Game 2 Notes: Illinois vs. Western Kentucky
Sept. 1, 2014
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).
Nineteen (19) former Illini will be on NFL opening-day rosters, the seventh-most among the 14 Big Ten teams.
WESTERN KENTUCKY SERIES NOTES
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.
LUNT'S DEBUT ONE FOR THE AGES
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.
BENTLEY PICKING UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF
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.
FERGUSON A DUAL THREAT
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.
TOUGH SLATE AWAITS ILLINI IN 2014
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.
O-LINE BRIMMING WITH EXPERIENCE
KARRAS CONTINUES FAMILY'S B1G LEGACY
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.
LINEBACKER U, IT'S NOT WHERE YOU THINK IT IS
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).
PAIR OF ILLINI CHANGE POSITIONS
» 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
ALL OVER THE NFL
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).