We’re stacked up with posts on this uber busy sports weekend. We’ll quickly run through the Top Ten Random Word Associations: Illini Edition on the same day we’ll offer up our Fearless Forecast as well as preview the ‘Cats-TCU hoops game in South Padre Island, TX and of course a game recap late night. Plus, we’ll be posting our comprehensive Gameday post in the wee hours of the morning. It’s interesting how you can connect the dots on all of the sports action. TCU upsets Texas in football, which may help open up a Top 25 spot for the ‘Cats at the same time NU plays TCU in hoops. Syracuse battles Temple to try and pad our non-conference strength of schedule, while Vanderbilt, left for dead earlier this year, is favored to beat Wake Forest today in search of their 8th win. We can watch Nebraska and Iowa, and perhaps a huge upset by the Hawkeyes will torture us as it relates to what could’ve been our path to Indy had we simply not given up the Hail Mary. But first, let’s race through the top ten random word associations in the rivalry game formerly known as the Sweet Sioux.
10 – Purple Pants – The year: 1991. The scenario: A top 20 ranked Illini team enters Dyche Stadium expecting to roll on Francis Peay’s Wildcat squad. The weather was brutal – an absolute monsoon. Yet, the ‘Cats took the field in purple tops and purple pants which had the team psyched in an era long before special uniforms became the norm. The ‘Cats tormented QB Jason Verduzco all day long and pitched a goal line stand to seal the win in an actual laking of the posts game.
9 – Fastball – It was a day when Brett Basanez cracked the 10,000 yard passing mark and Tyrell Sutton was simply dominant posting another 200+ yard day. Yet, the 6-4 ‘Cats found themselves in a dogfight with Ron Zook’s 2-8,0-7 Illini up just 24-21 late in the game. As the ‘Cats set up for a FG, the ESPN regional camera crews completely bit on Randy Walker’s famous “fastball” play, a modern spin on the ‘ol fumblerooski. Gerard Hamlett scooped up the ball and scampered untouched for a game-clinching TD. This very play was used by Fitz in OT of the Outback Bowl and came up two yards short on what I still believe was a great call and should’ve been the storybook ending tribute to Walk.
8 – McManis Pick ‘N Roll – The ‘Cats once again entered Champaign with bowl security on the line (6-4) against a sub .500 Illini squad (3-6). After cruising to a 21-3 lead, the Illini led by back-up QB Jacob Charest, found themselves down 21-16 with under a minute to go and all the momentum in the world. On a throw to the sideline, Sherrick McManis came in, wrapped up his man, rolled over him and simply took the ball out of his hands in one motion. The refs signaled INT, Zook went nuts and ran after the refs and the announcers were clueless as to what happened. The ‘Cats sneak out of Champaign with their seventh win and the Land of Lincoln Trophy.
7 – Ward’s Pick 6 – The 2003 must-win game for NU, who entered at 5-6, is best known for the rushing clinic Jason Wright and Noah Herron put on for the Memorial Stadium small gathering of fans. Yet, lost in the archives was a huge pick six by DB Marvin Ward who bobbed, weaved and blitzed his way to a 60-yard TD to seal the deal.
6 -Squeezed Juice – I mentioned this game earlier in the week as NU also entered the 2008 finale at Ryan Field at 8-3 looking to jockey for a better bowl position while the Illini, a year removed from Pasadena were fighting for their bowl lives at 5-6. Mike Hankwitz pitched one of his best games as a DC completely frustrating QB Juice Williams with disguised blitzes and a healthy mix of coverages. The frustratingly small crowd provided one of the more electric atmospheres as it was unusually loud and purple. The ‘Cats pulled away late thanks to CJ Bacher and Brendan Smith, 27-10.
5 -Wright Stuff – If you want to see “clinic” when it comes to rushing, look at the 2003 Sweet Sioux highlights. Jason Wright was unstoppable with 251 rushing yards and 4 TDs in a game in which the ‘Cats rushed every single down in the second half. The ‘Cats win 37-20 and earn the bowl eligible 6th win.
4 – Damien’s Day – The ‘Cats were still in the mix for a Rose Bowl appearance if the dominos fell the right way. While that didn’t happen, the ‘Cats clinched a co-Big Ten title, their third in six seasons in a scoring barrage unlike we had seen in my lifetime. Zak and Damien did their Kain and Venric precursor routine as DA2 put up 179 yards and 4 TDs to shatter DA1’s rushing and TD records. Northwestern poured it on, up 49-2 at one point and the ‘Cats rolled 61-23, a scoring output that still stands as the most by NU this side of World War II.
3 – The Comeback – I was at this 1992 classic in Champaign. It was Gary Barnett’s first year in Evanston and as NU entered the 4th they trailed 26-6 as the Illini faithful headed for the exits. Len Williams put on a show in the 4th quarter playing a true dual threat role and brought the ‘Cats all the way back and capped off the incredible win with a fingertip TD grab by Lee Gissendanner in the final seconds. The game ball still sits in NU’s trophy case titled “The Comeback”.
2 – Adrian’s Leap – The ‘Cats were trying to continue their Big Ten mastery and win their 13th straight B1G game against a hapless Illlini team. Just like 1995, our rivals were giving us a handful and Adrian Autry was starting at RB in the place of the injured Darnell “no relation” Autry. The ‘Cats were actually down 24-20 on 4th and 5 when Brian Musso came through with a clutch 1st down catch. Adrian Autry went airborne over the pile for the game-winning TD, 27-24.
1 – Sack ‘O Rice - There were so many nailbiters in 1995 it’s sometimes hard to believe how we managed to win all of them. Our Sweet Sioux game in Champaign seemed to be all Illini as we found ourselves in a double-digit hole. Thanks to Darnell pounding away, we eventually took a 3-point lead, but the Illini connected on a bomb in the final minute to get within FG range. Matt Rice stepped up on a bobbled snap and came up with one of the biggest sacks in NU lore, knocking the Illini out of FG position and helping to ensure the win.