Game 2: Western Illinois (1-0) at Illinois (0-1)

Rashard Mendenhall will make the second start of his career Saturday night against Western Illinois.
Rashard Mendenhall will make the second start of his career Saturday night against Western Illinois.

Sept. 4, 2007

Tuesday Multimedia:
Head Coach Ron Zook
at Media Luncheon
Complete Multimedia Listings:


  • Illinois is 79-33-5 all-time in home openers and has won its last nine, dating back to the 1998 season.
  • The Illini are 6-0 vs. teams from the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. The Illini have twice defeated Southern Illinois (1985, 1990), and are 1-0 vs. Middle Tennessee (1998), Illinois State (2003), Florida A&M (2004), and Eastern Illinois (2006).
  • Western Illinois is ranked No. 23 in the Football Championship Subdivision national rankings.
  • It is no surprise to see Illinois linebacker J Leman among the nation's best tacklers. With his 20-tackle performance against Missouri, he is ranked No. 1 in the nation in tackles per game. As the obvious Big Ten leader, Leman is nine tackle per game ahead of any of his competition. It is also his second straight 20-tackle game, after recording 22 in the season finale against Northwestern last year.
  • Illinois looks to defend its Big Ten rushing title from a year ago as the Illini return over 50 percent of their rushing attack. Despite losing leading rusher Pierre Thomas (69.2 ypg), the team's second and third rushers in tailback Rashard Mendenhall (53.3 ypg) and quarterback Juice Williams (48.0 ypg) are back. Mendenhall ranked 10th in the Big Ten in individual rushing last year and led the conference with an 8.2 yards per carry average. Williams broke the school records for rushing by a quarterback, setting marks for a career (576); season (576) and single game (145). In addition to Mendenhall, in game one vs. Missouri, junior college transfer Daniel Dufrene proved to be a valuable addition to the running game with 58 yards on six carries (9.7 ypc).
  • Mendenhall needs 109 rushing yards to break the career 1,000 yard mark. In three seasons he has accumulated 891 yards on the ground on just 137 carries, for a 6.5 career yard per carry average. The highest yard per carry average of Illinois' all-time rushers belongs to Pierre Thomas, who posted 5.6 ypc from 2003-06.
  • Although the Illini did lead the Big Ten in rushing in 2006, through one game in 2007 it is the passing game that is tops in the Big Ten. Against Missouri, the Illini passed for 316 yards combining the quarterback numbers of Juice Williams (59) and Eddie McGee (257). It was the first 300-yard passing performance for an Illini team since the squad put up 430 yards on California on Sept. 20, 2003.
  • With two forced fumbles on Saturday vs. Missouri, Illinois senior safety Justin Sanders now leads the Big Ten. They were the first and second of his career. Both turnovers resulted in Illinois touchdowns by the offense.
  • Last season, Illinois' played the 40th toughest schedule according to the final Sagarin ratings. This season doesn't offer any relief as the Illini prepare for seven teams on the schedule that went to a bowl game in 2006. Also among those are three teams ranked in the preseason top-10 in No. 5 Michigan, No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 10 Ohio State, as well as No. 18 Penn State.


  • Sept. 8 marks the first meeting between the University of Illinois and Western Illinois University.
  • Western Illinois head coach Don Patterson is no stranger to the Big Ten Conference. For 20 years, he served as an assistant coach on Hayden Fry's University of Iowa staff, including seven years as the offensive coordinator.
  • Saturday's game will only mark the third time in Western Illinois' history that the Leathernecks have played a Big Ten school. The first two meetings were with Wisconsin in 1991 (L, 13-31) and in 2006 (L, 10-34). On the flipside, the Illini have played Illinois State twice in 1944 (W, 79-6) and in 2003 (W, 49-22) and Southern Illinois twice in 1985 (W, 28-25) and in 1990 (W, 56-21)



  • Senior linebacker J Leman -- Butkus Award; Lombardi Award; Bronko Nagurski Award; Lott Award
  • Senior placekicker Jason Reda -- Lou Groza Award
  • Junior running back Rashard Mendenhall -- Doak Walker Award
  • Junior center Ryan McDonald -- Rimington Award
  • Sophomore quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams -- Manning Award
  • Sophomore tight end Jeff Cumberland -- Mackey Award


  • Senior kicker Jason Reda currently stands ninth on the Illinois career scoring list, needing eight points to pass Red Grange. Reda needs 84 points this season to become the career scoring leader.
  • Reda also is sixth on the career field goals list, needing just five field goals to move into fourth place. He would need 19 FGs to become the career field goal record holder.
  • Senior defensive tackle Chris Norwell needs just four more starts to set the Illinois record for most games started by a defensive lineman.
  • Senior linebacker J Leman needs 47 tackles to move into 10th place on the Illini career tackles list.


  • At the time the 2006 Butkus Award Watch list was released, Illini linebacker J Leman was an unknown name to most people outside of the Illinois fan base, but he entered the 2007 season as one of the top returning linebackers in the country.
  • Leman picked up right where he left off last season with his 20-tackle performance against Missouri in the season opener. It marks the second-straight 20-plus tackle effort (after 22 in the season finale of 2006 vs. Northwestern). Currently he leads the NCAA and Big Ten in tackles per contest.
  • Last season, Leman jumped onto the national scene with dominant games against Michigan State, Wisconsin and then-No. 1 Ohio State. He earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after totaling 19 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss against the top-ranked Buckeyes. He followed up that performance with 22 tackles and 2.5 TFL in the season finale at Northwestern.
  • Leman led the Big Ten with 12.7 tackles per game and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. He was also named to the Sports Illustrated All-American team as an honorable mention and is one of only eight returning linebackers in the nation to earn all-star honors.


  • The Illini once again have a double threat at running back. The team's returning leading rusher from a year ago, Rashard Mendenhall, returned this season with the conference's best yard per carry average at 8.2. However, through one game, both Mendenhall and junior college transfer sophomore Daniel Dufrene look to share the duties. Dufrene opened his career at Illinois with 58 yards rushing on just six carries for a 9.7 yard per rush average.
  • For years, the Illinois running game has consisted of the multiple tailback philosophy. Dating back to 1998 (and with the exception of the 2002 season), two or more running backs have split time in the backfield. The following is a list of Illinois' tailback tandems over the years:


  • The Illini opened the season with a disappointing 40-34 loss to Missouri, in St. Louis at the State Farm Arch Rivalry. With starting quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams knocked out of the game in the second quarter, back up redshirt-freshman Eddie McGee engineered a comeback that put Illinois in position to win the game on the final drive. Illinois' five turnovers were the difference in the game, which saw the Illini offense outgain Missouri's nationally ranked offense, 435-429. The squad also beat out the Tigers on yards per play, 5.9-4.9, yards per rush, 3.5-2.1 and yards per completition, 13.7-9.7. With 58 seconds remaining in the game, Missouri safey Cornelious Brown intercepted an McGee pass in the endzone to seasl the Tiger victory.
  • The Illini were down as much as 24 points in the game at 37-13 in the third quarter, after an Illinois fumble in the endzone resulted in a 100-yard Missouri return for a touchdown. However, Illinois never quit, scoring three touchdowns in four possessions in the second half, two of which were set up by forced turnovers by the Illini defense. The squad scored 28 points in the second half to mount their would-be comeback.
  • The Illini got on the board first with a blocked punt return for a touchdown by Vontae Davis, from there Missouri took a 23-6 halftime lead. When the two teams returned from the break, the Illini used their first drive to march down field for a 25-yard Rashard Mendenhall run. The Tigers responded with a score of their own and then returned a punt on the ensuing drive 66-yards for a 37-13 lead. Three straight scores got the Illini back in the game at 37-24. But a Missouri field goal made the final score, 40-34.


Through one game of the 2007 season, Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall ranks 11th on the list of active running backs in the Big Ten. As the team's leading returning rusher, Mendenhall looks to rise up that list.

  1. Mike Hart, Sr., Michigan - 3,867 yards
  2. Tyrell Sutton, Jr., Northwestern - 2,582 yards
  3. Albert Young, Sr., Iowa - 2,349 yards
  4. Amir Pinnix, Sr., Minnesota - 2,044 yards
  5. Jehuu Caulcrick, Sr., Michigan State - 1,686 yards
  6. P.J. Hill, So., Wisconsin - 1,653 yards
  7. Kory Sheets, Sr., Purdue - 1,404 yards
  8. Javon Ringer, Jr., Michigan State - 1,394 yards
  9. Damian Sims, Sr., Iowa - 1,115 yards
  10. Austin Scott, Sr., Penn State - 1,067 yards

-- Rashard Mendenhall, Jr., Illinois - 891 yards

Kyle Hudson scored on this 41-yard touchdown pass last Saturday vs. Missouri.


Junior receiver Kyle Hudson is in his third year of pulling double-duty as a starting wide receiver on the football team and starting centerfielder on the Illini baseball team. Hudson led the Illini in receptions last year with 30 and in receiving yards each of his first two seasons. In two seasons, he has accumulated 872 receiving yards. On the diamond, he has started 87 of 88 games in two seasons. He led the team in hitting as a freshman and was second as a sophomore. He is hitting .360 for his two season average and has stolen 26 bases in that span. As a freshman, he won the school's Newcomer of the Year award for the impact he made on the two sports.


Illinois' true-freshman safety Bo Flowers turns 24 on Nov. 12, becoming the oldest player on the Illini roster. Flowers is beginning his college career this season after four years in professional baseball. He was a fifth-round draft pick in 2003 by the Detroit Tigers. After spending three seasons in the Detroit organization, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs where he played the 2006 season. Currently, Flowers is a walk-on on the Illini team because the Tigers are footing the college bill. He is one of seven active Division I-A football players who have seen action in minor league baseball:

  • Gary Banks (Troy...Cubs)
  • Mike Conroy (UConn...Indians)
  • Bo Flowers (Illinois...Tigers/Cubs)
  • Marquise Liverpool (Temple...Mariners)
  • Michael Machen (Baylor...Braves/Orioles)
  • Mike Nixon (Arizona State...Dodgers)
  • Jose Perez (SDSU...Yankees)


  • The Illini outgained the vaunted Missouri offense by a 435-429 margin, while also posting a better average in yards per play, 5.9-4.9; yards per rush 3.5-2.1 and yards per reception 13.7-9.7.
  • Last season, the Illini proved big-play ability with 49 plays over 20 yards. Already through one game, the offense is on pace to match that number with seven big plays, including Eddie McGee's 41-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Hudson and a 42-yard toss to Rashard Mendenhall.
  • Wide receivers Brian Gamble, Arrelious Benn and Joe Morgan were clutch for the Illini on third and fourth-downs in this weekend. Two of Gamble's four catches came on third down and were converted to firsts and both of Morgan's two catches converted first downs. Benn had five receptions, but the most valuable catch of the day came on fourth down when he pulled down a 25-yard grab.
  • True-freshman wide receiver Arrelious Benn started against Missouri on Sept. 1, marking the first time a wide receiver started as a true freshman at Illinois since 2003 when Lonnie Hurst did it against Missouri.
  • Quarterback Juice Williams was one of seven true-freshmen signal-callers to play last year. He and Thaddeus Lewis of Duke logged the most starts at nine apiece. Williams' record in those starts was 1-8, while Lewis' was 0-9.
  • The Illini led the Big Ten in rushing in 2006 and ranked 10th in the country with an 188.8 average. It was the highest rushing average for an Illini team since the 1973 season. The Illini's 5.2 yards per carry also ranked fifth in the nation last season. The squad began the season with a 300-yard rushing effort against Eastern Illinois and posted six additional 200-yard performances.

Justin Sanders (25) makes a flying tackle against Missouri in last Saturday's opener.


  • Three of the top-10 tacklers in the Big Ten rankings this week are Illini. Linebacker J Leman leads the conference with 20 tackles in the opener, followed by safety Justin?Harrison's 11 tackle performance and cornerback Vontae Davis' career-high effort of 10 stops.
  • The defense is extremely experienced, returning nine of 11 starters. All three starting linebackers return, along with three lineman and three defensive backs. Five Illini on defense have recorded 20 or more starts in their career: SS Justin Harrison (27), LB J Leman (29), FS Kevin Mitchell (22), DT Chris Norwell (34), DE Derek Walker (24).
  • Justin Sanders leads the Big Ten Conference with two forced fumbles against Missouri. Of the two fumbles, one was retained by the Tigers and the other set up a four-yard touchdown run by Rashard Mendenhall two plays later.


  • Sophomore cornerback Vontae Davis recorded Illinois' first blocked punt since the 2004 season on Saturday when he got a hand on Missouri punt. He recovered the block at the 2 yardline and took it in for the score. The last time an Illini blocked a punt was by Kevin Mitchell against Michigan State on Oct. 9, 2004. That same block was the last time an Illini scored a touchdown, which was by Sharriff Abdullah.
  • With the change in the kickoff yardline placement to the 30, any kicker that can get touchbacks will be of great value to its team. Illini sophomore Mike Cklamovski improved his kickoff average seven yards from a year ago, going from 60.2 to 67.3. He had six kickoffs in the season opener against Missouri, two of which were touchbacks.
  • Oddly enough, Illinois this year boasts a trio of four-year starters on the field goal and extra point units. Long snapper Kyle Knezetic, holder Frank Lenti Jr. and Reda have worked together extensively throughout their careers as Illini, giving the coaching staff a great deal of confidence in that special teams unit.


  • After a two-year drought of playing games in domes, Illinois returned to indoor football this weekend at the State Farm Arch Rivalry against Missouri in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
  • This year Illinois will play in domes for three of its six away games. The team kicked off the season at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis against Missouri, and fell to 0-3 at the venue after a 34-40 loss to the Tigers. In the third week of the year, Illinois travels to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse to take on the Orange. Twice the Illini have played in SU's home dome, victorious in both contests. Finally in week 10, the squad heads to the Metrodome to play Minnesota in an evening contest. The Illini are 3-5-1 in the Metrodome since the Gophers began playing there in 1982.


Illinois defensive end Will Davis' family are natives of the Republic of Liberia. He has spent his entire life in the United States, and was able to visit Liberia as a young child before Civil War broke out. Now that the war has ended his mother, Pearine Davis-Parkinson, recently returned home to become the Deputy Minister in the Ministry of State office. The Ministry of State supports the work of the President of the Republic of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The major departments of the Ministry of State are the Office of the President, Administration, and Public Affairs and Communications Technology. Davis' mother played basketball for the Liberian national team and at the University of Liberia. His uncle, John Davis, played soccer for Liberia.


  • Six Illini have already earned their college degrees -- FB Justin Ijei, WR Frank Lenti, Jr., DB Tyler Rouse, LB J Leman, DT Chris Norwell and OL Martin O'Donnell.
  • Illinois junior linebacker J Leman is not only a standout on the field, but his accomplishments in the classroom include a bachelor's degree in just three years. He maintained a 3.7 GPA in communications, graduating in August of 2006. He is currently pursuing a master's degree which he will complete this December.
  • The Illini's starting center Ryan McDonald is pursuing his undergraduate degree in one of the most difficult academic fields at the University of Illinois. Illinois is known for its engineering cirriculum, ranking in the Top-10 in all nine disciplines, including the top-rated civil engineering program. McDonald has recorded a 3.87 in aeronautical engineering, a program which ranks eighth nationally. He had an internship this summer on campus working with NASA.


For the second straight summer the team hosted an event to raise money for the Cunningham Children's Home, located locally in Urbana. The event was a 12-hour supply drive to raise goods and money for the home from their Wish List. The team congregated on the East side of Memorial Stadium and along with the help of local radio stations, solicited the help of community members to give supplies and money to the Home. The team's two-year total of goods and money raised is $20,000.


  • Great excitement surrounds the 2007 Illinois football season. More than 14,000 Illini fans have become new season ticket holders and the school has sold out its South Endzone "Horseshoe" section. Students have also jumped on board, with season ticket sales up by nearly 2,500.
  • Phase I of the Memorial Stadium project will be completed next week in time for Illinois' home opener against Western Illinois. The students will be housed in the brand-new North Endzone seating as well as the Marching Illini. This is the first part of a $116 million renovation taking place at the historic stadium right now.


  • The Marching Illini will reclaim music from the rich history and tradition of University of Illinois football this season. Two of Illinois' great stadium songs return to Fighting Illini football Saturdays in the form of "Fight! Illini!" and "Cheer Illini."
  • "Fight! Illini!" was written in the early 1920's and sub-titled "The Stadium Song." This piece was recently discovered by Marching Illini director Dr. Peter Griffin. It was written by two Illinois graduates Sampson Raphaelson ('17) and Rose J. Oltusky ('22). "Fight! Illini!" will be played following Illinois point after touchdowns this season.
  • Harold Hill and Howard Green wrote "Cheer Illini," "Hail to the Orange" and "Oskee Wow Wow." "Cheer Illini" was used decades ago by the Marching Illini as a downfield motion piece to float the band off the field at the end of its pre-game show. It was also used at basketball games for many years during player introductions.