by the linebackers in general. It's not just takeaways; it's about ball security on the offensive side." Now at 5-4, Illinois needed one more win for bowl eligibility. The boys headed to Michigan State the following week, a game that is an all-time Illini Classic.