This weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Champaign to see the Michigan Wolverines take on the Illinois Fighting Illini. Those of you who know me are probably surprised that I even left the house this weekend, given that I had to save the world from both terrorists and dragons. But $65 tickets can’t be passed up, and luckily both the terrorists and dragons were there when I got back.
I got into Champaign with my friend about two hours before game time. My suggestion to any ALDLAND readers contemplating attending a game at Illinois is to get there earlier, because finding parking can sometimes be tough. By the time we parked, there was maybe an hour and a half to get our tickets from will call and head into downtown Champaign for lunch at Giovanti’s before the game. If you hit up Giovanti’s, get the chicken tenders, which are pretty awesome. The curly fries are not to be missed either.
Another reason to get to the game as early as possible is the tailgating scene. While we did not get a chance to tailgate, we did walk by various parking lots on our way to lunch, and from what I saw, I could tell that Illinois fans know how to tailgate. Most of the tailgates we passed by seemed to have ample food, drink and fun games to play like bean bag toss or that other game where you throw the little balls that are connected by a rope onto a ladder-like thing. You know what I’m talking about.
After lunch, we walked back to Memorial Stadium, getting into our seats in the very last row of the upper deck just before kickoff. They were not the best seats for someone like me who is not thrilled with heights, but that’s what I get for ordering them a week before the game. Memorial Stadium is a nice venue, holding about 60,000 fans and offering an unobstructed view to every one of them (unless you are looking at the scoreboard, because from our seats some sort of tower-like structure partially blocked our view of the scoreboard).
The game started with Michigan receiving the ball. Illinois’ run defense, which before the game was listed as one of their strengths, promptly let Michigan tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint bounce outside for a 60+ yard gain. A couple plays later, and Denard was in the end zone for Michigan’s first touchdown.
Illinois then got the ball, and as they did for virtually every possession of the first half, promptly went three and out. Michigan followed with another Denard touchdown run, and this was the last sniff of the end zone that either team got until after halftime. Michigan came close to scoring a couple of times, and then they fumbled, turned the ball over on downs and missed a field goal. Illinois, presumably thinking that the game had turned into a contest of who could do less on offense, continued to go three and out, with a fumble thrown in for variety’s sake.
The offensive ineffectiveness continued for both teams after halftime, with Michigan registering the only points of the third quarter on a Brendan Gibbons field goal. Illinois finally got its act together on offense late in the third quarter, driving approximately eighty yards down the field, capped by a Nathan Scheelhaase touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. A possession later, Illinois looked like it would drive down the field to turn what was then a ten point game into a one possession game, when Scheelhaase decided that Michigan fans had been too hard on JT Floyd and threw a ball directly at him for an interception. Now Michigan fans like JT Floyd, so he should write Scheelhaase a thank you note.
After Floyd’s interception, Devin Gardner, who had come in for Denard a series earlier after the latter hit his hand on an Illini helmet, threw a TD strike to Martavious Odoms to bring Michigan’s lead back to 17 with about 6 minutes to go. At this point the game was effectively over. Although Illinois did score another touchdown, their onside kick attempt failed and Toussaint scored his first TD of the game on the ensuing possession.
The win in Champaign keeps Michigan’s slim hopes for a BCS berth alive. With two games left, Michigan must beat both Nebraska and Ohio State in order to be in contention for an at large bid to either the Sugar or Fiesta Bowls. I would really enjoy them winning both games, because spending New Year’s Eve on Bourbon Street would be pretty awesome. Of course when you are from Detroit, spending New Year’s Eve literally anywhere else is awesome. Michigan’s win also gives them 8 on the year, which is one better than Rich Rod managed to do last year.
Illinois should be contemplating firing Ron Zook after this game. After starting 6-0, the Illini now sit at 6-4. Factor in Zook’s poor game planning in the last few games, including not keying in on the run against Michigan despite the Wolverines’ passing woes, and he should really be looking for a new job come the end of the season. However Illinois will probably not fire him, since for some inexplicable reason they love Ron Zook. My friend Gene went to Illinois and he likes Ron Zook because of some pictures he saw of him water skiing or something. Of course this is the same guy that defends Illini basketball coach Bruce Weber primarily based on the fact that he is “the most handsome coach in the B1G,” so . . . yeah . . .
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this recap of my road trip. I will try to write some articles of more general interest in the future, however it’s long past time for me to call in an AC-130 to take care of this pesky dragon that has been floating around.
Previous Live Coverage:
Nashville recap: Georgia escapes, 33-28
B1G Roadtrippin’: Michigan at Northwestern
The Little Brown Jug stays in Ann Arbor
Recap: Detroit Red Wings’ Red & White Game
Motor City recap: Tigers win, 2-1
Music City recap: Vanderbilt wins, 45-14
Concert report: Lyle Lovett and his Large Band
Concert report: An evening with Bruce Hornsby, Béla Fleck, the Noisemakers, and the Flecktones