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Throwback Thursday: Illinois romps Michigan 45-20 at the Big House

The 2008 Fighting Illini Football team finished 5-7 with just one road win, but it’s etched in the history books.

Photo by Jim Prisching/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images
Photo by Jim Prisching/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

Illinois quarterback Juice Williams has many signature moments to look back on in his Fighting Illini Football career. One can point to the time he dethroned No. 21 Penn State and No. 7 Wisconsin in 2007 on back-to-back weekends in Champaign. No one will ever forget the famous shocker in Columbus that season, a victory that paved the way for Illinois’ first Rose Bowl appearance since 1983.

On this Throwback Thursday, we reflect back on a win that still sends chills through the spines of Illini fans: Illinois 45, Michigan 20 on Oct. 4, 2008, at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Since that game, only one team has scored more points against Michigan in the Big House — that honor goes to the 2010 Wisconsin Badgers who hung up 48 points on the Wolverines in Rich Rodriguez’s third and final season.

Going into the Illinois at Michigan game in 2008, Illinois and Michigan were both 2-2, and to make matters worse for the Wolverine faithful, it was Homecoming in Ann Arbor and optimism was high considering the Wolverines had just beaten the No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers the week before. Fans of both sides were expecting a high-scoring affair in what would end up being one of the worst seasons in Michigan Football history.

Illinois was armed with the aforementioned Williams to go along with a solid tight end in Jeff Cumberland, a decent stable of running backs in Mikel Leshoure, Jason Ford, Troy Pollard and Daniel Dufrene, and a solid receiving corps of Arrelious Benn, A.J. Jenkins and Fred Sykes. Michigan was good but not great, and on paper at least, Illinois was the more talented team than Michigan.

The Wolverines’ starting quarterback that day was Steven Threet. Their top receiver was Montravious Odoms and their lead back was eventual Rice transfer Sam McGuffie. Michigan was big but lacked any true speedsters on its team like we’ve seen in years before 2008 and now on Jim Harbaugh’s more recent teams.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better Juice Williams performance than the one he had at The Big House that fall Saturday in 2008. Williams had 431 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns — two on the ground and two through the air — all without a single turnover. He completed 13 of his 26 passes for 310 yards, and he was excellent running the ball — 121 rushing yards on 19 attempts.

The Illini were up 17-14 at the half before scoring 28 points in the second half to Michigan’s six. There were big plays all over the field. Juice Williams threw a 57-yard TD pass to running back Daniel Dufrene in the second quarter. Cumberland caught a 77-yard TD pass in the third quarter. It was really a pitch-and-catch game against a porous, uninspired Michigan defense.

It was a sight to behold as the fourth quarter was winding down and the Michigan student section was nearly empty. This period was part of the nadir of Michigan Football. Michigan finished the 2008 season 3-9 (2-6) in Rich Rod’s first season.

Since 1967, Illinois has just three wins against Michigan in Ann Arbor: 1993, 1999 and 2008. The Wolverines lead the all-time series over the Illini 70-23-2. The 2008 victory is one Illini fans hold onto and remember as one of the great road victories of the last 10 years.

Also, thanks for Rod Smith, Rich Rod. Excited to have him!