ANN ARBOR, Mich. — After his team scored the most Illinois points ever against Michigan - in 90 games and 110 years - Ron Zook allowed himself a brief smile while walking toward his locker room.
"There's a lot of mystique about this place," Zook said. "Like I told our football team, it's a privelege to come into Michigan Stadium and be able to come out of here with a win."
Zook's team celebrated a rare victory against the Wolverines, just the fifth in 50 years. They raced toward their fans in the south end zone after the 45-20 win.
"Any time you beat a program with a lot of tradition like Michigan, it's a great feeling," said Juice Williams, who set a Michigan Stadium record with 431 total yards. "It's something you'll never forget."
But soon, like their coach, the Illini were looking ahead.
"There's a lot of ball to be played," Illinois linebacker Brit Miller said. "This is a good way to start off a little roll and a little run that we can get on."
"Obviously, it's a big, big win for us," Zook said. "But I think you have to keep it in perspective. In the Big Ten, it's one game at a time. You just have to stay focused on the game at hand."
Unlike the past two weeks, the Illini will be favored in home games against Minnesota and Indiana. Not that Zook is counting on a 5-2 start going into an Oct. 25 game at Wisconsin.
Had they lost Saturday to Michigan, the Illini would have been 0-2 in the league and pretty much out of Big Ten title contention.
"We needed this one," Miller said. "If we don't win this one, the season would have been in a little bit of danger, I think. I believe in momentum. This is a big one for us. It proves that we can win."
The Illini promise not to be satisfied.
"We've got to continue to improve," Zook said. "Minnesota's coming into town. They've got a lot of confidence. They've got a great quarterback. They've got a great receiver. It's going to be another challenge. There's some Illinois ties there, so they'll have a little extra added energy there. It's going to be important that our guys are ready to play."
The current players and coaches might not revel much in the win. But one former Illini didn't miss the opportunity.
Dana Howard, who went 1-0-1 at Ann Arbor during his Illini career, celebrated on the sidelines.
"I said we were going to have 45 on them," Howard said in the final minutes.
He wanted more.
"Put 60 up on them," Howard shouted.
STAR OF THE GAME
In the most dominant Illinois performance against Michigan since Red Grange ran wild in 1924, Juice Williams set a Michigan Stadium total offense record in a blowout win over the Wolverines. The 25-point victory tied the 1924 game for the largest Illinois margin ever against Michigan.
That's the Illinois record in its last seven visits to Michigan Stadium, dating to a 22-22 tie in 1992. The Wolverines have been much better at Memorial Stadium during that stretch, going 6-0. Michigan visits Champaign next on Oct. 31, 2009. The Illini will be back in Ann Arbor on Nov. 6, 2010.
WHAT IT MEANS
Illinois can keep thinking about a Jan. 1 bowl game and contending for the Big Ten title. A loss would have eliminated the latter and made the former extremely difficult. The superiority of the Michigan over Illinois also seems to have been knocked down a peg. These are not your parents' Wolverines.
The first home game in a month. And it's homecoming, both for the Illini and former tight end Tim Brewster, who brings his 5-1 Minnesota Gophers to town. The folks at ESPN are looking smart, picking the game for national coverage.