Those Were The Days - Nebraska
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Illinois has beaten Nebraska three times: 1923, 1924, and 2015. And the only reason we beat Nebraska in 2015 was because they threw the ball on third down when we had no timeouts. Before we get to Detlef's post, I need to remind you of that moment because it's just so incredible. A TWWD double-dip!
Nebraska leads 13-7. They have the ball at our 27, driving for either the winning score or winning field goal (or the winning kneel-down). It's third and 7 from our 27, but they're headed into a stiff north wind so they're probably not in field goal range. Still, they can basically just kneel it out. There's 59 seconds left when they snap it, it's third down, and we don't have any timeouts left. All they really have to do is run it and hope to get a first down. If they do get seven yards, kneel it out. If they don't, we can't stop the clock, so a five second running play + 40 second play clock would mean it would be fourth down at our 20-something with maybe (at the most) 14 seconds remaining. They could then punt it out of the endzone, try the field goal, kneel - wouldn't matter. Absolute best case scenario or us we'd have ten seconds to try to go 70+ yards down six. The game is over.
And they THREW A PASS which fell incomplete, stopping the clock with 55 seconds left. I still can't believe it happened. After the game Mike Riley says that the QB was specifically told not to throw it, but if he threw it coach, you called the wrong play. Don't give him a rollout with an option to run or pass - just go with a running play.
They call a timeout to discuss and decide to just go for it to try to end the game (the right call I think - a 45-yard field goal wasn't going to get there). They don't convert, and now we get the ball with 51 seconds remaining. 6 plays, 72 yards later, Geronmio Allison catches the winning touchdown with 10 seconds left. The biggest gift I've ever seen given in Memorial Stadium. Even if Nebraska takes a knee on 3rd and 7 with 59 seconds left, let the 40 seconds run off, call a timeout with :19 left, and then punt it out of the endzone, we'd have the ball at the 20 with somewhere between 13 and 15 seconds remaining hoping to go 80 yards and score a touchdown. Forget even trying for the first down - they'd have a 99.3% chance of winning just with a knee. And they threw the ball.
I'll always love that Nebraska did get the ball back (we kicked off with 10 seconds left and they had one play from the 25). The exact same situation we would have been in had they just run two nothingburger running plays and handed it over to us with seven seconds left on the 25 needing to go 75 yards. Nebraska fans had to watch their team attempt a futile lateral play when only a few minutes before WE would have been forced into the same thing had they not thrown on third down. Just unbelievable.
OK, this is about 1923, not 2015. I'll let Detlef take you through that game:
The Fighting Illini visit Nebraska and that "other" Memorial Stadium. I visited there in 2014 for the game with my father-in-law, a Nebraska alumnus. Lincoln was a great time, cool fans, everything was great…other than the game itself. Illinois has defeated the Cornhuskers only three times. Will this week be the fourth? The first time was in 1923….some guy from Wheaton played in his first college football game…leather helmets…THOSE WERE THE DAYS!!!
October 6, 1923: The beloved opened the season against Missouri Valley Conference powerhouse Nebraska. I still can't get over college football starting in October. Boggle! The beloved had a sophomore named Harold Grange from Wheaton on its roster, listed at 5'10" and 175 pounds. Prior to attending Illinois, he worked as an ice toter, earning $37.50 per week. Thus, he earned the nickname "The Wheaton Iceman." In high school, "Red" earned 16 varsity letters in four sports (football, baseball, basketball and track). Originally, he arrived at U of I planning to compete only in basketball and track. However, he changed his mind after some persuasion from his Zeta Psi fraternity brothers.
This was the final season for Illinois Field. At a capacity of just 17,000, it was too small to accommodate the growing size of Illini Nation. Memorial Stadium would open on November 7, 1923 with a 7-0 defeat of those pesky University of Chicago Maroons in a Big Ten clash on Homecoming.
Grange scored three touchdowns in a 24-7 defeat of Nebraska in the 217. He carried 20 times for 38 yards and two touchdowns. The blocking of left guard and team captain James McMillen from Grayslake and Earl Britton of Elgin at fullback (6'2" 220 pounds. Huge for that era!) proved vital. Frank Rokusek contributed with three receptions from quarterback Harry Hall of Waukegan. Grange also caught three passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps his best stat: four punt returns for 125 yards! Of course, Red Grange's heroics led to his enshrinement in the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, along with his #77 being retired and a statue outside Memorial Stadium!
Illinois finished the season 8-0, Big Ten champs and National Champions under Coach Robert Zuppke! Grange finished the season with excellent stats: 12 touchdowns, 723 rushing yards, 178 receiving yards, 212 punt return yards, and 140 yards from interceptions! He scored a touchdown in every game! It was the Illini's third national title in ten years! The defense allowed only 20 points the entire season! We could use a defense like that!
Sources: Wikipedia & FightingIllini.com