Those Were The Days - Wyoming
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Here are the general rules for Those Were The Days:
1. TWTT is written by Detlef. But this column is always published under my byline with an intro written by yours truly. The reason? As anyone who sits near Detlef at games can attest, do not give Detlef access to the "publish" button.
2. This is the oldest-running column on IlliniBoard. Detlef was writing it way before I was around. The first one was probably... 2004 or so? Now THOSE were the days.
3. It is always published on Friday morning. Except for the times I forget.
4. Detlef always takes us back to a former game and gives his memories (or what he's researched) about that game. If we haven't played an opponent before, he chooses a similar non-conference game in the past.
5. I cannot emphasize this enough: never give Detlef access to the "publish" button. We'd all wake up to a 3,000 word diatribe on the end of the Guenther era.
Got it? Got it. Now here's Detlef to take us back to... our 1988 matchup with Utah (see rule #4 above).
Hey everyone! It's Year Two of The Bret Bielema Football Program (TBBFP) at Illinois! Last year, the program came close (but no cigar) to playing in a bowl game. This year, Illinois hopes to kick the door down (paraphrasing former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips) and get back to a bowl game. The season opener features a Week Zero encounter against Wyoming at Zuppke Field. The teams have not met before so I am writing about a former Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West conference foe of Wyoming.
September 17, 1988: Illinois AD Neale Stoner sacked my guy Mike White in January after more allegations of NCAA violations. Stoner replaced White with John Mackovic, who previously had coached Wake Forest and the Kansas City Chiefs. Soon thereafter, Stoner himself resigned after allegations over misdeeds. Stability was not in the current vocabulary of the athletic department. However, White had left behind a decent amount of talent, including quarterback Jeff George who had transferred from Purdue.
Mackovic soon laid down the law to a program that needed discipline. This included telling a group called the "Dirty 13" that if they did not get their academics in order, they would be off the team. Mackovic's squad stood at 0-2 after a humiliating 44-7 loss to Washington State followed by a tough 21-16 loss at Arizona State. Stoner always liked to schedule tough games like Nebraska and USC so he didn't do Mackovic any favors with two games against Pac-10 teams. Now Illinois, desperate for a win, hosted Utah before 54,002 on an unseasonably warm 88 degree day in Champaign with high humidity. The warm weather did not dampen the spirt of Tailgreat, an idea brought forth under Stoner. Those Were The Days!
Illinois started fast with two Howard Griffith (Chicago Julian) touchdown runs of 11 and 54 yards for a 14-0 first quarter lead. In the second quarter, Utah kicked a field goal. Then Griffith had two more touchdown runs of three and 78 yards. Griffith's 78-yard touchdown run gave Illinois a 28-3 lead late in the second quarter. "I'm glad I made it in there and I'm glad it wasn't ten more yards," said Griffith, affected by the heat. Alas, Utah quarterback Scott Mitchell drove the Utes 81 yards from a touchdown and a two-point conversion to make the score 28-11 at halftime. On that drive, Illini linebacker Romero Brice intercepted a pass at the Illinois 25, then fumbled. Utah recovered and Mitchell then threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Carl Harry.
With that momentum, Utah enjoyed a 92-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to 28-18 in the third quarter. Illinois did not score in the third quarter. With 5:48 left in the game, Mitchell threw another touchdown pass to Harry from 11 yards. Utah went for two and failed. Now Illinois had a mere 28-24 lead after enjoying a 28-3 lead before halftime. Illinois got the football and Griffith fumbled inside the Illinois ten-yard line. Somehow, Jeff George recovered the fumble. Illinois gained a couple of critical first downs before Keith Jones rambled 53 yards for another touchdown to ice the game at 35-24.
"Howard and I have an agreement," said Jones. "If you want to gain yards, you've got to block on both ends, not just one." George, who had suffered from a sore back, went 13 of 23 passing for 165 yards. Mackovic did not expect the team to gain 348 yards on the ground. "I told them we wanted to run for 200 yards. It's not a mistake. It's from a lot of players working hard."
The Illini's five rushing touchdowns were their highest total since the glory days of 1983. It marked the first time Illinois had two running backs go over 100 yards rushing since Thomas Rooks and Ray Wilson against Indiana in 1985. Griffith's 78-yard touchdown run was the longest since Cyril Pinder ran for 80 yards against Duke in 1965. The Illinois defense enjoyed three interceptions and Darrick Brownlow led the team with 14 tackles, including 11 solo tackles.
Illinois finished the season 6-5-1 which set the stage for a very memorable 1989 season.
Sources: "Illini Running Game Leaves Utah In Dust" by Linda Young. Chicago Tribune: September 18, 1988.