The Aughts in Review: Illini On My Mind

Continuing our look back at the decade that was in Iowa football, celebrating the highs and the lows -- and, hopefully, distracting us from the ongoing disaster that is Iowa basketball.  This series looks back at Iowa's results across the entire decade against every Big Ten foes, as well as Iowa State.  According to the alphabet, first up is our favorite neighbors to the east, Illinois.  H/T to our friends at The Rivalry, Esq. for inspiring this series, as well.

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Yeah, that's future NFL first round draft pick Vontae Davis staring up at DJK's ass.  BOOM, motherfucker.

ILLINOIS FIGHTIN' ILLINI
Iowa vs. Illinois in the 00s: 5-2

WINS
2003: Iowa 41, Illinois 10
2004: Iowa 23, Illinois 13
2005: Iowa 35, Illinois 7
2006: Iowa 24, Illinois 7
2007: Iowa 10, Illinois 6

LOSSES
2000: Illinois 31, Iowa 0
2008: Illinois 27, Iowa 24

BEST WIN: Iowa 10, #18 Illinois 6 (2007)

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Mike Humpal: ready to devour the Illinois offense.


Most of Iowa's wins over Illinois in the Aughts were fairly unmemorable; they were just workmanlike performances where a clearly better Iowa team would go about its business while a clearly inferior Illinois team would flail around for a while before deciding upon some hilariously dumb way to commit football suicide (in '05 it was atrocious field goal kicking -- they missed three in the first half alone, if memory serves; in '06 it was Juice Williams introducing himself to the Big Ten by completing almost as many as passes to Iowa defenders as to Illinois receivers; and so on).  What made the '07 win so sweet was that the script was flipped -- that year Iowa was a middling outfit, enduring The Jake Christensen Experience behind a shaky offensive line and a patchwork receiving corps, while Illinois was flying high (18th in the polls going into the game) and eventually headed to the Rose Bowl (only because of blatant homerism from the Rose Bowl Selection Committee, but hey).  Few gave Iowa much chance in the game, especially against the dreaded spread-option running attack of the Illini. 

What happened instead was arguably the highpoint of the Jake Christensen Era (and the fact that it was in a game where Iowa scored all of ten points really does say everything you need to know about that era), as the Iowa defense, led by a mansome effort from Mike Humpal -- 18 tackles (2.5 TFL), 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery -- smothered the Illinois offense, while the Iowa offense did justenough to win.  After four straight losses, any win would have felt good, but to get a win over a ranked opponent -- and a moderately hated rival -- was sweet wine indeed.  In hindsight, this win was little more a band-aid on the gaping wound that was the 2007 season, but it was a brief (and much-appreciated) moment of sunshine in one dreary-as-fuck year.  FUN FACT: This was also one of the first games in the legend of EPIC GREENWOOD, as he was burnt to ashes on what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass, if not for a timely Illinois penalty.  (Fairness demands that I note that he also made the game-clinching interception a few plays later.)

WORST LOSS: Illinois 27, Iowa 24 (2008)

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A rare solid defensive play by Illinois.

You could certainly make a case for the '00 loss being worse, what with it being the last time Iowa got shutout in a football game and all, but that was really just one of many bad losses from that year.  There were no expectations for that season beyond signs of progress and while there were damn few signs of progress or hope in that 31-0 beatdown, there were plenty in other games, so the wounds from that season have largely scabbed over.  On the other hand, the '08 loss remains a relatively fresh wound that lingers and annoys.  Much like the '07 game, you had two teams/programs seemingly headed in different directions (Iowa appeared to be on the upswing after blowout wins over Indiana and Wisconsin, while Illinois was continuing its descent into straight-up loserdom), only the normal script was flipped for one game only.  Illinois was unusually inspired , while bad turnovers and inept redzone offense stymied Iowa.  The loss also served as further evidence for the theory that KF/Iowa couldn't win close games (reinforced by the three losses earlier in the season by five points or less)... a theory that was swiftly disproved in emphatic fashion a week later when Penn State came to town (and this happened) and further confirmed in pretty much every fucking game this season.


'08 Illinois is the only team to defeat Iowa in the past two seasons that didn't also go on to play in a bowl game; they followed up this win by losing to Western Michigan (we'd point and laugh at them for that, but, um, yeah...) and tanking the rest of their games that season.  In fact, they lost nine straight games to FBS competition after beating Iowa.  Iowa, meanwhile, went on to win thirteen in a row after losing that game.  That game was also the last game that America's Own Ricky Stanzi lost in which he started and finished.  It was also a clear glimpse of the schizo Stanzi we'd come to embrace so fervently in '09: after three middling quarters and a STANZIBALL (of the fumble variety, rather than the more common interception variety) to start the fourth quarter, he led Iowa to a pair of fourth quarter touchdown scoring drives to tie the game up (sadly, the normally stout defense bent just enough to allow Illinois to snatch a game-winning field goal).

ILLINOIS IN THE AUGHTS:

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The Big Ten's favorite Ron-related coaching dynasty had a banner decade.

The expression "go big or go home" is a hideous cliche by this point, but few teams have ever embodied that mantra quite like the Illinois football team of the Aughts.  They had exactly two winning seasons over the course of the entire decade -- but they parlayed those two winning seasons into the Sugar Bowl (after the 2001) and the Rose Bowl (after the 2007) season.  No 6-6/7-5 Insight Bowl nonsense for the Orange and Blue.  And in most of the eight years in which they finished with losing records, they managed to lose a lot -- five of their losing seasons featured them losing eight or more games (including a 1-11 disaster in 2003 that somehow didn't see Ron Turner immediately fired).  Illinois also managed to be the only BXI team to go winless in conference play twice (in 2003 and 2005).  Of course, even when the Illini won, they lost in the end -- they got blasted by LSU in the Sugar Bowl (47-34 in one of those "not as close as the final score says" games) and eviscerated by USC in the Rose Bowl (49-17), a game most notable for a hit that Juice Williams is still feeling.

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The many faces of the Zooker.

So, yeah, football in the Aughts was pretty much the drizzling shits for Illinois (save for two inexplicably successful seasons).  The '05 team in particular may have been the worst team of the decade in the BXI -- in conference play, they averaged just 11.7 ppg and gave up 43.9 ppg on average.  No other BXI team this decade scored less or gave up more points.  But at least Illinois fans could blame the malaise in the middle of the decade on shitty Ron Turner and his inability to recruit players; their regression to the depths of FAILdom the past two seasons rests only on Ron Zook's unshakable ability to get less from more.  Zook even manages to inspire disdain from the Illini's best player of the decade (okay, second-best).  Maybe they'd be better off with his brother.

Of course, no look at Illinois in the Aughts would be complete without some appreciation for this man.

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Patron saint of BHGP -- and AMERICA.

After all, he saved the fucking world.  What did your team's best player ever do for mankind?

PLAYER OF THE RIVALRY: Drew Tate (Iowa QB, 2004-2006)

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Drew Tate once shot a man just to watch him die.  Or maybe that was Johnny Cash.

Frankly, the pickings here were a little slim.  There were no dominant individual performances (sans perhaps Humpal's aforementioned beast mode day against Illinois in 2007), so a tip of the cap to Drew Tate for being Mr. Consistency against the Illini.  He went 3-0 in three starts against the Fightin' Rons while racking up solid (albeit unspectacular) stats along the way: 60/85, 801 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT.  Like we said: Iowa beat Illinois consistently in the Aughts, but they rarely did so in spectacular fashion.

RANDOM REMINISCES:

  • Two things still stand out vividly from the '03 game: Bob Sanders scoring his one and only touchdown of his Iowa career on a crazy juggled fumble return and Robert Gallery literally pancaking Illinois defensive backs on screen plays on two separate occasions.  Seriously -- they had to bring out a spatula to get those guys off the field.  But seeing Bob -- a guy who meant more to Iowa football in the Aughts than anyone short of KF himself -- finally score a touchdown was a fantastic feeling. 
  • Illinois' comedy of errors field-goal kicking routine in '05 was incredibly hilarious -- even moreso because of the tortured reactions from some Illinois fans near me in the student section.
  • The '04 game really highlighted what a sick joke the RUNNINGBACKOCALPYSE was that year; having laid waste to all of our starting running backs but one Sam Brownlee, the RB plague turned its attention to the fullback position and knocked out Champ Davis and Aaron Mickens.
  • Whatcha got?
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