Illinoisans have been through too many of these futile football weekends to overreact to yet another Michigan triumph.
This punishment has been ongoing for a century-plus with a few notable — and very special — exceptions.
Yes, we cherish those exceptions ... Red Grange turning into the Galloping Ghost ... a shocking upset of Tommy Harmon & Co. in 1939 ... Rex Smith’s late TD catch for a 7-0 win in a blizzard to spark the title run in 1951 ... the 16-6 victory that highlighted a 9-0 Big Ten sweep in 1983 ... the stirring 35-29 comeback in 1999.
But look at it from Michigan’s standpoint. If the Wolverines were embarrassed by the 39-14 Grange explosion in 1924, they shut out the Illini in Grange’s sophomore and senior seasons. In fact, they blanked the Illini 10 times in 17 games through 1932.
Same old story
So what we’re seeing a century later — in this case a 42-25 U-M win Saturday at Memorial Stadium — is nothing new. A few minutes of hope. Then, bang!
Old-timers with positive feelings about the Pete Elliott era will recall his brother, Bump Elliott, was 9-1 against Illinois through 1968 ... failing only in Pete’s 1966 finale in Ann Arbor where Watseka’s Bruce Sullivan returned a game-deciding interception 98 yards.
Dick Butkus, honored with a marvelous George Lundeen statue on Friday afternoon, was 0-3 against Michigan, the 1963 Big Ten champions fumbling late in a 14-8 setback.
Michigan’s Bo Schembechler went 19-1-1 in 21 years against Illinois through 1989, the first two meetings resulting in 57-0 and 42-0 romps. Two of his successors returned from stints in Illinois to go 3-1-1 (Gary Moeller) and 8-1 (Lloyd Carr) through 2007.
So it’s no longer a highly anticipated, hot-rivalry contest. Illinois is 6-43-2 since Ray Eliot, who defeated Michigan seven times during the 1950s, retired in 1959.
Numbers will stay down
Only 37,275 fans were reported on a windy Saturday (Michigan routinely draws 111,000), this Memorial Stadium turnout demonstrating that attendance under 40,000 is permanent until the football program shows signs of life.
Saturday’s outcome appeared to be obvious within minutes. The first 10 Michigan rushes netted 16, 11, 5, 4, 29, 18, 16, 2, 14 and 9 yards. That’s an average of 12.4 yards per carry. When UI punter Blake Hayes suffered his first-ever block, the score reached 21-0 in the third minute of the second quarter.
Lovie Smith’s defense was simply overpowered up front, the Illini being outrushed 295-64. A rival duo topped 100 yards apiece for the second week in a row (actually, Minnesota’s Rodney Smith reached 211). That doesn’t bode well with Wisconsin and All-American Jonathan Taylor planning to spoil the UI homecoming next weekend.
Glimmers of hope
And yet, there were third-quarter signs. Positive signs.
USC transfer Josh Imatorbhebhe — call him Bay-Bay — finished off an extemporaneous 23-yard TD reception, and later made a brilliant 35-yard catch as the hosts pulled within 28-25. But quarterback Matt Robinson, taking charge in the absence of injured Michigan transfer Brandon Peters, fumbled twice under heavy pressure, and Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson took a knee on the UI 11-yard line as the clock ran down on Michigan’s fifth straight win in the series.
How good is Jim Harbaugh’s fifth team? We’ll know more in showdowns with Penn State and Notre Dame later this month.
How good is Lovie Smith’s fourth team? Not good enough.