Game 2 Notes: Illinois vs. Western Kentucky

Sept. 1, 2014

GAME 2: Illinois (1-0) vs. Western Kentucky (1-0)
WhenSaturday, Sept. 6, 2014 | 11 am CT
WhereMemorial Stadium (60,670), Champaign, Ill. | Seating Map | Weather
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Beckman Press Conference: Video | Quotes

Monday Interviews: OC Cubit | DC Banks | QB Lunt | DT Teitsma | DB Petty

• After a season-opening 28-17 victory over Youngstown State, the Fighting Illini will look to improve to 2-0 for the second-straight season when Western Kentucky comes to Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6 (11 a.m. CT on BTN).

• In the win over YSU, sophomore quarterback Wes Lunt turned in the best Illini quarterback debut in terms of passing yards (285) and touchdowns (4) in school history. His first three TD passes put the Illini back in front, while his final one sealed the 28-17 victory.

• After a slow start, Lunt shined in the fourth quarter, going 9-of-11 for 155 yards and three touchdowns (290.2 efficiency rating) to notch his first fourth-quarter comeback win with the Fighting Illini.

• Newcomers to the Illini receiving corps - Geronimo Allison, Mike Dudek, and Malik Turner - accounted for nine receptions, 146 yards and a touchdown in their debuts on Saturday, 51.2 percent of Lunt's 285 passing yards.

• Junior defensive back/kick returner V'Angelo Bentley set up the first Fighting Illini touchdown against YSU with a 67-yard kickoff return. Bentley returned two kicks for 87 yards on the day, giving him a 43.5-yard average that ranks third in FBS after the opening weekend of games.

• Butkus Award candidate Mason Monheim racked up 14 tackles to lead the Illini defense against YSU, just one shy of his career high. Monheim and the Illini defense held the Penguins to only 3.4 yards per rush, a 46-percent completion rate and just one touchdown in four red zone trips.

• Illinois now has a streak of 17 consecutive home-opening wins, the fourth-longest streak in the Big Ten behind Ohio State (35), Nebraska (29) and Wisconsin (18). Illinois is 87-33-5 all-time in home-openers. Head coach Tim Beckman is now 3-0 in home openers as head coach at Illinois.

• The Illini have an all-time record of 78-42-5 in season-openers and are 55-27-4 when opening the season at home. The Illini have won their last nine season-openers at Memorial Stadium dating back to 1997.

• Illinois has streaks of 62 games and 178 attempts without missing a PAT kick, which both rank as the third-longest active streaks in the nation. The Illini's last missed PAT kick was on Sept. 5, 2009, against Missouri.

• Illinois had 10 players make their Illini debuts on Saturday: two true-freshmen (Mike Dudek, Malik Turner), one sophomore (Michael Martin) and seven transfers (Geronimo Allison, Clayton Fejedelem, Joe Fotu, Dallas Hinkhouse, Wes Lunt, Carroll Phillips, Jihad Ward).

• Six players got their first career starts for the Fighting Illini in the season-opener: WR Geronimo Allison, OL Patrick Flavin, QB Wes Lunt, LB T.J. Neal Jr., DL Jihad Ward and LEO DeJazz Woods.

• Nineteen (19) former Illini will be on NFL opening-day rosters, the seventh-most among the 14 Big Ten teams.

• Saturday's game will be the first meeting between Illinois and Western Kentucky on the gridiron. The Hilltoppers are in just their sixth season at the FBS level and moved from the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA beginning with the 2014-15 academic year.

• Three members of the WKU coaching staff have Illinois connections, beginning with head coach Jeff Brohm. Brohm was Illinois' quarterbacks coach during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, including serving as offensive coordinator in the Illini's 20-13 win in the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Brohm was WKU's offensive coordinator under Bobby Petrino in 2013 before being elevated to head coach when Petrino took the head job at Louisville in the offseason. Mike Cassity - who served as Ron Turner's defensive coordinator from 2001-03 - is WKU's secondary coach and Greg Nord - who was hired at Illinois along with Brohm in December 2009 but took a position at Louisville prior to the 2010 season - is WKU's running backs and special teams coach.

• This marks the second-straight week that Illinois has faced a team whose head coach is a former Illini assistant. Former UI offensive line coach Eric Wolford is currently the head coach at Youngstown State.

• Sophomore quarterback Wes Lunt recorded the best debut by an Illini signal-caller in school history, completing 24-of-38 passes for 285 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. His 285 yards out-pace the 257 that Eddie McGee threw for against Missouri in 2007 after entering in relief of an injured Juice Williams, which was the previous high-water mark for an Illini QB's debut. See how Lunt's first start for the Illini compares to some of the program's all-time great quarterbacks' first start at UI (list sorted by passing yards):

Notable Illini QB Debuts
Wes LuntYoungstown St.8/30/2014243828540160.8
Kurt KittnerIowa9/26/199813332450289.6
Jack TrudeauMissouri9/10/1983244022121117.9
Tony EasonPittsburgh9/5/1981233720400108.5
Juice WilliamsIowa9/23/20069321611362.0
Jeff GeorgeWashington St.9/3/198819311430193.6
Nathan ScheelhaaseMissouri9/4/2010923811357.0
Dave WilsonNorthwestern9/6/1980518570143.3

• Lunt's first career touchdown pass as an Illini was an eight-yard reception to senior TE Jon Davis to give Illinois a 7-3 lead in the second quarter. He added another eight-yard TD pass to freshman WR Mike Dudek for a 14-9 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, followed by a 15-yard TD pass to junior RB Josh Ferguson for a 21-17 advantage. The final score came on a 29-yard TD pass to senior WR Martize Barr.

• Lunt was named the starter on Aug. 21, beating out senior Reilly O'Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey in an offseason competition to replace four-year starter and UI all-time total offense record holder Nathan Scheelhaase.

• Lunt started five games at Oklahoma State in 2012 before transferring to Illinois during the summer of 2013 and redshirting last season. He completed 81-of-131 passes (61.8 percent) for 1,108 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions in six games at OSU.

• Junior cornerback/kick returner V'Angelo Bentley showed why he's a preseason candidate for the Paul Hornung Award, which goes to the most versatile player in major college football. Bentley averaged 43.5 yards on two kick returns against Youngstown State, including a 67-yard return in the second quarter to setup the first Illini score. He also added seven tackles and a PBU on defense to help hold YSU to just 17 points.

• Bentley was one of the top return men in the country in 2013, leading the Big Ten in punt return average (15.8 ypr) and becoming the first Illini ever to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in one season. He had a 100-yard kickoff return against Southern Illinois and a 67-yard punt return against Ohio State.

• Junior running back Josh Ferguson tied for the team lead with four receptions for 37 yards against Youngstown State, including an 15-yard TD pass from Wes Lunt to give the Illini a fourth-quarter lead. A preseason Doak Walker Award candidate, Ferguson also led Illinois with 42 rushing yards on 11 carries in the season-opening win.

• Ferguson had a breakout year on the ground in 2013, rushing for a team-high 779 yards and seven touchdowns, but he might have been more dangerous catching passes out of the backfield. He caught 50 passes for 535 yards, the second-most by a running back in the nation, and added four more TDs through the air last season. His 112.6 all-purpose yards per game ranked ninth in the Big Ten.

• Ferguson ranks second on Illinois' career receiving yardage list for a running back. He has 837 career receiving yards, which trails only Ty Douthard's 1,250 yards from 1993-96.

• In 2013, Ferguson broke Kameno Bell's Illinois record for single-season receiving yards by a running back. His 535 receiving yards surpassed Bell's total of 503 yards from 1991.

The coaching staff designates different team captains for each game week throughout the season. Here is a list of this year's game captains:

YOUNGSTOWN STATE - OL Ted Karras, LB Mason Monheim, QB Reilly O'Toole, DL Austin Teitsma

• Illinois faces a formidable schedule in 2014, with four opponents ranked in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 - and all four of those games coming on the road and in the first eight weeks of the season. Illinois travels to No. 25 Washington on Sept. 13 as the return game for last year's meeting at Soldier Field in Chicago, visits No. 22 Nebraska on Sept. 27 for the Huskers' Homecoming game under the lights, travels to No. 14 Wisconsin on Oct. 11 and heads to No. 5 Ohio State for a prime-time meeting with the Buckeyes on Nov. 1. Michigan and Rutgers are the only other Big Ten teams to face more than two preseason Top-25 teams on the road, as they each visit three ranked opponents.

• Based on opponent winning percentage from 2013, the Fighting Illini's schedule ranks second in the Big Ten and No. 21 nationally. Illinois' foes combined for a 59.6 winning percentage (90-61) last season, with all four non-conference opponents winning at least six games. Only Rutgers' 62.6 opponent winning percentage (97-58), which ties for ninth-toughest in the nation, is stronger among Big Ten teams.

Illinois boasts one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country, ranking fifth in the Big Ten and No. 23 in FBS in career O-line starts returning with 96 entering the season. Michael Heitz, who started the opener at left guard, is a four-year starter with 32 career starts under his belt, and left tackle Simon Cvijanovic has 27. Right guard Ted Karras has 23 career starts and center Alex Hill has 16. Sophomore center/guard Joe Spencer also has two career starts. According to Phil Steele's preseason magazine, Indiana (130), Minnesota (129), Northwestern (100) and Rutgers (99) are the only Big Ten teams to enter 2014 with more returning offensive line starts than Illinois.

Junior offensive lineman Ted Karras started at right guard against Youngstown State, marking the third-straight season-opener he has started. If that name seems familiar, that's because it's familial. Karras is the seventh member of his family to play football in the Big Ten, including his great-uncle, Alex, who was a four-time Pro Bowler before starting an acting career that resulted in a starring role in the 1980s sitcom "Webster." In addition, his grandfather, Ted, played at Indiana; his father, Ted Jr. - now the coach at Division II Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio - played at Northwestern; his great-uncle, Paul, played at Iowa; his great-uncle, Lou, played at Purdue; and his uncle, Tony, played at Northwestern.

Transfer U
• For the second-straight season, Illinois welcomes six junior college transfers to the roster. In 2014, WR Geronimo Allison, WR Raphael Barr, DL Joe Fotu, LEO Carroll Phillips, WR Tyrin Stone-Davis and DL Jihad Ward all will look to make an immedate impact. Allison, Fotu and Ward all started the opener against Youngstown State, while Phillips saw significant time, including making his first career sack. That sextet will try to follow in the footsteps of six JC transfers who made a big impact in 2013 - WR Martize Barr, DL Abe Cajuste, STAR Eric Finney, TE Dallas Hinkhouse TE Trevor Kanteman and DB Zane Petty. All but Hinkhouse and Kanteman, who both redshirted, contributed on the field last season.

• In addition to the junior college transfers, three traditional transfers could see the field this season after sitting out 2013 due to NCAA rules. Starting QB Wes Lunt, who came to Illinois after starting as a true-freshman at Oklahoma State, is the most notable, but transfers DB Clayton Fejedelem (St. Xavier University) and WR Zach Grant (St. Ambrose University/Northern Illinois University) also could contribute in 2014.

• Like many Illini teams over the years, the 2014 Illini defense will be led by the linebacking corps of senior STAR Earnest Thomas III, junior Mason Monheim, a 2014 Butkus Award candidate, and sophomore T.J. Neal Jr., a potential breakout player in 2014. The trio combined for 27 tackles, 2.0 TFLs, one sack and one PBU in the season-opening win over Youngstown State.

• Thomas was Illinois' leading returning tackler from 2013, as he made 101 stops last season as a safety. This year, he moves closer to the line of scrimmage as a STAR, a linebacker/safety hybrid. Monheim has piled up 197 tackles, 12.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks in his first two-plus seasons. He earned second-team freshman All-America honors in 2012 after becoming the first true-freshman ever to lead the Illini in tackles.

• Illinois' history at the linebacker position is up there with any program in the nation. It begins with the greatest linebacker in football history, Dick Butkus, who was a two-time All-American and led the Fighting Illini to a 1964 Rose Bowl win over Washington. The Orange and Blue boast two Butkus Award winners, Dana Howard in 1994 and Kevin Hardy in 1995, and several other first-team All-Americans like Darrick Brownlow (1990), Simeon Rice (1994 & `95) and J Leman (2007).

Two Fighting Illini players switched positions heading in 2014, as senior Earnest Thomas III moved from safety to STAR - Illinois' hybrid linebacker/safety position - and senior defensive tackle Jake Howe started working as a fullback.

» Thomas had six tackles, a career-high two TFLs and a sack against Youngstown in his first game as a STAR. He was Illinois' leading returning tackler aftering making 101 stops and ranking seventh in the Big Ten in tackles per game (8.4) in 2013. The position switch allows the Illini to move him closer to the line of scrimmage and take advantage of his run-stopping strengths.

 » Howe, who was recruited to play fullback before being switched to defensive tackle his freshman year, is practicing both as a fullback and defensive tackle. The 305-pound native of McHenry, Illinois, could prove a capable blocker out of the backfield or an important factor in short-yardage situations. Howe started six games at defensive tackle in 2013 and totaled 13 tackles on the season. He saw his first action at FB in the 2014 season-opening win over Youngstown State.

New Look for the Fighting Illini
Illinois athletics completed a large-scale, 18-month brand evaluation program with Nike in 2014. The collaboration began in January 2013 and resulted in an updated brand and identity system starting in 2014-15, including logos, marks, uniforms, equipment, lettering, numerals and consistent colors for all 19 Fighting Illini sports, including football, and the Division of Intercollegiate as a whole. The rebranding was unveiled on April 16, 2014, at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Get a look at the new Fighting Illini identity here:

Thanks to the Nike rebranding process, the Fighting Illini have all new uniforms for 2014. Illinois wore white helmets for the first time in school history in the season-opener against Youngstown State, going with a white-orange-white combination of helmet, jersey and pants. Below is a chart of what uniform combination the Illini wore in each game this season along with their record in that combination:

Illini Uniform Combos
OpponentResultHelmetJerseyPantsRec in Combo
Youngstown StateW, 28-17WhiteOrangeWhite1-0

• Illinois has 19 former players in 2014 NFL rosters (as of Sept. 1), the seventh-most among the 14 Big Ten schools.

• A total of 26 former Fighting Illini were on active NFL rosters in 2013, tied for second-most amoung Big Ten teams behind only Ohio State (31). The 26 former Illini players was tied with Iowa and ahead of Penn State (25), Wisconsin (25), Michgan (23) and Nebraska (23) among others.

• Sixteen Illini have been drafted since 2010, including 10 in the first three rounds (most in the Big Ten).

• Despite not having a first-rounder in either of the last two years, Illinois has had five first-round draft picks since 2008, which is the second-most among Big Ten teams (Ohio State has six).

Complete Illinois-Western Kentucky Game Notes (PDF)