THE MEMORY STADIUM: IOWA VS. ILLINOIS, 1985

By Adam Jacobi on October 6, 2017 at 8:05 am
NOTE: No Illini defenders nearby.
Illini Sports Network
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As with all 2017 opponents, this isn't the first Iowa's played Illinois, and it wouldn't be the first time we've beaten them. Here's a look back as we turn yesterday's victories into today's lessons.

Ask any Iowa fan what the most satisfying victory over Illinois would be, and just about any of them would say 1990's obliteration of the then-No. 5 Illini, where Nick Bell ran for 250 yards and the Hawkeyes rolled to a 54-28 win. Understandable. 

Turn the clock back a few more years, though, and Iowa was facing a very different Illini squad. The 1985 Illinois team was on its second year of NCAA probation, thanks to a litany of minor infractions by head coach Mike White, and on the path of a downturn that would last for another full recruiting cycle. Iowa, meanwhile, was coming off a wholly dispiriting loss at Ohio State, the type of loss that diminishes a lesser team's spirits.

What ensued was an onslaught for the ages.

Worth noting: the second year of Illinois' probation meant a ban from television, back when that was a financially devastating penalty. Someone more versed in collegiate TV contracts could tell you what the modern equivalent would be. So these keys come directly from announcer quotes on the "Illini Sports Network," which makes them all the more delicious. As always, we thank The Hawkeye Historian, literally the only YouTube dot com channel you should ever subscribe to, for immortalizing them.

With that, some keys to the victory:

"It looks like the Illini have left their hearts and their ability back in Champaign." The score was Iowa 35, Illinois 0. Then the second quarter started.

Iowa feasted itself on touchdowns and turnovers, even with a semi-competent foe in front of it. All told, Iowa's 59-0 victory was its fourth-most lopsided shutout victory in program history, behind only the following:

  • 1913: Iowa 60, Indiana 0
  • 1981: Iowa 64, Northwestern 0
  • 1997: Iowa 62, Indiana 0

As you might imagine, none of those other opponents ended with a prayer of a winning record, whereas this 1985 Illini team made it to the damn Peach Bowl (where, whoops, they lost to Army). 

Yes, 1985 was one of the all-time great Iowa teams, but this was also an Illinois team that this season's version would love to emulate, knocking off multiple opponents with winning records and featuring future NFL QB Jack Trudeau under center. Iowa still stole the Illini's will to compete, and the Illini needed years to recover.

"We've got a bunch of happy Hawkeyes." As you might expect, a 49-0 halftime lead involves winning the turnover battle with ease, and Iowa did just that. The Hawkeyes picked off Trudeau twice, ending his then-NCAA record of 215 attempts without a pick, and they helped themselves to two picks and two fumble recoveries in their romp. Teams press when they know they don't have the talent advantage and can't win the slow game — great teams punish those mistakes.

"Graham Goodman is not going to be deprived. He don't care what the score is. He just doesn't care." Hayden Fry stopped red-lining the Hawkeye engine in the second half, scoring no points in the third quarter after that monstrous first half, but the Iowa backups had something to say in their own right. It's one thing if the leading team phones in the effort in the late stages (some call this "sportsmanship"), but if the team getting blown out doesn't put up a full fight, the winning team owes it to them to punish them, and that's what Goodman did late, trouncing the Illini on consecutive runs to push Iowa's lead to its final 59-0 resting place. 

Now, this Iowa team's only favored by 20 against Illinois, and it's unlikely Kirk Ferentz would be as ruthless as Hayden Fry was 32 years ago — particularly because it's hard to imagine a scenario where Ferentz wants to bury Lovie Smith. So if the Hawkeyes are leading by fewer than seven touchdowns at the break, you should not be angry. Think it's safe to say that.

That all said, with a team that starts 10 true freshmen from a recruiting class that wasn't especially great, Lovie Smith's message is that putting the 2017 season's most competitive team on the field is not his primary priority. That's probably the right move — Smith needs to totally overhaul the program culture left in the wake of Ron Zook, Tim Beckman and a season of Bill Cubit. If that overhaul means putting virtually an entire recruiting class of true freshmen on the field, though, it's almost Ferentz's civic duty to welcome those freshmen to Big Ten ball by bombing on them mercilessly, letting them know that there are no free games here, no mercy waiting to reward subpar effort.


NOTE: the title of this feature, uh, "borrows heavily" from The Memory Palace, a truly world-expanding podcast by Nate DiMeo. Add it to your podcasts and to your life, if you haven't already; you'll be better for it. We imitate because we admire, and because it's not plagiarism if you link to it.

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