EACH WEEK, WE'LL TAKE A LOOK BACK AT A MEMORABLE MOMENT IN ILLINI HISTORY, THANKS TO THE WORDS OF THE NEWS-GAZETTE
This week: The last time Illinois played in Arizona — it's headed to Tempe this weekend — the result was ugly. Then again, that was 16 years ago.
Headline: Loss leaves coach disappointed, not angry
Date: Sept. 16, 1996
By BOB ASMUSSEN
TUCSON — This time, Lou Tepper wasn't seething. Disappointed in a 41-0 loss to Arizona? Definitely. Angry with his team after Saturday's game? No.
"I don't think this loss is as tough as last week's (55-3 against Southern Cal)," Tepper said. "Last week was terrible. This week, I thought the game plans were outstanding. Our offense in particular, I think that they moved the ball probably a lot better against Arizona than anyone had thought."
The Illini trailed 13-0 and were in position to contend early in the fourth quarter.
"We were in a very similar situation when I was here with Colorado," Tepper said. "We came back to win 14-13 and that was our feelings coming out (after intermission)."
The game got away from the Illini in the final 10 minutes, with Arizona scoring 28 points.
A postgame tirade wasn't what Tepper's team needed.
"I think without the coaches, the mood could have been, "Wow, we're done for,' " Tepper said. "But that's not what we're saying to them. We told them we've got a plan for success the rest of the way starting next week. I really think they're going to buy nto it."
The numbers game.
If you looked at the stats sheet, you would have never thought Illinois lost 41-0. The team outgained Arizona 418 yards to 403 and led in first downs 26-14.
"When do you have 418 yards and not score a point?" Tepper said. "That's pretty hard to do. We've never had this much yardage against Arizona."
In a 9-7 win over the Wildcats last season, the Illini were held to 139 yards.
Holding it in.
After its 55-3 loss to Southern Cal, the UI locker room was loud and emotional.
There was little of that after Illinois' loss to Arizona.
"I think it's turning in their stomachs so much right now, they don't know how to deal with it," UI backup quarterback Mark Hoekstra said. "To come out like this and have an 0-3 start is really hard, not only for the seniors, but for the players themselves. They want to do the seniors proud."
Senior nose tackle Paul Marshall wants to fulfill his captain role and remain calm. But, he admits, it isn't easy.
"I'm like in hysterics," Marshall said. "I really don't know what's going on right now. I'm 0-3 and it's my senior year.
"We cried after last week and it was tough. You can only cry so much."
Marshall and the UI defenders won't point fingers at the offense, which has failed to score a touchdown this season.
"I feel for them," Marshall said. "I know they're all out there trying. They've worked so hard."
The immediate goal for Marshall: Get a win.
"This team is not going to surrender," Marshall said. "We're not giving up. We have a commitment, we have a plan."
For the second consecutive week, the Illini played without defensive tackle Garrett Johnhis ankle. Tom Claussen again got the start.
"You miss a starter with experience like that," Marshall said. "You need your starters on the field. Tom Claussen, he's almost getting thrown into the fire."
The Arizona defense scored three touchdowns and pitched a shutout. They wanted more.
"We still need to work on our defense," safety Mikal Smith said. "We got a lot of yardage and all tonight, but we still have a long way to go to have a good efense."
The Wildcats were desperate to keep the Illini out of the end zone.
"If they would've scored, we'd have heard about it in practice tomorrow," defensive back Dennis Northcutt said.
A good start.
Keith Smith is 1-0 as Arizona's starting quarterback. The redshirt freshman ran for 143 yards and a touchdown. He hit 7 of 14 passes for 31 yards and another score.
"I didn't know for sure that I was starting until (Friday) night," Smith said. "I stayed up watching "Primal Fear.' I was a mess."
Smith was about the only one who didn't know he was starting. Local newspapers projected him as the starter over Brady Batten, who had struggled in the first two games.
Arizona coach Dick Tomey knows there is work to be done on his team's passing game.
"Our passing wasn't that great, but it will only get better as the weeks go by," Tomey said.
Tomey was happy with the Wildcats' defense against the pass. Arizona intercepted Hoekstra five times.
"In the last two years, we have done miserably as far as interceptions go, and it feels great to finally get ahead in that," Tomey said. C: SPORTS