It was exactly like the first (and only) time Chicago and Houston met in a major postseason sporting event. Granted the stakes in the college football Texas Bowl were much lower than that of the 2005 MLB World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros; and Baylor University is about as geographically far from Houston as the University of Illinois is from Chicago.
But the results were as similarly lopsided as when the Sox swept the ‘Stros in the ’05 Fall Classic. Both times the stars at night, were big and bright, for the team opposing the heart of Texas.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, and his Illinois Fighting Illini teammates certainly looked like they benefited from the 15 extra practices that come from obtaining a bowl berth, as the Illini put up 533 yards of total offense and 38 points; breaking the school record set during the Champaign campaign of 2001.
By Paul M. Banks
The 2010 group scored 423, shattering the previous record of 390. They also finished with a 32.53 points per game average this year compared to the previous record of 32.50 by the 2001 squad.
Not bad for an offense led by a guy who hadn’t even taken a snap entering the fall. Illinois averaged 42.1 points per game over its last seven this year, while averaging 448.9 yards per game during that span. Compared to 21.3 points per game and 320 yards per game over the first six games of the year, it’s clear this team found its groove as the year went on.
“The players executed. I told them that since we’re going on this bowl trip, I want them to have fun,” said Illini Head Coach Ron Zook. “I told them that since we’re going to work too, and they did both.”
And the win was a shining moment for Ron Zook, who was “embattled” to say the least in 2010. All year long, University of Illinois alumni, fans and the media who cover the school have been inundated with questions about if/when Zook will be fired.
“My family goes through the same sufferings that I go through. ” Zook said about the criticism and negativity.
“I’m supposed to go through it, but I’m bunkered in and kind of sheltered around the office. They live it out in life, so I want them to be a part of this. I wouldn’t be here without my family, and they’ve done a great job.”
Scheelhaase completed his first 13 passes today, going 13-for-13 for 170 yards in the first half. It is the longest completion streak to start a game and third-longest completion streak in school history behind the 14 consecutive completions by Tony Eason (10/30/82) and Jason Verduzco (9/15-22/90).
He finished with perhaps his most impressive day of his young career, going 18-for-23 for 242 passing yards and rushing nine times for 53 yards and a touchdown. His 78.2 completion percentage was his third-highest mark in a game this season, and his 55-yard rushing touchdown to cap the scoring was his longest run of the season.
Zook later mentioned how happy he is that he’ll have him around for another three years.
Tonight’s paid attendance, with which there was a substantial advantage towards Baylor green and gold made it the second largest crowd in Texas Bowl history.
And they saw a great show. The game was high-scoring, although not as high-scoring as many people predicted it would be. It was the Illini’s first bowl win in more than a decade and was remarkably similar to that game: the 1999 MicronPC.com bowl- ILL 63, UVA 21.
Like tonight, Illinois routed their opponent in a middle-tier bowl game played in a NFL stadium by using a really dominant first half to pull away early. For more Illini bowl history go here.
But the night belonged to game MVP, and Junior RB Mikel Leshoure, who broke five records and tied a sixth tonight, topping the Illinois records for single-season rushing (1,697 yards), single-season scoring (122), total touchdowns in a season (20), 100-yard rushing games in a season (9) and consecutive 100-yard rushing games (5).
He also tied Rashard Mendenhall’s school record for single-season rushing touchdowns with 17. Leshoure finished the game with 184 yards on 29 carries (5.6 ypc) and a career-high three touchdowns, finishing this season with 2,557 yards – tied with former Illini Juice Williams for sixth on the career rushing list. We’ll have much more about/with him later.
As they say down in Dillon, TX on Friday Night Lights, “clear eyes. full hearts. can’t lose!”
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