UC-Illinois Rock 'N Roll Party

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Before the final game of his career at Nippert Stadium, UC senior receiver Mardy Gilyard thought back to the past five years - the loss of his scholarship, the weeks he was homeless and had to sleep in his car, the scholarship he earned back, the ups and downs of learning how to play his position.


He thought about all the people who had helped make the journey possible. And he thanked them.


"It was all going through my head," said Gilyard, who finished with 102 yards and two touchdowns (and another on a kickoff return) on seven catches while setting the school record with his 24th career scoring reception. "I just watched myself over the years grow into the man and player I am now. I was just thinking about all that. I went to my mom and told her thank you. I went to the seniors and told them thank you for the best five years of my life."

He couldn't have done it today without the contributions of Tony Pike, who showed again why, if he hadn't been injured, he would have been a legit Heisman Trophy candidate. How special was it to Pike to throw a school-record six touchdown passes (surpassing Gino Guidugli's five tosses) on Senior Day?


"It's indescribable, just because of the journey the seniors have been on," Pike said. "To come out the last game at Nippert and to throw six touchdowns and get this guy (Gilyard) over 100 yards and get him involved early, it's amazing. Words can't describe how amazing this feels, to be able to share this with the team."


He wasn't at a loss for words, though, when he looked to his right and saw Ben Guidugli (seven catches, 149 yards, two touchdowns) at the postgame presser.


"I thought it was nice that Ben helped me take (the record) from his brother," Pike said to laughter.


Pike, with his first significant playing time since reinjuring his left arm in the South Florida game, said he was mentally prepared - not just physically ready - to play today. It showed.


"Awesome to be back," Pike said. "It makes it a little easier when you have a guy like Zach (Collaros) step in for us and be able to know mentally that you're all right. The way he played helped out a ton. When you have weapons like we do on offense, it makes it a little easier. ... Sitting for so long, you just want to go out there and start playing. You know getting hit is one of the things that come with it. (The arm) feels great right now."


--Yeah, the defense allowed 476 yards (307 passing and 169 rushing), surrendered 36 points and continued to give UC critics ammunition. Brian Kelly will tell you that because the offense is so quick-strike, the defense has to be on the field for so much longer, and he's right.


But every week, the defensive players talk about it just being a matter of missing some assignments or just a few broken plays. I'm not sure I buy it.


"They are who they are," Kelly said. "They battle. We have a lot of inexperienced players, and losing Drew Frey today (a concussion though Kelly guesses he'll be back next week) didn't help us. We're playing as hard as we can play. We don't help our defense very much on offense. If I wanted to put lipstick on it, I could make it look a little bit better, but we just want to win. We have an offense. Let them go. It doesn't paint a great picture when we try to win that way."


Said J.K. Shaffer, who recorded a career-high 14 tackles today and extended to four games his streak of consecutive eight-plus tackle performances: "For the most part, we did a pretty good job, especially on third down and on sudden change on the short field. The thing that really hurt us the most was a couple broken plays that ended up resulting in big gains for them. We knew coming in that they had a ton of very skilled offensive weapons. We know they would get some, but I felt we did a pretty good job aside from the missed assignments and broken plays."


--Sophomore Isaiah Pead, who just two weeks ago recorded 175 rushing yards, got only four carries and finished with minus-5 yards rushing. He dropped a third-down pass, and you didn't see him much in the second half.


"Yeah, he's OK," Kelly said. "He's been a little nicked up, and I just didn't get a good feel for him today. I just didn't get that connection today. (John) Goebel is really assignment correct in terms of pass protection with Jake (Ramsey) being out. It just wasn't Pead's kind of game. It just didn't materialize that way."


Although the Bearcats rushed for only 21 yards on 15 carries, they got two first-down runs late in the game to seal it. Besides, the gameplan coming in was to throw the ball.


"Historically, you think about a Big Ten team, and it's going to be a power running conference," Pike said. "We knew Illinois is a team that's built to stop the run. We felt we could exploit some things in the passing game and use that to open up our running game. The way things were going, we had to stick with the pass."


--I asked Kelly if he was resigned to the thought that, assuming Texas wins the Big 12 title and Florida and Alabama met in next week's SEC championship game with undefeated records, the Bearcats would be left out of the national title game.


"Yes," he said.


So, there's nothing you can do about that?


"I think Nebraska is going to beat Texas and we're going to beat Pittsburgh. That's just the way I'm wired."


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