Illinois Visits San Diego State

Greg Lewis and the Illini visit San Diego State Saturday.
Greg Lewis and the Illini visit San Diego State Saturday.

Sept. 3, 2000

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No. 21 ILLINOIS (1-0) at SAN DIEGO STATE (0-1)
Sept. 9, 2000
7 p.m. PT/9 p.m. CT * espn2
Qualcomm Stadium (71,400)
San Diego, California

San Diego State enters the Illinois game with an 0-1 record after dropping a tough 10-7 decision to Arizona State Thursday, Aug. 31, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Illinois is making its second appearance against the Aztecs after defeating SDSU, 38-10, last year in Champaign. It will be the second Illini appearance in San Diego after Illinois lost 27-17 to Hawaii in the 1992 Holiday Bowl.

Against the Sun Devils, San Diego State had more first downs, more passing yards and more total yards, but came up three points short on the scoreboard. Senior quarterback Jack Hawley completed 24 of 57 passes for 219 yards with one interception and one touchdown. Junior running back James Truvillion was the only Aztec other than Hawley to get a rushing attempt, carrying the ball 19 times for 73 yards. Hawley added 27 yards on nine carries, but was sacked once for minus-five yards. Sophomore J.R. Tolver led the Aztec receiving corps with seven catches for 77 yards, as Hawley completed passes to eight different receivers. Field-goal kicking severely hampered San Diego State as Nate Tandberg missed both attempts (from 37 and 47 yards), including an attempt from 47 yards with :08 remaining on the clock in the fourth quarter that would have tied the score.

Defensively, coordinator Ken Delgado had to replace nine starters from last year, but held the Sun Devils to 270 yards in total offense, including just 110 net yards rushing. Junior strong safety Will Demps led the Aztecs with 13 tackles, including three tackles-for-loss. Senior defensive end Akbar Baja-Gbiamila added 11 tackles, including two TFLs and one quarterback sack. Last year in Champaign, quarterback Kurt Kittner completd 16 of 25 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Illini to a 38-10 victory. Illinois rushed for 177 yards on the day, led by Steve Havard's 98 yards and two touchdowns. Rocky Harvey rushed 14 times for 38 yards. Greg Lewis hauled in a 54-yard pass from Kittner for one touchdown, while tight end Josh Whitman caught a 5-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter. The Illinois defense forced 10 Aztec punts and held SDSU to 110 yards rushing and 179 yards passing on the day.


RON TURNER - In his fourth year at the helm of the Fighting Illini Football program, head coach Ron Turner has Illinois geared toward one of the greatest turnarounds in college football. After sub-par seasons in 1997 and ?98, Turner led the Illini to an 8-4 record and a 63-21 thumping of Virginia in the Bowl. For his efforts, Turner finished fourth in the Associated Press's Coach of the Year voting. Under Turner, the Illini made the largest jump in college football last year, jumping 76 spots in the Sagarin ratings for a 15th-place ranking in '99 (91st in '98). He enters the season with an 19-27 head coaching record, 12-23 at Illinois. Turner came to Illinois after a four-year stint as the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears (1993-96). In 1992, he was the head coach for San Jose State where he turned in a 7-4 record and a second-place finish in the Big West Conference. Turner has served as an assistant at Stanford, Texas A&M, Southern California, Pittsburgh, Northwestern and Arizona working mainly with quarterbacks and receivers during his 20-plus years in college coaching. Turner is 1-0 against San Diego State as a head coach after a 38-10 win over the Aztecs in 1999.

TED TOLLNER - Tollner is in his seventh year at the helm of the Aztec football program and enters Saturday's game with a 38-33 record at SDSU, 64-52 overall. He led his Aztec squad to a Las Vegas Bowl appearance in 1998. Prior to his time in San Diego, Tollner served as head coach at USC for four seasons in 1983-86. Turner served as an assistant under Tollner during that time in 1985-87. In addition to Turner, Tollner's assistants at USC included Norv Turner (Washington Redskins head coach), Steve Mariucci (San Francisco 49ers head coach), and Dave Wannstedt (Miami Dolphins assistant coach). Illinois' quarterbacks coach Craig Ver Steeg was also on that USC staff in 1985-86, serving as a graduate assistant. Tollner's record against Illinois while at USC and SDSU is 2-1 with wins over Illinois at Southern Cal in 1985 and 1986 and the loss coming in 1999.

San Diego State head coach Ted Tollner and Illinois head man Ron Turner have paced the same sidelines before. Tollner hired Turner as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Southern California for Tollner's final two seasons at USC in 1985 and 1986. The Trojans went 6-6 and 7-5 in those two seasons before Tollner went to the NFL as an assistant coach for several years. San Diego State defensive coordinator Ken Delgado was Ron Turner's defensive line coach for one year in 1992 at San Jose State. Illinois quarterback coach Craig Ver Steeg also was a graduate assistant on Tollner's staff at Southern California from 1984-86.

The 469 yards in total offense gained by Middle Tennessee were the most ever gained against Illinois when the Illini did not allow a touchdown. Only Louisville (578 yards) has been able to run up more total offense against the Illini since the beginning of the 1999 season. Ironically, Illinois won both of the games.

Two players on the Illinois roster hail from the state of California, senior cornerback Trayvon Waller and true-freshman Duke Preston III, both from the Southern California region. Waller grew up in Los Angeles, Calif., and played football at Pacific Palasides High School and El Camino Community College. Waller attended the same junior college as Flynn Turner, a junior kicker on the SDSU roster. Sophomore defensive back Ricky Sharpe attended Mt. Carmel High School in San Diego, which is home to Preston.

The Illini entered the 2000 season with a Top-25 national ranking by both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll for the first time since prior to the 1995 season when they were rated No. 24. The Illini finished the 1999 season ranked 24th by the AP and 25th in the Coaches Top-25. Here is a look at the Illini week-by-week in 2000:

WeekAPCoachesNo. 1Big Ten Teams
Aug. 2921st20thNebraska6
Sept. 321st21stNebraska6

No one can deny the impact quarterback Kurt Kittner made on the Illini in '99 with his 2,702 yards passing, school record 24 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. After his 185-yard three touchdown performance vs. Middle Tennessee, Kittner is on-track to continue his productivity of a year ago. He connected with six different receivers last week (11 different receivers in 1999), including three touchdown passes to sophomore flanker Greg Lewis. The stellar numbers also have earned him recognition as a All-America, Heisman Trophy and Davey O'Brien Award candidate.

Junior Rocky Harvey and sophomore Antoineo Harris each posted 100-yard rushing games against Middle Tennessee in the season opener proving that together they are one of the premier running back duos in college football. Combine the numbers of the the tandem, 240 yards, (128 yards for Harris and 112 for Harvey) and they would be ranked No. 1 in the nation, according to this week's NCAA stats. The double 100-yard rushing game for Harvey and Harris also marked the first time since 1998 against Middle Tennessee that two Illini running backs have posted 100-plus yards in a single game. Although the Illini's equal use of two tailbacks the past two years has kept the Illinois running backs from posting individual 1,000-yard seasons (last time 1997 Robert Holcombe, 1,253), the running game is more prosperous than ever. The 2,082 yards rushing by the Illini team in 1999 is the most since 1978 when the squad ran for 2,186 yards. This year's two-headed tailbacks, Harvey, the elusive, speedy back, and Harris, the strong, power back look to pick up where Harvey and Steve Havard left off last season. The two-tailback combo of Harvey and Havard rushed for 1,564 yards in 1999 which combined ranked third in the Big Ten. Harvey is also looking to break into the Illinois top-10 career yardage list. He is currently 17th with 1,520 yards and needs 331 for 10th.

In the Illini season opener against Middle Tennessee, junior punter/placekicker Steve Fitts became the first player to handle both the responsibilities of punting and extra point/field goal kicking since Ken Miller in 1953. In his debut, Fitts was a perfect 5-of-5 on extra point attempts and averaged 44 yards per punt on three attempts, including a 50-yarder. Fitts holds the Illinois all-time career punting average mark and is listed eighth on the career list for punts and punting yardage. For his performances as a sophomore, Fitts earned All-Big Ten honors. Fitts has been named a Ray Guy Award candidate. The Ray Guy award is given to the top collegiate punter in the nation.

The starting Fighting Illini offensive line coached by Harry Hiestand is the largest in school history at a total of 1,540 pounds, or an average of 308 per player across the front line from tackle-to-tackle. The average of 308 pounds per player is larger than the starting offensive lines on 11 NFL teams, including last year's Super Bowl teams St. Louis and Tennessee. The five starting offensive line group (from left tackle to right tackle) of Marques Sullivan (6-5, 320), Jay Kluga (6-5, 306), Luke Butkus (6-4, 287), Ray Redziniak (6-5, 297) and Tony Pashos (6-6, 330) average 6-foot-4.6-inches and 308 pounds per man.

Total pounds of starting offensive line since 1990
2000 - 1,540 (308 avg.)
1999 - 1,505 (301)
1998 - 1,519 (303.8)
1997 - 1,511 (302.2)
1996 - 1,486 (297.2)
1995 - 1,480 (296)
1994 - 1,471 (294.2)
1993 - 1,458 (291.6)
1992 - 1,486 (297.2)
1991 - 1,428 (285.6)
1990 - 1,419 (283.8)

Junior walk-on Neil Adams (6-3, 245) from Naperville, Ill. has taken over kickoff duties and had the ardurous task of matching Neil Rackers' 1999 numbers of 46 touchbacks in 77 tries. In his first game, Adams totaled six kickoffs, two for touchback. His average depth was the 2 yardline and the average starting drive was the 23 yardline. Adams is a former all-state soccer player for Naperville Central HS in Naperville, Ill., earning Player of the Year honors from the Naperville Sun in 1997.

Don't be too surprised when you're seeing double in the Illini secondary. The brother safety duo of Marc and Bobby Jackson are prominent fixtures in the defensive backfield. Bobby, a junior, sat out last season with a torn ACL, while his younger brother, Marc, got experience as a true-freshman. To make things even more of a family affair Robert Jackson, the duo's father, serves as the team's wide receivers coach. With the injury to Brandon Lloyd during the offseason, the wide-receiver spots are up for grabs. Slated to start at the two receiving positions are cousins, Greg Lewis and Walter Young. Another pair of brothers are members of the Illinois squad. Brian Hodges is a junior tight end and his brother Aaron is an offensive guard who redshirted during the 1999 season.

This fall, senior offensive tackle Marques Sullivan became the first Illini player in five years to earn the prestigious honor of preseason All-American by Playboy magazine. Athletes selected to the team traveled to the Playboy ranch in Arizona in May and will be honored in the football preview issue of Playboy on shelves this month. The last time an Illinois player earned these honors were by linebackers Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy in 1995. In the season opener against Middle Tennessee, Sullivan made his 35th consecutive start and lead a veteran offensive line which helped compile 475 total offensive yards.

Senior linebacker Michael Young has been named to the preliminary list of candidates for the Butkus Award, which honors the nation's top collegiate linebacker. He made his first appearance on the list and is one of 10 players selected from the Big Ten Conference. The watch list will be trimmed to 10 semi-finalists on Oct. 19 and the three finalists will be announced on a national teleconference on Nov. 9. The winner will be announced Friday, Dec. 8 at the Hard Rock Live in Universal Studios.

Junior safety Muhammad Abdullah was named among 40 players as a candidate for the 2000 Thorpe Award which honors the nation's top collegiate defensive back. Abdullah, the two-year starter, is one of only four Big Ten players selected to the list. Abdullah, who is an All-Big Ten candidate, made his first appearance on the list. He led the team in interceptions with five picks and 52 return yards in 1999. His defensive efforts, which also included recovering four fumbles, helped lead the Illini to a No. 2 national ranking in turnover margin. With his interception, Abdullah led the Illini in total tackles in the 63-21 win over Virginia in the Bowl. Finalists will be invited to ESPN's College Football Award Show at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Where the winner will be announced Dec. 7. In his first game of 2000, Abdullah tallied six tackles, including four solo.

After a stellar true-freshman season in which he averaged 17 yards per reception, sophomore wide receiver Brandon Lloyd suffered a broken femur in the offseason and will miss the entire 2000 campaign. Lloyd ranked third on the team in 1999 with 30 catches for 511 yards and was the leading receiver returning. Lloyd also played a key role on special teams, returning both kicks and punts in 1999 averaging 38 yards per return. He also threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Kurt Kittner in the Bowl and ran the ball twice for 35 yards.

Due to the long-running tradition of the Fighting Illini spirit in Champaign-Urbana on Fridays during the school year, the mayors of Champaign and Urbana, Gerald J. Schweighart and Tod Satterhwaite, have proclaimed every Friday from Sept. 1, 2000-May 11, 2001 as "Illini Fridays." The proclamation encourages of all area business to wear Orange and Blue on Fridays, for each area middle and high school music departments perform during Friday lunch hours, and to promote the overall pride of Illinois athletics and academics. The proclamation was signed and passed on Aug. 29, 2000.