The Big Ten renews a storied rivalry that transcends sports, as two programs that are focused on the regular season to the exclusion of all else will clash once again. Ohm’s Law dictates that the Illinois Fighting Illini (I) and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (R), when multiplied together, create VOLTAGE.
Whether on the court or the gridiron, this clash of legendary Big Ten rivals is appointment viewing. Here are ten of the most iconic moment in #ILLINUTGERS history!
10: Whatever The Hell Is Going On Here
Brad Underwood is 2-0 against the Scarlet Knights. In the second game of last season, an official worked on some kind of golf swing that ended in a cower near Underwood’s furious yelling. I’m still not sure what happened here, but it’s lovely to watch.
9: Illinois Proves Chris Ash Can Smile
The perpetually hapless coach with the suspiciously hirsute arms took Rutgers and their 16-game conference losing streak to Champaign in 2017. History was made early on with the following doink, as viewers saw something they didn’t think was possible:
8: Eddie Jordan has had it
Ever go bowling and miss your release so badly you just turn around and walk back without even looking to see what happened?
Former Rutgers basketball coach Eddie Jordan has been there, man.
7: Cathartic Pointsplosion
Second-year head coach Steve Pikiell faced off against first-year Illini coach Brad Underwood last January, with Underwood having just overcome Indiana to halt an 0-8 start to Big Ten play. The events that followed were swift and brutal, as Illinois at one point had an 82-39 lead in this game. Pikiell is still seeking revenge for this, the most lopsided game in the rivalry.
6: Enter Sitkowski
The Illinutgers football series was tied at 1-1 heading into the 2018 contest, with Lovie Smith’s Illini winning the first but Ash’s crew winning the second. The home team lost in both cases. Could Rutgers be the first to defend home court? Let’s ask Artur Sitkowski.
Emboldened by the momentum, Illini QB AJ Bush decided that instead of throwing to a wide open receiver for a touchdown, he’d just run the ball 50 yards for the touchdown instead.
Fans all across the nation look forward to all the Sitkowski moments in this rivalry
5: Illinutgers Gets Its Own ESPN Graphic
The first proper Illinutgers clash on the gridiron didn’t happen until 2016, believe it or not. ESPN could only sum this special occasion up with this graphic:
It started hot and heavy, with Rutgers asserting their identity
Illinois quarterback Chayce Crouch responded on the ensuing drive
Crouch would finish his first career start despite suffering a serious injury to his throwing shoulder that he never really overcame; he’d start two more games before being converted to a tight end, getting one more start in the infamous Chayce’s Last Stand at Ohio Stadium before calling it a career.
4: Mike Dudek Punished For Superhuman Effort
Does anything sum up the career of the incomparable Mikey Dudek better than this gif from the 2017 Illinutgers game?
A superhuman effort to corral an overthrown ball results in a turnover. Dudek was too good for this game and deserved better. We shall never see his like again.
3: The Ballad of Carmoni Green
It had been a while since the specter of horrifyingly bad punt returning had appeared in Champaign.
Emphasis on had.
I’ll never understand what possessed Carmoni Green to dive on this ball after it went past him. I’ve tried to break down the film:
Green was suspended for three games in 2018, returning only to make sparing on-field appearances and memorably dropping a deep ball at the goal line. He was quietly dismissed after the season, leaving only the above clip as his legacy at Illinois
2: Nail in the Coffin
Two teams met at the RAC on very different trajectories. Rutgers had improved from absolute zero in Steve Pikiell’s first year at the helm, but continued to struggle, with a 2-15 conference record heading into the final regular-season contest. John Groce’s fifth year had started with all kinds of headscratchers, including a loss to Winthrop and a typically poor January performance. However, his senior class rallied in February, going on a winning streak that culminated in their final game in Champaign against the heavily favored Michigan State Spartans. A transcendent performance from Malcolm Hill in the improbable victory was followed by an emotional interview during which Hill, in tears, knelt down and kissed the court he’d called home for four years. Illinois had an 18-12 (8-9) record, needing just to defeat a struggling Rutgers team to be in great position to make Groce’s long-awaited breakthrough back into the NCAA tournament.
Desperate not to lose, the Illini began dribbling out the clock in a one-possession game after the under-4 timeout. This strategy ended predictably:
Sophomore forward Deshawn Freeman had 21 points on 7 for 8 shooting, but none bigger than the game-winning three pointer that fell through the hoop, transformed into a nail, and drove itself into Groce’s coffin.
John Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines, despite the plane crash, were able to serve as the pallbearers while wearing practice uniforms.
1: Triple Illinutgers Thriller
You came here knowing this was going to be number one, so why should I disappoint you? In February of 2016, John Groce was sleepwalking through what seemed to be his swan song at 10-12 (2-7), while Eddie Jordan was working on the 0-18 Big Ten season that would be his send-off. But this is Illinutgers. Throw out the record. Throw out the stats. It’s forty minutes of answering the question: who wants it less?
Hahaha, did I say forty minutes? Wrong. 55 minutes.
These teams had very different philosophies on rebounding. Illinois prefered to delegate.
Rutgers emphasized individual initiative
Illinois collected nine offensive rebounds off of 42 missed shots. Malcolm Hill hit a fadeaway to send the game to overtime, but just when it seemed that Illinois would wrap it up, Corey Sanders struck with a game-tying three to send it to 2OT. Sanders put up hilarious numbers in this game, scoring 39 points on 33 shots, making 14 of them. Some of them were aided and abetted by Illinois’ defense:
The game went on so long that Alex Austin briefly forgot what the hell sport he was playing, taking the inbounds pass out of bounds so he could inbound it again.
This is perhaps the most important Illinutgers basketball game yet, as it will break a tie for NINTH PLACE in the conference standings. Hopefully the teams have improved enough that we don’t see possessions like this: