Ecstatic Illinois AD Josh Whitman, Lovie Smith celebrate clinching bowl eligibility
Completing the largest comeback in program history, the Illinois Fighting Illini (6-4) topped the Michigan State Spartans (4-5) on Saturday at Spartan Stadium, 37-34.
Trailing 28-3 in the second quarter, Illinois outscored the Spartans, 34-6, over the last 31 minutes of regulation.
Realizing how far this program has come since head coach Lovie Smith took over in 2016, Smith and athletic director Josh Whitman shared a moment together postgame.
Isaac Trotter of IlliniInquirer shared footage of the embrace between the two on Twitter:
— Isaac Trotter (@isaac_trotter2) November 10, 2019
His fourth year at the helm of the Illini, Smith entered the 2019 season on the hot seat according to most national media figures. With many feeling he needed to reach a bowl game to feel secure about his job status moving forward, Smith and his players have done just that.
Prior to joining Illinois, Smith was a head coach in the National Football League for 11 years with the Chicago Bears (2004-12) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014-15).
Playing for the Illini for 1997-2000 under Ron Turner, Whitman has served as Illinois’ AD since coming over from Washington University (St. Louis, Missouri) in 2016. Linked at the hip with Smith, Saturday’s victory is a great sense of validation for the duo.
Looking to reach the seven-win mark for the first time since 2011 under Ron Zook, Illinois will next be in action on November 23 against No. 18 Iowa (6-3) in Iowa City.
Dropping their fourth straight game, Michigan State is now 4-5 on the season. Needing to win two of their final three games to reach a bowl game of their own, the Spartans will travel to Ann Arbor to battle No. 14 Michigan (7-2) on November 16 (12:00PM ET, FOX).