With Illinois defeating the #18 Arizona State Sun Devils 17-14 tonight; and getting off to their first 3-0 start since 2001, it’s starting to feel quite a bit like that year. It was Illinois’ most recent Big Ten title season, but that’s not why it feels that way. The Fighting Illini have a long way to go to reach that Champaign Campaign plateau.
However, there are a few similarities. Start with our national day of remembrance last week for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Throw in the 3-0 start coincidence, and the last win over a Pac-10 team coming in the ’01 season opener (at California 44-17), and it’s reminiscent a bit.
But the 2001 game this matches up with is the shootout win over a ranked Louisville team and Chris Redman. Both were early non-conference, first real test and the Illini pass with flying colors.
Although that game was won through the air attack, this was almost all defense:
12 tackles for a loss, six sacks. Jonathan Brown having a huge game with a big pick. Whitney Mercilus bringing pressure all night. Great coverage defending ASU receivers to the tune of QB Brock Osweiler ending the game with four straight incompletions.
If the 2001 trends continue, this could be a special year for Illination: the last out right Big Ten winning team from Champaign, that finished 10-2.
Saturday night gave the Illini their first win over ASU ever. The two schools previously met in 1987 and 1988. Illinois had dropped five straight to Pac-12 teams, falling to both UCLA and Cal in 2003, UCLA in 2004, Cal in 2005 and USC in the 2008 Rose Bowl. Illinois coach Ron Zook is now 1-2 all-time against the Pac-12.
The last Illini win over a ranked team had been 2007 at #1 Ohio State.
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