I decided to take a look one of my favorite Illinois games of all time. The 1981 Michigan Wolverines came into the game ranked #12. The unranked Illini were coached by Mike White and led on the field by talented QB Tony Eason and a bunch of junior college transfers. One defense, they had future Super Bowl hero Jack Squirek at middle linebacker. Michigan had a very impressive team, led by WR Anthony Carter, QB Steve Smith, RBs Butch Woolfolk & Stanley Edwards. Our offensive line was awesome and the defense was tough, even if Mike Boren was one of the starters.
This was the first game following the death of Bob Ufer. It was not broadcast live on TV, rather it was presented in "tape delay" on something called ON TV.
1st Quarter: Illinois took the opening kickoff and marched right down into the end zone in less than 2 minutes. Michigan answered with a quick strike of their own, Steve Smith hitting Anthony Carter on a beautiful post route. 7-7. The rest of the quarter, it was all Illini. They could not be stopped, scoring twice with ease. The Michigan crowd was stunned and things did not look good. The quarter ended with Michigan losing 7-21.
2nd Quarter: Illinois started the 2nd quarter as fast as they did the first quarter. They marched the ball into the red zone and were a dropped pass away from taking a three touchdown lead. Then it all turned around for the Wolverines. Tony Eason threw an interception to Jerry Burgei at the goal line turning the momentum towards the Wolverines. Michigan quickly tied the score 21-21 on a Steve Smith one yard run and a touchdown pass to Craig Dunaway. Everything pointed to a tough battle.
Late in the quarter, Michigan got the ball in their own 20 yard line with 1:02 left. Normally you would have expected the very conservative Bo Schembechler to sit on the ball and take the tie into the locker room. But a couple of nice runs by Stanley Edwards put the ball on the 42 yard line. Steve Smith dropped back, saw that everyone was covered and took off untouched up the middle of the field for a touchdown. Michigan went into halftime with an improbable 28-21 lead.
3rd Quarter: The momentum of the 2nd quarter carried over as Steve Smith hit Anthony Carter again for a touchdown and ran for his third TD of the game. Michigan led 42-21 and things just kept getting worse for Illinois.
4th Quarter: The scoring fest continued with Lawrence Ricks, Stanley Edwards, Rick Rogers all scoring running touchdowns and BJ Dickey throwing a TD to Tom Hassel. Final Score: Michigan 70-21
What did I learn from re-watching this game: Despite what you might believe, Bo was not afraid of the forward pass. Denard Robinson is not the first really fast Michigan quarterback to wear #16- Steve Smith won this game with both his feet and arm. Watching Anthony Carter play amazes me, even 30 years later. He was the most exciting player to ever put on a Michigan football helmet. College football is a different game, the depth and talent differential between Michigan and Illinois was incredible.
Do you want to see the game for yourself ? You can download this game here.