The drive

By BobLa Gesse

Illinois needed a leading man. Brad Bower was right for the part.

Bower, a redshirt freshman quarterback who may not even play in the next game, played like a senior when he led Illinois to a come-from-behind 30-27 victory with a game-winning touchdown drive. He learned in his very first start what it takes to win a game – even when things aren’t going smoothly.

Western Michigan took a 27-23 lead with 6:56 left right after Bower threw his second interception of the game.

In order to execute the game-winning drive, Bower needed to put the interception behind him.

That is just what he did. Bower led the Illini to a seven-play, 40-yard touchdown drive.

Bower was like Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven – the guy other guys wished they could be.

Ocean was always in control. Teammates said Bower was too. He was as confident on the final drive as he was on the first drive, in which he threw an interception.

Ocean may have taken his bumps but he always came out on top. Sounds a lot like Bower on Saturday.

“Those are the situations you want to have the ball in your hands,” Bower said of the final drive. “You want to take charge, to march the team down the field and put points on the board.”

That mindset made it easy for Bower to come down the field and score whenever the Illini needed it. Bower was doing just that on the Illini’s second-to-last drive. The only thing that stalled the drive was a sack on third down, and there wasn’t much Bower could do there.

Given another opportunity, Bower wasn’t stopped.

“(Bower) was coming into the game expecting up and downs just like in any football game,” said senior center Duke Preston. “You’re going to make mistakes in any game. You’re going to make good plays. I think that is just the epitome of the kid’s toughness.”

Georgia senior quarterback David Greene has that toughness and is great at winning after trailing late in games. With Greene at the helm, the Bulldogs have risen to be a national power over the last three years. Greene is not the best pure passing quarterback, but he finds a way for his team to win. That sounds a lot like Bower too.

When a quarterback figures out how to win, nothing else really matters.

Bower took the first step in that direction Saturday. Wins keep the team, fans and media happy. Deficiencies and weaknesses get overlooked if the wins keep piling up.

When Greene enters a game down by three points with a minute left, there is an aura about him. Everyone knows he will get the job done. It makes teammates better. It makes opponents tremble in their cleats.

“As a quarterback in this offense or on any team, the quarterback has to be able to take charge of the huddle,” said sophomore running back E.B. Halsey. “Granted he is a young guy, but that is Brad Bower’s huddle. He showed a lot of composure there. He showed he can take charge.”

One come-from-behind win doesn’t mean Bower has the aura yet; he didn’t even throw the game-winning touchdown pass.

But Ocean didn’t start off robbing Las Vegas casinos either.

Greene didn’t even get a chance for a come-from-behind victory in his second career start. With more than a minute left and facing a five-point deficit, Georgia tried for a comeback without Greene on the field.

Turner said after the game that senior quarterback Jon Beutjer may start against Purdue next week.

That is fine.

Bower needs to work on reading defenses and his accuracy. That can be fixed in practice – regardless if he is starting or a backup.

Bower seems to have the game thing down anyway.

He took a big step toward turning the Illinois offensive unit into Bower’s Eleven.

Bobby La Gesse is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected]