Illini look forward to coming home with Michigan win to brag about
The football schedule finally turns in Illinois' favor.
After defeating Michigan 45-20 Saturday for only their fifth win over the Wolverines in the past 50 years, the Illini brought home a winning record, and Illinois hopes to build momentum and make a run in renovated Memorial Stadium.
Illinois (3-2 overall, 1-1 in the Big Ten Conference) hosts Minnesota (5-1, 4-1) in the homecoming game at Memorial Stadium Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN), the first of three at home over the next four weeks.
The game against Minnesota is also the first home game in four weeks.
"We're excited to come back home,'' coach Ron Zook said Sunday. "I'm sure it will be a full crowd with homecoming and a lot of folks here. Hopefully, everyone has a good taste in their mouths.''
The good vibe hadn't worn off yet after quarterback Juice Williams set a Michigan Stadium record with 431 total yards. The junior passed for 310 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns as Illinois ended a six-game losing streak to Michigan. The Illini won in The Big House for the first time since 1999.
"There's a lot of ball to be played,'' said Illini middle linebacker Brit Miller. "This is a good way to start off a little roll.''
Illinois will be favored in its next three home games against teams predicted to finish in the bottom half of the league race.
Minnesota has been a surprise after a 1-11 record last year, and the Gophers ended a nine-game Big Ten losing streak with a 16-7 win over Indiana on Saturday. The Gophers' defense, the worst in the nation last season, allowed 18.5 points per game thus far after giving up 37.3 last season.
Illinois hosts struggling Indiana on Oct. 18 before a road game against Wisconsin the following weekend. Iowa plays at Illinois on Nov. 1.
By taking care of business in these next three home games, the Illini would get within striking distance of their first back-to-back winning seasons in 18 years and consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in 16 years.
Following these next four games, Illinois finishes with two away from home (vs. Western Michigan in Detroit, at Northwestern) and the home finale against No. 12 Ohio State, the only remaining opponent ranked in this week's poll.
The upset at Michigan (the Wolverines were 2 1/2-point favorites, according to the Las Vegas oddsmakers) didn't push the Illini back into the top 25. Just like he told his team not to watch the scoreboard during the game, Zook already warned his Illini about looking too far ahead.
("The top 25) doesn't have anything to do with anything,'' Zook said. "I worry about Minnesota right now. That other stuff means nothing. If guys get to thinking about the other stuff, that's not important. That doesn't matter right now.
"If you begin to worry about the score in the first, second and third quarters, the score doesn't matter until the game is over. You have to get guys to play in the moment.''
If Zook can do that, the Illini can also seize the moment in the next month.
INJURY REPORT: Illinois sophomore linebacker Ian Thomas apparently didn't suffer cartilage damage in a knee injury suffered against the Wolverines, said Zook, who called the injury a sprain after the game. Sophomore safety Nate Bussey suffered a slight concussion, the only other injury against Michigan. . .
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.