Nathan Scheelhaase hopes to pickup where he left off last season, when he tossed 13 TDs and 1 INT in the last 7 games.
Aug. 29, 2011
The Illinois/Arkansas State game will be nationally televised on the Big Ten Network with an air time of 2:30 p.m. CT. Tom Hart (play-by-play), Chris Martin (color analyst) and Rebecca Haarlow (sidelines) will call the action with Steve Johnson producing and Tom Blair directing. BTN will televise two games at 2:30 CT on Sept. 3. Get local channel info at http://bigtennetwork.com/gamefinder.
The 41-station Illini Sports Network will carry the radio broadcast with the pregame show beginning at 2 p.m. CT. Calling the action will be Brian Barnhart (play-by-play), Kurt Kittner (color analyst) and Steve Kelly (pregame, halftime and postgame). The broadcast also can be heard on SIRIUS (128) satellite radio.
Tickets are available for Saturday's game against Arkansas State and can be purchased at the UI Athletic Ticket Office at Assembly Hall, by calling 1-866-ILLINI-1 or online at fightingillini.com.
Illinois opens its 122nd season of varsity football Saturday against Arkansas State.
The Orange and Blue capped the 2010 season with a 38-14 romp over Baylor in the Texas Bowl, their first bowl victory since 1999. Illinois opens the 2011 season looking for its first back-to-back bowl appearances since 1991-92.
The Illini have compiled an all-time record of 74-42-5 in season-openers and are 51-27-4 when opening the season at home. The Illini have won their last five season-openers at Memorial Stadium dating back to 1997, including a 41-3 win over Arkansas State to start the 1999 season.
Illinois is 83-33-5 all-time in home openers and has won its last 13, including last year's 35-3 win over Southern Illinois on Sept. 11.
Illini coach Ron Zook begins his seventh season as the Illinois head coach this weekend. Zook was the 2007 Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year after taking the Illini to the Rose Bowl. He has an overall record of 28-45 at Illinois and is 2-4 in season openers. Both wins came at home, against Rutgers in 2005 and Eastern Illinois in 2006. All four season-opening losses under Zook came against Missouri at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis (2007-10).
The 2010 Illini led the Big Ten in rushing (246.1 ypg) and broke school records for points in a season (423) and points per game (32.53), all with a redshirt-freshman at quarterback and a first-year offensive coordinator.
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase hopes to begin 2011 where he left off in 2010. Scheelhaase tossed 13 touchdowns and just one interception over the last seven games last season, and saved his best performance of the season for the Texas Bowl win over Baylor. In the 38-14 win, the redshirt-freshman completed all 13 of his first-half passes for 170 yards and finished the game 18-of-23 for 242 yards, while also rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown.
Illinois returns seven starters on the offensive side of the ball -- OL Jeff Allen, OL Hugh Thornton, OL Jack Cornell (split starts with Thornton), OL Graham Pocic, WR A.J Jenkins, FB Jay Prosch, QB Nathan Scheelhaase and TE Evan Wilson.
The defense returns six starters -- DE Michael Buchanan, DT Akeem Spence, LB Ian Thomas, LB Trulon Henry, CB Justin Green and CB Tavon Wilson. CB Terry Hawthorne also has started six games in his career - five in 2009 and one in 2010 - but was hampered by injuries much of 2010.
The Illini also return kicker Derek Dimke and long-snapper Zak Pedersen.
The Fighting Illini open the season at home for the first time since 2006 and have eight home games on the schedule in 2011 for the first time in the Memorial Stadium era and first time since 1903, when Illinois played nine home games. The Orange and Blue open with five consecutive home games and six of their first seven contests at Memorial Stadium. The Illini take an all-time record of 247-209-14 at Memorial Stadium into the 2011 campaign.
THE BIG TEN'S RUSHING TEAM
During the Ron Zook era (since 2005), Illinois leads the conference in rushing yards per game. The Illini's 205.2 yards per game (14,982 yards in 73 games) in the last six seasons tops Wisconsin's 198.6 ypg (15,488 yards in 78 games) during that same time span.
The Illini led the conference in rushing yards per game in 2006, 2007 and 2010, and were second in 2009. In 2010, Illinois averaged 246.1 ypg on the ground, which ranked 11th in the nation and was the third-highest total in school history. Illinois' 2010 rushing average of 246.1 ypg is the second-highest total by any Big Ten school since 2005, behind only Illinois' 256.8 ypg in 2007.
The Fighting Illini have finished the season ranked in the top-20 nationally in rushing yards per game in four of the last five years. Illinois ranked 11th in 2010 (246.1 ypg), 17th in 2009 (200.4 ypg), fifth in 2007 (256.8 ypg) and 20th in 2006 (188.8).
Illinois has produced three NFL running backs in the last five years. Pierre Thomas (Saints) and Rashard Mendenhall (Steelers) are both starters that have led their respective teams to the Super Bowl. Mikel Leshoure (Lions), a 2011 second round draft pick, will miss his entire rookie season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon during training camp.
ILLINI RECORDS IN SEASON OPENERS
Rushing Yards: 143 by Pierre Thomas vs. Florida A&M, 9/4/2004
Passing Yards: 451 by Juice Williams vs. Missouri, 8/31/2008
Completions: 31 by Jon Beutjer vs. Missouri, 8/30/2003
Touchdowns Rushing: 3 by Antoineo Harris vs. California, 9/1/2001
Touchdowns Passing: 5 by Juice Williams vs. Missouri, 8/31/2008
Receptions: 11 by David Williams vs. Northwestern, 9/1/1984
Touchdown Receptions: 3 by Greg Lewis vs. Middle Tennessee, 9/2/2000
Receiving Yards: 208 by David Williams vs. Northwestern, 9/1/1984
Sacks: 4 by Mike Poloskey vs. East Carolina, 8/31/1991
Points Scored: 79 vs. Illinois State, 9/16/1944
Margin of Victory: 73 (79-6) vs. Illinois State, 9/16/1944
ARKANSAS STATE SERIES NOTES
Saturday's game will be the third meeting between Illinois and Arkansas State. The Illini won the previous two meetings in convincing fashion both at Memorial Stadium, 41-3 in the 1999 season-opener and 59-7 in 2002.
The Red Wolves were 4-8 overall in 2010 and finished tied for fourth in the Sun Belt with a 4-4 record. ASU is under the direction of first-year head coach Hugh Freeze, who was ASU's offensive coordinator in 2010.
The Illini have one player that hails from the state of Arkansas, sophomore WR Spencer Harris (Glenwood, Ark./Glenwood HS), while Arkansas State has one player from Illinois, sophomore OL Jake Campbell (Bellville, Ill./Belleville East HS).
ILLINI PRESEASON HONORS
A number of Fighting Illini players earned mention on award watch lists and preseason All-Big Ten teams heading into the 2011 season.
OL Jeff Allen - Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, Rotary Lombardi Award watch list, Outland Trophy watch list, first-team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele, Athlon), second-team All-Big Ten (Lindy's)
PK Derek Dimke - Lou Groza Award watch list, first-team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele, Athlon)
RB Jason Ford - Doak Walker Award watch list, fourth-team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele)
CB Terry Hawthorne - Third-team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele)
FS Trulon Henry - Third-team All-Big Ten (Athlon)
WR A.J. Jenkins - Biletnikoff Award watch list, second-team All-Big Ten (Lindy's), fourth-team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele)
C Graham Pocic - Third-team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele)
QB Nathan Scheelhaase - Maxwell Award watch list, Davey O'Brien Award watch list, Big Ten Players to Watch List (Big Ten Conference)
DT Akeem Spence - Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list, Outland Trophy watch list, third-team All-Big Ten (Athlon)
LB Ian Thomas - Second-team All-Big Ten (Athlon), fourth-team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele)
CB Tavon Wilson - Fourth-team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele)
RETURNING ALL-BIG TEN SELECTIONS
Illinois senior tackle Jeff Allen, senior kicker Derek Dimke, linebacker Trulon Henry, center Graham Pocic and cornerback Tavon Wilson all return in 2011 after earning All-Big Ten honors a season ago. Allen was a second-team selection by the media and honorable mention by the coaches, while Dimke was a second-team pick by the coaches and honorable mention by the media. Henry, Pocic and Wilson all were honorable mention selections by both panels.
FORD, SCHEELHAASE POISED TO CLIMB RUSHING LISTS
Senior running back Jason Ford enters the 2011 season with 1,362 career rushing yards, ranking 24th on the UI all-time career rushing list and sixth among active Big Ten players. Meanwhile, sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase enters the season needing just 132 yards on the ground to become the 38th player in school history to reach the career 1,000-yard milestone.
Active Big Ten Career Rushing Leaders (entering 2011 Season) 1. Dan Herron, Sr., OSU 2,194 2. Denard Robinson, Jr., MICH 2,053 3. Edwin Baker, Jr., MSU 1,628 4. Duane Bennett, Sr., MIN 1,487 5. Montee Ball, Jr., WIS 1,387 6. Jason Ford, Sr., ILL 1,362 7. James White, So., WIS 1,052SCHEELHAASE PRIMED FOR BIG SOPHOMORE SEASON
SCHEELHAASE SEASON SPLIT Year Comp. Att. Yds. Pct. TD Int. Pass Eff. Car. Yds. YPC Rush TD First 6 games 73 125 781 58.4 4 7 110.2 66 288 4.4 2 Last 7 games 82 139 1044 59.0 13 1 151.5 119 580 4.9 3 2010 Season 155 264 1825 58.7 17 8 132.0 185 868 4.7 5 Scheelhaase was outstanding in Illinois' seven wins during 2010, completing 90-of-130 passes (69.2 percent) for 1,050 yards, 10 TDs and one INT for a 160.92 efficiency rating. He also rushed for 502 yards on 87 carries (5.8 ypc) and two TD in those seven games.
Under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and redshirt-freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, the 2010 Illini broke school records for points in a season (423) and points per game (32.53), narrowly edging out the previous record of 32.50 from the 2001 Illinois squad.
The offense exploded in the second half of the season, averaging 42.1 points and 448.9 total yards over the last seven games. During the first six games, the Illini averaged 21.3 points and 320 yards per game.
In 2010, Illinois ranked third in the nation in red-zone scoring percentage, picking up points on 49 of its 52 trips inside the 20 in 2010 (94 percent). The Illini scored 34 touchdowns and 15 field goals in the red zone. Only Oklahoma State (58-of-61) and Memphis (18-for-19) had better percentages nationally.
Illinois ranked second in the nation in fourth-down conversion percentage in 2010. The Illini converted 9-of-11 (82 percent) fourth-down plays into first downs or touchdowns in 2010, which trailed only LSU (11-of-12, 92 percent).
The Illini return 93 percent their passing production and 66 percent of their scoring from 2010.
Illinois returns three of its four top rushers from the 2010 season, but only 46 percent of is rushing yardage from last year. The trio of Nathan Scheelhaase, Jason Ford and Troy Pollard combined for 1,457 yards, 12 touchdowns and an average of 4.7 yards per carry. They'll team with freshmen Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson to try and fill the shoes of Mikel Leshoure, who passed up his senior season to enter the NFL Draft after rushing for a school-record 1,697 yards in 2010.
Scheelhaase is Illinois' leading returning rusher with 868 yards and 4.7 yards per attempt on 185 carries last year, but senior running back Jason Ford's contribution of 480 yards and seven touchdowns on 99 carries (4.8 ypc) last year can't be overlooked, as he will transition to the role of feature back.
Ford, who enters 2011 ranked 24th on the Illinois career rushing list and is sixth among active Big Ten players with 1,362 yards, appears to be first in line to fill the void left by departed All-American Mikel Leshoure. Ford has racked up 19 touchdowns in his career, including seven in just 99 carries last season - the most by any Big Ten player with less than 100 carries last year - and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry during his time at Illinois.
Senior receiver A.J. Jenkins was Illinois top receiving threat during 2010. He had 56 catches for 746 yards and seven touchdowns, a total that ranks eighth on the UI single-season TD receptions list. His 4.31 receptions per game ranked sixth in the conference. Jenkins enters 2011 with 1,156 career receiving yards and 11 career TDs.
Weak-side tackle Jeff Allen anchors the Illini offensive line once again. The senior has started every game since the fourth game of his freshman season, giving him a team-high 34 consecutive starts. Allen earned second team All-Big Ten honors while helping pave the way for the Big Ten's top rushing offense in 2010.
The Illinois defense made huge improvements in 2010 under first-year defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. In the final NCAA statistical rankings from 2009 and 2010, the Fighting Illini jumped 61 spots in turnover margin, 53 in total defense, 48 in points allowed, 44 in rushing defense, 42 in pass efficiency defense and 39 in passing defense.
ILLINOIS' DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT IN 2010 Category 2009 (N Rank) 2010 (N Rank) Diff. Rushing Defense (ypg) 154.42 (76) 130.8 (32) +44 Total Defense (ypg) 403.3 (91) 351.3 (38) +53 Points Allowed (ppg) 30.2 (96) 23.5 (48) +48 Passing Defense (ypg) 248.83 (100) 220.5 (61) +39 Pass Eff. Defense 142.77 (103) 128.6 (61) +42 Turnover Margin -0.33 (83) 0.62 (22) +61 The defense returns six of its top 10 tacklers in 2011. Linebacker Ian Thomas ranked fourth in 2010 with 67, Trulon Henry was fifth with 64, Justin Green was seventh with 55, Tavon Wilson was eighth with 48, Akeem Spence was ninth with 45 and Michael Buchanan was 10th with 40.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
The Illini special teams return two of three starters from a year ago in kicker Derek Dimke and long snapper Zak Pedersen. Dimke handled all the kickoff, field goal and extra point duties in 2010 and Pedersen proved to be a capable long snapper last season. Lost only to this group was All-Big Ten punter Anthony Santella, who finished the season with an average of 44.8 yards per punt and had 18 punts over 50 yards and 19 downed inside the 20-yard line.
Freshman Justin DuVernois is expected to take over punting duties for Santella this year. He is one of just seven true-freshman punters expected to start on opening weekend.
Santella also served as the holder from 2008-10. Sophomore Tim Russell will replace him this season.
Dimke broke the Illinois single-season scoring record in 2010 with 115 points, but was surpassed by teammate Mikel Leshoure's 122 points, putting Dimke second on the list. Dimke made 24-of-29 field goals (82.8 percent) and 43-of-43 extra points in 2010. His 24 field goals tied the school record held by Chris White (1984) and Mike Bass (1982).
Dimke enters 2011 with 142 career points, needing only 32 to jump into the top 10 list in Illinois history, and 29 career field goals, which ranks eighth in Illinois history.
Dimke's 24 field goals in 2010 included two from over 50 yards, a career-long 52-yarder in the season-opener against Missouri and a 50-yarder at Penn State. His 52-yard field goal against Mizzou tied the sixth-longest field goal in school history and was the longest by an Illini since 2005.
Dimke made 10 straight field goals, the third-longest streak in school history, from Oct. 2-Oct. 23, 2010. The streak ended with a 51-yard miss against Indiana on Oct. 23.
For his career, Dimke has connected on 29-of-34 field goals and is a perfect 55-of-55 on extra points since taking over placekicking duties late during the 2009 season. His career FG accuracy of 85.3 percent is the highest in school history, just ahead of Peter Christofilakos' record of .840 from 1999-02.
Dimke tied for sixth in the nation with 1.85 made field goals per game in 2010. He was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week on Oct. 11 after making 4-of-4 field goals against Penn State, hitting from 50, 31, 41 and 38 yards.
Dimke also excelled on kickoffs last season. He booted 22 touchbacks and had a 62.0 average in 79 kickoffs in 2010. It marked Dimke's third year as the Illini kickoff specialist, as he took over duties midway through his freshman season.
MISCELLANEOUS TEAM NOTES
In only six seasons, Zook-coached teams defeated all 10 teams in the Big Ten at least once (prior to the addition of Nebraska, who the Illini don't play until 2013), including wins over No. 1 Ohio State, No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 19 Penn State in 2007. Purdue, which Illinois didn't play in 2007 and 2008, was the final team the Illini needed to beat and the Orange and Blue crossed them off with a 44-10 win in 2010.
The Illini won at Penn State, 33-13, on Oct. 9, 2010, the first time in school history that Illinois won in State College.
The win at Penn State on Oct. 9 made Zook just the sixth coach ever to defeat both Penn State's Joe Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden on the road. Zook defeated Bowden's Seminoles in 2004 while coaching at Florida. He joins Larry Coker (Miami), Foge Fazio (Pitt), Dennis Erickson (Miami), Tom O'Brien (Boston College) and Howard Schnellenberger (Miami) as the only coaches to defeat the two winningest coaches in college football history on the road. (source Stats, Inc.)
The win at Penn State also made Zook the fourth coach to ever post road victories at Ohio State, at Michigan and at Penn State in a career. Zook joins former Big Ten coaches Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin), Hayden Fry (Iowa) and Glen Mason (Minnesota) on the exclusive list.
SAME FACES, NEW PLACES
Several Illini will take the field in a different position than they did a year ago. Senior Craig Wilson has moved from offensive tackle to defensive tackle, senior Trulon Henry from safety to sam linebacker and senior Ian Thomas from outside linebacker to middle linebacker. Other changes include junior Jack Ramsey from cornerback to safety and redshirt freshman Ean Days from safety to running back.
EARNING THEIR SCHOLARSHIP MONEY
Two former walk-ons were awarded scholarships prior to the 2011 season. Junior tight end Eddie Viliunas, a former walk-on quarterback who played in all 13 games last season as a blocking tight end, and senior defensive tackle Wisdom Onyegbule are both on scholarship after years of hard work. Other former walk-ons that earned scholarships in previous seasons include FB/TE Zach Becker and LS Zak Pedersen.
CHANGE AT THE TOP
Mike Thomas took the reigns as the University of Illinois' 18th director of athletics on Aug. 29, 2011, after spending six years as the director of athletics at the University of Cincinnati. Thomas, 51, led a vibrant and successful Bearcats athletic program from 2005-11, winning five Big East team titles and producing 12 All-Americans in a wide range of sports, while also experiencing unprecedented academic success. The University of Illinois also named a new chancellor over the summer, as Phyllis Wise is set to take over on Oct. 1.
ILLINOIS ALL-DECADE TEAM (2000-10)
The squad honors Illini who played between 2000-10. It was compiled by a combination of fan voting and input from Division of Intercollegiate Athletics staff. Click HERE for the full All-Decade Team.
FIGHTING ILLINI INSIDER FEATURING RON ZOOK
Fighting Illini Insider, a 30-minute weekly television show produced by the University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA) premiered on Tuesday, August 23, on local outlets throughout Illinois and nationally on the Big Ten Network. Illini Productions will produce 37 shows covering primarily football in the fall, men's and women's basketball starting in early December, and spring sports through the end of May.
Illinois radio voice Brian Barnhart will host the majority of the fall shows, which will include game highlights, in-studio interviews with Illini head coaches, special features and Olympic sports reviews in a 30-minute magazine style format. Many individual segments will be archived at fightingillini.com.
The coaching staff designates different team captains for each game week throughout the season. Here is a list of this year's game captains:
ARKANSAS STATE: OL Jeff Allen, OL Jack Cornell, DB Trulon Henry, DB Tavon Wilson