Turnovers costly as Illini fall to Trojans in Rose Bowl

By Jason Grodsky

PASADENA, Calif. – The fairy tale ending to one of the most remarkable seasons in Illinois football recent years wasn’t meant to be.

In their fifth Rose Bowl appearance in school history and first in 24 years, the No. 13-ranked Illini couldn’t overcome the No. 6 USC Trojans in the 94th Rose Bowl, falling 49-17.

Junior running back Rashard Mendenhall set a school record for all-purpose yards in a season by collecting 214 total yards and one touchdown in the game, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Illini’s turnovers and USC quarterback John David Booty.

Illinois’ offense turned the ball over four times and watched from the sidelines as Booty threw for 255 yards and three scores on 25-of-37 passing. Booty only threw one pick to lead the Trojans to their second consecutive Rose Bowl victory and third in the last five years.

“For us to be able to play with them we we’re going to have to play our best game and we obviously didn’t do that,” head coach Ron Zook said.


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Booty’s third quarter touchdown pass to senior tight end Fred Davis marked his sixth career touchdown pass in the Rose Bowl, setting a new Rose Bowl record. He would latter add on another in the fourth quarter on his way to earning the Offensive Player of the Game.

The Trojan’s tied a Rose Bowl record with 49 points and their 633 yards of offense set a record. Freshman tailback Joe McKnight finished with 125 of USC’s 344 rushing yards.

“To come out here and have this happen, it hurts,” junior center Ryan McDonald said. “They have great athletes and I don’t want to say we don’t have the athletes to compete with them, but we did things that hurt ourselves and it got a lot uglier than it should have.”

While the Trojan’s offense marched down the field at will during points of the game, the Illinois’ offense struggled to get rolling.

It wasn’t until the second play of the second half that the Illini offense came to life when Mendenhall ran for a 79-yard touchdown. It was Mendenhall’s longest run of the season and matched the Illini’s entire offensive production in the first half.

“Our offense takes a lot of pride in our running game and the things we do,” Mendenhall said. “We expect to come in and make big plays and we did that in the second half and started to believe we could play with USC.”

Trailing 21-10 Mendenhall again provided the Illini with a big play, this time on the receiving end of a pass by sophomore quarterback Juice Williams. Mendenhall took the pass 55 yards deep into Trojan territory. But the big catch and run by Mendenhall was nullified by a fumble inside the 10-yard line by senior receiver Jacob Willis that was recovered by the Trojans in the end zone.

The fumble swung the momentum of the game back in favor of the Trojans, as USC drove 80 yards for a touchdown on the following possession and went on to outscore the Illini 28-7 the rest of the way.

“They took advantage of those turnovers and we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities,” senior safety Justin Harrison said. “It wasn’t necessarily their experience they had but it was their composure that played a factor. We had the momentum and they changed it and they matched our big plays.”

While Mendenhall was able to run wild, the Trojans did a great job of containing Williams. Williams was sacked five times for a loss of 29 yards. USC junior linebacker Rey Maualuga accounted for three of USC’s sacks and intercepted Williams in the first quarter setting up a Trojan score.

Illinois senior place-kicker Jason Reda provided Illinois with it’s only score of the first half, kicking a 28-yard field goal with 38 seconds remaining. Reda missed his first attempt from 29 yards following an interception by Harrison.

“I hate to go out this way and have the seniors see that score in their last game,” Williams said. “All-in-all we had a successful season coming off a 2-10 year last year, and it’s a great accomplishment to get to the Rose Bowl. My hat goes off every guy who contributed to this team this year.”

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