Illinois’ brand of gridiron Juice went sour in Pasadena today.

After racing to a 21-point lead over Illinois in the first half of the 2008 Rose Bowl Game, USC appeared to have another BCS bowl game in the bag.

It turned out that they did.

But the Fighting Illini managed to make it interesting until the 7:24 mark of the third quarter.

Trailing 21-10 following a 79-yard touchdown run by Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois forced a Trojan punt, and then assembled another solid drive pushing deep into USC territory.

The sold out crowd of 93,923 packed into Rose Bowl Stadium could palpably feel the Illini seizing control of that elusive and all-important element called momentum.

On second and 11 from the USC 24-yard line, quarterback Juice Williams connected with senior wide receiver Jacob Willis inside the Trojan 10-yard line. Willis fought to the five-yard line when one of the three USC defenders hanging on to him knocked the ball loose.

The pigskin rolled into the end zone and was recovered by Trojan linebacker Brian Cushing for a touchback.

What might have been a 21-17 dogfight turned into runaway romp.

USC answered the momentary close call with an 80-yard TD drive, aided by an overthrown lateral toss from John David Booty to Joe McKnight that the Illinois defense mistook for an incomplete pass.

The overthrown ball bounced perfectly off the ground into McKnight’s hands as he continued swinging toward the sidelines on his route.

Illinois defenders relaxed, thinking the play was dead, but McKnight cut up field without hesitation and ripped off a 56-yard gain to the Illinois 26. Five plays later, Booty connected with tight end Fred Davis for six.

The Trojans took a 28-10 lead and never looked back.

Instead, they turned the potential dogfight into a dog pile. Cary Harris intercepted Williams on Illinois’ ensuing drive and it took the Trojans just five more plays to move the ball 68 yards for another score.

Less than two minutes would transpire before the Trojans built a 32-point margin.

Illinois again drove deep inside USC territory only to be thwarted by another turnover. Williams hit Jeff Cumberland on a quick out pass at the Trojan 33-yard line but Cumberland was hit immediately and fumbled.

Harris made the recovery and nine plays later the scoreboard read 42-10 at the 14:20 mark of the fourth quarter. The Illini were minus -4 in the turnover column and their New Year’s Day goose was effectively cooked.

USC would tack on another score eight minutes later when Hershel Dennis punched in from three yards out. The touchdown culminated an 88-yard drive that was punctuated by a Stafon Johnson 64-yard scamper.

Williams was replaced by back-up QB Eddie McGee around the five-minute mark and McGee hooked up with fellow Washington, D.C. high school star Arelious Benn on a 56-yard touchdown pass to complete the scoring at 49-17.

USC’s Booty was named the game’s MVP. He went 25 for 37, 255 yards, and tossed 3 TDs with one interception. Mendenhall led the Illini attack with 155 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, and 59 yards on five receptions.

Illinois closed out their remarkable turnaround season with a 9-4 record and head coach Ron Zook was named Coach of the Year by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

USC finished 11-2 and is most likely headed for another Top 5 ranking in the season’s final polls.