Illini football breaks home losing streak to Wolverines

Illinois’ 38-13 win against Michigan on Saturday marked the first time the Illini defeated the Wolverines at home since a 16-6 win in 1983.

“It’s a big win,” Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. “There was no one that was playing today that was even born the last time we were fortunate enough to beat them in Memorial Stadium.”

Before the 1983 win, the last time Illinois beat Michigan at home was in 1957.

“We wanted to come out not only for ourselves but for the school and the alumni and get that win,” sophomore running back Mikel LeShoure said.

Coupled with last season’s 45-20 win at Michigan, the Illini topped the Wolverines in consecutive years for the first time since the 1956-1957 seasons.

“It’s pretty sweet,” senior quarterback Juice Williams said of defeating Michigan for the second straight time. “A lot of guys that have played here in Illinois uniforms can’t really say that. We really grinded it out these last two years.”

Leman fires up Illini

Several players credited former Illinois linebacker J Leman with providing them additional motivation after Leman addressed the team Friday.

“I think that speech helped us out a lot,” LeShoure said after the game. “He basically told us to keep our heads up and stick together and generate our own energy.”

Leman, who watched the game from the press box, was a part of a combined seven wins during his first three years but enjoyed a 9-4 senior season that culminated with a trip to the Rose Bowl.

“He gave us his perspective,” LeShoure said. “He was on both sides.”

Players said Leman compared the team’s struggles this season to the struggles of the 2005 and 2006 teams that went 2-9 and 2-10, respectively. During those two seasons, Illinois lost nine consecutive games to Big Ten opponents before beating Michigan State, 23-20.

Before Saturday’s win against Michigan, Illinois had lost seven straight Big Ten games.

“He was saying that his best win was against Michigan State in Zook’s second season,” sophomore defensive tackle Corey Liuget said. “Him coming in, it really fired us up.”

James makes most of opportunity

Setting up a third quarter touchdown for the Illini was a 37-yard grab by junior wide receiver Chris James, who wowed fans with a diving, over-the-shoulder catch as he fell out of bounds.

“You see the ball in the air, you catch it,” James said. “Once I saw the ball in the air, I was just like, ‘It’s mine. No way (Michigan safety Troy) Woolfork is getting this one.'”

James was playing after junior wide receiver Arrelious Benn sat out the second half with an ankle injury.

Zook credited James with being prepared for the game despite being low on the depth chart.

“He’s one of those guys that has been around here a long time,” Zook said.

“I’ve talked to him several times over these last couple weeks about how you never know what’s going to happen, but you’ll feel awfully bad if you get an opportunity and you don’t take advantage of it.”

The catch was James’ third of the season and the 10th of his career.

“The coaches were always telling me to be patient. It’s just about being prepared because anytime your number can be called,” James said.

“Rejus (Benn) can go down at any point, so you just have to be ready to go at any moment.”