Let’s Go Bowling – A Look At How The Illini Became Bowl Eligible
At the beginning of the Illinois Football season, their Head Coach Tim Beckman was coaching for his job. He would need to show some signs of improvement this season. Illinois have a favorable start with Youngstown State, Western Kentucky, Washington and Texas State as their first four opponents. On top of that, they have a possible superstar quarterback in Wes Lunt, who transferred from Oklahoma State University and sat out last year due to NCAA Rules and Regulations.
Illinois would win three of their first four, only loss coming against Washington in a blowout performance of 44-19. If there was one good thing about that game, Illinois actually outscored the Huskies 7-6 in the second half. Which sadly means they were losing 38-12 at half.
After the first quarter of the season, Illinois would only need three wins left to become bowl eligible. Unfortunately, their schedule would post three road games against the three best teams in the B1G Conference.
The Fighting Illini traveled to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Nebraska where Ameer Abdullah carried the ball 22 times for a whopping total of 208 yards and scored three touchdowns. The story of this game would be the 24 points the fighting Illini gave up in the second quarter and trailed by another big deficit at half, 31-14.
Next would be Purdue. A Purdue team in which Coach Beckman received his only B1G Conference win a year ago. The only problem was that Illinois was outscored 24-13 in the second and third quarters and trailed only 31-27 going into the fourth quarter. An early touchdown by the Boilermakers extended the lead 38-27. If things could not have gotten any worse, they did. Quarterback Wes Lunt broke his leg late in the game and would miss the next three games. Senior quarterback Reilly O’Toole would take the helm of a 3-3 team.
Illinois lost again the following week to the eleventh ranked team in the country, The Wisconsin Badgers. The Fighting Illini were once again outscored in the second quarter of play, 17-0 and trailed 24-14 at half. The Badgers went on to win 38-28, as Illinois fell to a 3-4 record. After starting 3-1, things did not look like Coach Beckman was going to be back next year.
A pivotal must win for the Illini came after a bye week against Minnesota. Illinois looked to have a glamor of hope as they led 14-3 at the half. However, The Fighting Illini were once again outscored in a quarter. In the third quarter, Minnesota put up 21 points to Illinois’ 7. Illinois once again trailed going into the fourth quarter 24-21. Illinois staged a 9-play, 75-yard drive to score what would be the game winning touchdown, after Josh Ferguson, the team’s Running Back, ran it in for the score from two yards out. Illinois was now 4-4 with a chance to become bowl eligible.
The only problem, the next game was at the sixth ranked team in the country, The Ohio State Buckeyes. Before Illinois could blink it was 17-0 going into the second quarter. Blinked again and Illinois was down 31-0 at half. Going into the fourth quarter the game was out of hand completely as Illinois was losing 48-7 at this point. Illinois fell to 4-5.
A 30-14 loss to Iowa the following week led the Fighting Illini to a 4-6 record having to win their last two games against a good Penn State team, and a mediocre Northwestern Illinois team.
The night before the Penn State game, Illinois Kicker David Reisner had a dream in which he would attempt four field goals in the game. Reisner was just 1-3 on the year going into this game. This would also be Illinois’ senior day. The Fighting Illini defense looked solid throughout the entire game, the defense looked stout. Penn State only amassed a total of 266 yards. Only 93 yards in the passing game. Penn State scored an early touchdown just 4 minutes into the game. Illinois would go on to score the next 10 points and take a 10-7 lead into the fourth quarter. Akeel Lynch of Penn State would then take a 47 yard rush all the way to the endzone and Illinois was down 14-10. Reisner would add another field goal to his credit and The Fighting Illini trailed 14-13 with 8:43 left in the game. Illinois gained possession of the ball at around the 50 yard-line with 1:48 left. Illinois got down to the 25 yard-line where David Resiner would attempt his fourth Field Goal to give Illinois a 16-14 lead with 8 seconds remaining. He split the uprights and Illinois would become 5-6 with a rivalry game against Northwestern that would determine if they became bowl eligible.
The story line for this game was the fact that both the Fighting Illini and the Northwestern Wildcats were going into the game with a 5-6 record. The Fighting Illini were winless on the road going into the game, with a record of 0-4. Illinois got off to, what was possibly their best start of the season. They scored two touchdowns in the first quarter and held a 13-0 lead. In the second quarter, they put up 13 more points, as well as took a 26-7 lead into the half. things never really got close after that as Illinois was out scored 10-7 in the third quarter, and 16-14 in the fourth. However, they did not give up that big quarter that they have all season long. And OUR Fighting Illini won the game by a score of 47-33. OUR Fighting Illini have won six games this year, which is as many as they did the previous two years combined. Illinois is now able to be placed in a bowl game. No guarantee is made though, as there are only so many Bowl games available.
At the beginning of the season, Tim Beckman was coaching for his job. He would need to show some signs of improvement this season. It is safe to say, without a shadow of a doubt, Coach Beckman will be returning to the Illinois sideline next season. Good Luck to the Fighting Illini, and here’s to hoping they receive a bowl game!