Those Were The Days - Minnesota
This week Detlef takes us back to a season we should talk about more: 2001. It's our last Big Ten title. With the new 18-team Big Ten starting next year, and with a Big Ten title requiring a top-two finish in the regular season (out of 18 teams!) followed by a win in the Big Ten Championship Game, I feel like I'm going to be saying "our last Big Ten title was 2001" for a long time. That's just... the reality of having to beat Ohio State and Penn State and Michigan and USC and Oregon and Washington and 11 other teams for the Big Ten title.
So here's Detlef to celebrate a win over Minnesota the last time we won the Big Ten title:
Illinois visits Minnesota this week. Alas, my old pal/UI alum Tim Brewster will not be roaming the sidelines for Minnesota. Instead, Minnesota is coached by the Boat Rower. SINK THE BOAT. Anyhow, today's tale recalls when the Fighting Illini exacted revenge for the previous season's mauling. In addition, did Glen Mason forget about Brandon Lloyd?
October 6, 2001: Illinois was coming off a 45-20 loss at Michigan. I am still steamed about Ron Turner going for it on fourth and short inside UI's own 30-yard line. Illinois didn't make it, Michigan scored and the horse ran out of the barn. Anyhow, Illinois also needed to exact revenge for the 1999 homecoming beatdown by Minnesota, which I attended, and the 2000 game, which I also attended. That 2000 game in Minneapolis was also hostile & abusive. It was the week after the 2000 Bill Lemonnier Michigan screw job. Illinois got clowned AGAIN. Goldy Gopher kept riding his scooter in the Metrodome. Minnesota had won its last two games against Illinois by 64 points!
On a chilly and windy fall day, we settled into our seats in Section EE, Row 39. Illinois took command early. Leading 3-0, Kurt Kittner (Schaumburg) found Brandon Lloyd for a 28-yard touchdown pass on a fade into the left corner of the end zone. Kittner was sharp early: he completed six of his first seven passes for 90 yards despite throwing into a strong wind. Lloyd caught five passes in the first quarter for 81 yards.
Illinois led 13-0 at halftime. Illinois owned the half with 16 first downs and 259 total yards of offense compared to Minnesota's five first downs and 98 total yards of offense.
The Illinois defense continued to dominate Minnesota. The boys forced a three and out. Nick Piazza (Lincoln-Way) blocked a Golden Gophers punt, Jamaal Clark recovered (shades of Ohio State later in the season!) setting up a short field goal by Peter Christofilakos (Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin). Minnesota immediately responded with a touchdown to make the score 16-7.
Illinois took that punch and counterattacked. After the kickoff, Illinois drove to the Minnesota 34 yard-line. Illinois lined up for a punt on fourth down, facing a stiff crosswind. The Gophers called time out. Turner changed his mind, pulled punter Steve Fitts and replaced him with walk-on kicker John Gockman, the pride of Coal City and Joliet Junior College (JOLIET!). Despite the wind, Gockman nailed a 51-yard field goal which easily cleared the crossbar. "I'm not sure all of the players know his name, but they were obviously pulling for him," said Turner. "He's been making some long ones during practice."
Minnesota again scored, making the score 19-14 with 2:38 left in the third quarter. The Fighting Illini needed just three plays and 39 seconds to go 72 yards for the touchdown that sealed the win. At its own 41-yard line, Kurt Kittner found Lloyd wide open after the Minnesota defender fell down. Lloyd had an easy 59-yard touchdown reception to make the score 25-14. Illinois had to attempt the extra point from the 18-yard line; the officials flagged Lloyd for unsportsmanlike conduct after he flipped the football to a security guard near the end zone.
Illinois ran the ball out to end the fourth quarter for the 25-14 win. Again, the defense stepped up. Mike Hall intercepted a pass at the Illinois 40 to snuff out Minnesota's only decent drive of the fourth quarter. Illinois now stood at 4-1, 1-1 in the Big 10.
Lloyd felt redeemed for two below-average performances in the prior games. "I thought I was OK, but I wasn't. I didn't put forth all my effort." Lloyd had nine catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Kittner was 16 of 28 passing for 239 yards and two touchdowns. The running game averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Antoneio Harris (Bolingbrook) had 28 carries for 65 yards; Rocky Harvey (Chicago Dunbar) had 17 carries for 65 yards and Carey Davis had 12 carries for 65 yards. The defense had three sacks.
Sources: "Illini showcase local flavor" by the Associated Press: October 7, 2001. Credit to Detlef's parents for the research.