FT. LAUDERDALE-The Virginia football's holiday trip to beautiful South Florida for the micronpc.com Bowl Dec. 30 proved stormy as the Cavaliers were trounced in record-breaking fashion by Illinois, 63-21.
"I'm embarrassed by that performance," Virginia Coach George Welsh said. "This was bad. It takes a lot away from the season when you end it like that."
The Fighting Illini (8-4), who finished with their best record since 1990 with the triumph, amassed a multitude of Bowl records en route to routing the Cavaliers (7-5). Illinois's 63 points, nine touchdowns, 325 rushing yards, 611 yards and 42-point margin of victory were all micronpc.com high marks in the Bowl's 10-year history.
"They wanted to play and it showed," fourth-year cornerback Dwayne Stukes said. "The score was ridiculous."
The first minutes of the game gave little indication of what was to come. After Illinois opened up the scoring with a sneak by quarterback Kurt Kittner, the Cavs took full advantage of an Illini fumble and marched 31 yards to tie the score at seven with a Thomas Jones seven-yard touchdown scamper. On the next possession, though, the mistakes began to pile up for Virginia.
The first mistake came on an Illinois punt. Virginia lined up offsides, and the officials handed Illinois an effortless first down. With the door left open, Illini coach Ron Turner called on sophomore running back Rocky Harvey, who ran over left tackle and around Virginia pursuers for a 47-yard touchdown.
Harvey finished with 122 yards on only 10 carries and wasn't the only Illinois running back who compiled eye-popping numbers against the Cavs' porous defense. Steve Harvard scored twice and fullback Jameel Cook amassed 106 total yards and caught two touchdowns from Kittner, including a 61-yard swing pass that put the Illini up by 21 midway through the second quarter.
The often explosive Cavalier offense also struggled. Third-year quarterback Dan Ellis threw for only 146 yards and Jones was limited to 110 yards rushing as the Cavs were held well below their season averages of 402.5 total yards and 29.5 points per game.
Part of the problem stemmed from the nightmarish collapse of the left side of the Virginia offensive line. Three left tackles were forced to leave the game in the first half due to injury, including All-ACC performer Noel LaMontagne, who switched from guard to tackle after starter Josh Lawson went down with a knee injury.
"Just to have three left tackles go out in the same half is amazing to me," LaMontagne said.
Kittner received MVP honors after throwing for two touchdowns, running for another and even hauling in an additional touchdown catch on a trick play in the second quarter.
His reception extended Illinois's lead to 21-7 early in the second quarter. After faking a handoff to his tailback, Kittner gave to wideout Brandon Lloyd, who ran towards the right side of the Illini line. As the quarterback sneaked out uncovered into the left flat, Lloyd dropped back and delivered a short lob to the wide-open Kittner.
Upon reaching the endzone on the 30-yard touchdown, Kittner threw the football into the stands to his mother, who has multiple sclerosis. He was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.