A.J. Jenkins had career-highs in catches (11) and yards (148) in Illinois' season-opening 33-15 win over Arkansas State.
Sept. 6, 2011
The Illinois/South Dakota State game will be nationally televised on the Big Ten Network with an air time of 11 a.m. CT. Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Kelly Stouffer (color analyst) and Tony Banks (sidelines) will call the action with John Walsh producing and Brad Sheldon directing. BTN will televise multiple games at 11 am CDT on Sept. 10. 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 10:30 a.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) XM (197) satellite radio.
Tickets are available for Saturday's game against South Dakota 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.
SPECIAL EVENTS FOR 9/11 ANNIVERSARY
The University of Illinois DIA announced plans to honor the heroes of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America during Saturday's game against South Dakota State. A number of special activities - including an American flag giveaway, personalized videos from military personnel and a patriotic halftime show by the Marching Illini - will pay tribute to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, and those who displayed their heroism in the rescue efforts and pursuant military actions.
Illinois opened the season with a 33-15 win over Arkansas State last week at Memorial Stadium. The win gives the Illini a 1-0 start for the first time since 2006. Illinois improved to 75-42-5 all-time in season openers and 84-33-5 all-time in home-openers. The Illini are looking for their first 2-0 start since 2005, Ron Zook's first season at Illinois.
Fresh off a record-breaking 2010 season, the Illini offense racked up 473 total yards, 202 rushing yards and 33 points in the season-opening win over Arkansas State. Last season, the Illini broke school records for both total points scored (423) and points per game (32.53) and led the Big Ten in rushing (246.1 ypg).
The Illini were penalty-free in the opener, marking the first time in 18 years an Illinois team did not commit a penalty in a game. The last time that happened was on Nov. 20, 1993, against Wisconsin. Illinois is one of just three teams nationally that did not get flagged in the opening week (Eastern Michigan and Navy).
Illinois ranks sixth in the nation in third-down efficiency after the opening week of play. The Orange and Blue converted 12 of 18 third downs against Arkansas State.
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase picked up where he left off last season, completing 16-of-23 passes for a career-high 267 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Scheelhaase has now thrown 15 touchdowns against just one interception over the last eight games.
Senior WR A.J. Jenkins had a career-high 11 receptions for a career-high 148 yards against Arkansas State, including 72-yard touchdown from Scheelhaase in the third quarter. The 11 catches tied the UI record for receptions in a season-opener (David Williams had 11 on Sept. 1, 1984 vs. Northwestern), while the 72-yard TD marked the longest Illinois pass play since Juice Williams hit Jeff Cumberland for a 77-yard TD at Michigan on Oct. 4, 2008.
Redshirt freshman LB Houston Bates was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after racking up five tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and one fumble recovery in his Illini debut.
Fourteen Illini, including six true-freshmen, saw the field for the first time in the opener against Arkansas State. True-freshmen CB Valdon Cooper, TE Jon Davis, P Justin DuVernois, RB Josh Ferguson, QB Reilly O'Toole and RB Donovonn Young all made their Illinois debuts on Saturday. In addition, transfer WR Brandon Clear, redshirt-freshmen LB Houston Bates, OL Michael Heitz, DT Jake Howe, WR Jake Kumerow and DB Earnest Thomas, and sophomores DB Kaeman Mitchell and holder Tim Russell all saw the field for the first time in their UI careers last week.
Illini coach Ron Zook is in his seventh season as the Illinois head coach. 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 29-45 at Illinois and is now 3-4 in season openers.
The Illini have five straight home games to begin the 2011 season and eight total home games on for the first time in the Memorial Stadium era and first time since 1903, when Illinois played nine home games. After Saturday's victory, the Illini have an all-time record of 248-209-14 at Memorial Stadium.
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 (15,148 yards in 74 games) in the last six-plus seasons tops Wisconsin's 199.1 ypg (15,729 yards in 79 games) during that same time span.
The Illini opened the 2011 season with 202 rushing yards against Arkansas State, their sixth-straight game with at least 200 yards on the ground. The Illini have led the conference in rushing in three of the last five years (2006, `07 and `10). Last season, Illinois averaged 246.1 ypg on the ground, which ranked 11th in the nation, is the third-highest total in school history and 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.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE SERIES NOTES
Saturday's game will be the first meeting between the two schools.
South Dakota State plays in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. The game will mark Illinois head coach Ron Zook's sixth meeting with an FCS team since coming to Illinois in 2005. Illinois is 5-0 in those games and has won all five by at least 21 points.
The Jackrabbits are 1-0 this season after a 29-28 win over Southern Utah last week. They were 5-6 overall in 2010 and tied for fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 4-4 record. SDSU played new Big Ten member Nebraska close last year, falling 17-3 in Lincoln.
ILLINOIS IN THE NCAA RANKINGS
As a team, Illinois ranks in the top-20 nationally in three categories - 15th in passing efficiency (185.46), 18th in in rushing defense (60.0 ypg) and 19th in turnover margin (+2.0).
WR A.J. Jenkins ranks eighth nationally in receptions per game (11.0 rpg) and 10th in receiving yards per game (148.0 ypg). Both marks lead the Big Ten after week one.
QB Nathan Scheelhaase is 10th in the nation in passing efficiency (195.77) and tied for 23rd in total offense (291.0 ypg).
PK Derek Dimke is tied for 10th nationally in field goals per game (2.0)
WR Darius Millines is tied for 21st in receiving yards per game (119.0)
RB Jason Ford is tied for 25th in scoring (12.0 ppg)
FORD, SCHEELHAASE POISED TO CLIMB RUSHING LISTS
After running for 86 yards in the season-opener against Arkansas State, senior running back Jason Ford has 1,448 career rushing yards, ranking him 23rd on the UI all-time career rushing list and sixth among active Big Ten players. Meanwhile, sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase needs just 108 yards on the ground to become the 38th player in school history and just the second quarterback to reach the career 1,000-yard milestone.
Active Big Ten Career Rushing Leaders (through games of 9/3) 1. Dan Herron, Sr., OSU 2,194 2. Denard Robinson, Jr., MICH 2,099 3. Edwin Baker, Jr., MSU 1,719 4. Duane Bennett, Sr., MIN 1,540 5. Montee Ball, Jr., WIS 1,450 6. Jason Ford, Sr., ILL 1,448 7. Rex Burkhead, Jr., NEB 1,372 8. Russell Wilson, Sr., WIS 1,151 9. James White, So., WIS 1,116 10. Taylor Martinez, So., NEB 1,100 11. Nathan Scheelhaase, So, ILL 892
SCHEELHAASE PICKS UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase ended 2010 with a bang, completing 18-of-23 passes (including 13 straight completions to start the game) for what was then a career-high 242 yards in Illinois' 38-14 win over Baylor in the Texas Bowl. He carried that momentum into 2011, completing 16-of-23 passes for a career-high 267 yards and two touchdowns in last week's season-opening win over Arkansas State.
Scheelhaase has made drastic improvement during his 14 games on the field. After tossing four touchdowns and seven interceptions in Illinois' first six games of 2010, Scheelhaase rebounded to throw 13 TD strikes against just one pick during the final seven games. When you factor in his 2011 numbers, he has now thrown 15 touchdowns and just one interception since the midpoint of 2010. Take a look at Scheelhaase's numbers from his first six games compared his last eight:
SCHEELHAASE CAREER 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 8 games 98 162 1311 60.5 15 1 157.8 131 604 4.6 3 CAREER STATS 171 287 2092 59.6 19 8 137.1 197 892 4.5 5
Scheelhaase has been outstanding in Illinois' eight wins since the beginning of the 2010 season, completing 106-of-153 passes (69.3 percent) for 1,317 yards, 12 TDs and one INT for a 166.2 efficiency rating. He has also rushed for 526 yards on 99 carries (5.3 ypc) and two TDs in those eight games. For comparison, Scheelhaase is 65-of-134 (48.5 percent) for 775 yards, seven TDs and seven INTs for a 103.9 rating in Illinois six losses.
Scheelhaase was particularly efficient in Illinois' 2010 Texas Bowl win over Baylor, completing all 13 of his first-half passes for 170 yards, including bombs of 52 yards to freshman Ryan Lankford and 32 yards to freshman Darius Millines. Scheelhaase finished the game 18-of-23 for 242 yards passing and also ran for 53 yards and a touchdown in the victory over Baylor.
A native of Kansas City, Mo., Scheelhaase ran for 868 yards in 2010, a total that broke both the Illinois freshman rushing record (previously 842 by Buddy Young in 1944) and the UI quarterback rushing record (previously 755 by Juice Williams in 2007). After one season, Scheelhaase already ranks second on the UI career QB rushing list, trailing only Williams' record of 2,557 yards.
Scheelhaase topped the 100-yard mark four times in 2010 and turned in three of the top 10 QB rushing performances in school history during his rookie season. His career-best 131-yard performance against Fresno State ranks as the fifth-best QB rushing game in UI history and his 118 yards vs. Purdue and 115 yards vs. NIU rank seventh and ninth, respectively.
Scheelhaase owns two of the top seven single-game quarterback ratings in school history. His 227.9 rating against Purdue on Oct. 30 is the sixth-best at Illinois, while his 221.31 passer rating for the SIU game on Sept. 11 is the seventh-highest single-game efficiency rating.
Scheelhaase was an honorable mention Freshman All-American by collegefootballnews.com and a fourth-team freshman All-America choice by Phil Steele in 2010. He was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week six times, two times more than Wisconsin running back James White, who was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year by both the coaches and media.
The nation's top three returning rushing quarterbacks heading into the 2011 season all reside in the Big Ten. Illini Scheelhaase was third on the list after breaking the Illinois QB rushing record with 868 yards (67 ypg) in 2010. He trailed only Denard Robinson of Michigan (131 ypg) and Taylor Martinez of Nebraska (74 ypg) as top QB rushers nationally heading into the season.
JENKINS MAKING MARK ON RECORD BOOK
Senior WR A.J. Jenkins' big opening day (11 catches, 148 yards, 1 TD) propelled him onto a pair of Illinois career record lists. Jenkins currently ranks sixth in career touchdown receptions (12) and eighth in career 100-yard receiving games (4). He is approaching the top-10 in career receptions with 88 (needs 22 for 10th) and career receiving yardage with 1,304 (needs 149 for 10th).
Jenkins' 11 catches against Arkansas State were a career high, tied for the most ever in a season-opener by an Illini (David Williams had 11 against Northwestern on Sept. 1, 1984) and also tied for eighth-most in a single game in school history. It also marked the most by an Illini since Arrelious Benn had 12 catches against Minnesota on Oct. 11, 2008.
Illinois showed its ball control ability against Arkansas State. Illinois ranks 13th nationally in time of possession after controlling the ball for a total of 35:43 against Arkansas State. The Illini had three scoring drives that lasted at least six minutes each, with all three drives requiring more than 10 plays to score.
The Orange and Blue also showed quick-strike capabilities against Arkanas State, as three of the six UI scoring drives lasted less than 1:30, and two lasted under one minute.
Illinois converted all four of its red-zone chances against Arkansas State, scoring two touchdowns and two field goals in four trips inside the 20. 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 (94 percent). The Illini scored 34 touchdowns and 15 field goals in the red zone last season. Only Oklahoma State (58-of-61) and Memphis (18-for-19) had better percentages nationally.
The offense has exploded since the midpoint of 2010. During the first six games last year, the Illini averaged 21.3 points and 320 yards per game. In the eight games since then, including the 2011 season-opener against Arkansas State, the Illini are averaging 40.8 ppg and 451.9 ypg.
Wide receivers A.J. Jenkins (148 yards) and Darius Millines (119 yards) both went over 100 receiving yards against Arkansas State last week, marking the first time two Illini had at least 100 yards in the same game since Oct. 11, 2008, against Minnesota (Arrelious Benn  and Jenkins ).
Entering the season, Millines has just two catches for 52 yards in his brief career. The sophomore WR had five receptions for 119 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown, against Arkansas State.
Senior RB Jason Ford takes over as the feature back in 2010 after the departure of All-American and Illinois' single-season rushing record holder Mikel Leshoure. Ford rushed for 86 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 22 carries in the season-opener. He currently ranks 23rd on the UI career rushing list (1,448 yards) and 11th on the career rushing touchdowns list (21).
In 2010, Ford had seven rushing touchdowns on only 99 carries, the most by any Big Ten player last year with less than 100 carries.
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 35 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.
With Allen as the anchor, most of the offensive line is loaded with experience. Junior weak-side guard Hugh Thornton, junior center Graham Pocic and senior strong-side guard Jack Cornell are all returning starters from a team that led the Big Ten in rushing. The only new part is the strong-side tackle spot. Redshirt freshman Michael Heitz got the start at SST against Arkansas State, playing all 76 offensive snaps.
Illinois held Arkansas State to 15 points last week, marking the first time the Illini `D' held an opponent to 15 or fewer points in a season-opener since 2004. Illinois held Florida A&M to 13 points during a 52-13 victory in 2004.
Senior LB Trulon Henry led the Illini defense against Arkansas State with a team-high eight tackles, including a half-TFL, and one interception. It marked Henry's first game at sam linebacker after he started 12 games at safety last season. Henry is the older brother of former Illini standout and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Arrelious Benn.
Junior safety Supo Sanni returned to the field after missing all of last season with a ruptured Achilles. Sanni recorded a career-high six tackles, including a half-TFL and forced a fumble.
Senior linebacker Ian Thomas is back to the familiar role of middle linebacker for the 2011 season, registering four tackles, a half-TFL and a QB hurry. Last year, Thomas played weakside linebacker while current New Orleans Saint Martez Wilson held down the mike position. Playing in the middle isn't new for Thomas though, as he led the team in tackles as the MLB in 2009 after Wilson suffered a season-ending neck injury.
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 (Rank) 2010 (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 Efficiency Def 142.77 (103) 128.6 (61) +42 Turnover Margin -0.33 (83) 0.62 (22) +61
Following the 19 Illini turnovers in 2010, the defense allowed just 39 points (three TDs and six FGs). The Orange and Blue had one turnover last week against Arkansas State and did not allow points after it.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Senior PK Derek Dimke started off the 2011 campaign by hitting both of his field goal attempts and all three of his extra points against Arkansas State. He has hit 31-of-36 field goals in his career, putting him atop the Illinois career FG percentage list at .861. He is also a perfect 58-of-58 on extra points since taking over kicking duties late in the 2009 season.
After scoring nine points in the season-opener, Dimke upped his career total to 151. He needs 23 points to jump into the top 10 in Illinois history. His 31 career field goals rank eighth in Illinois history, three behind Neil Rackers' seventh-place total of 34.
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'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.
Dimke also handles kickoff duties for the Illini. He had three touchbacks in seven kickoffs and had a 65.1 yard average against Arkansas State. Last year, he booted 22 touchbacks and had a 62.0 average in 79 kickoffs.
True-freshman Justin DuVernois has taken over punting duties after the loss of 2010 first team All-Big Ten punter Anthony Santella to graduation. DuVernois is one of just eight true-freshman punters that saw action during 2011 opening weekend. He punted three times for a 37.7 yard average against Arkansas State and also had one free kick for 49 yards following a safety.
Santella also served as the holder from 2008-10. Sophomore Tim Russell has taken over holding duties for 2011.
Junior Zak Pedersen is in his second year handling long snapping duties for the Fighting Illini. He earned a scholarship prior to this season after serving three years as a walkon.
SAME FACES, NEW PLACES
Several Illini took the field on Saturday 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 RS 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.
PROSCH A WORKOUT WARRIOR
Sophomore Jay Prosch returns as the starting fullback after helping pave the way for Mikel Leshoure's record-breaking season in 2010. In the offseason, Prosch was named to Bruce Feldman's 2011 "Freaks" list, which highlights college football's top workout warriors. Prosch was the only Big Ten player on the list. He was also named a workout warrior by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg for his prowess in the weight room. According to strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez, Prosch is the first Illini football player to hang clean over 400 pounds. Prosch played linebacker and offensive guard in high school, but has made the transition to fullback by upping his weight from 245 to 255 while at the same time dropping his body fat from 11 percent to nine percent.
SUMMER YOGA HELPS ILLINI STAY FOCUSED
Approximately 75 Illini players took a yoga class over the summer to help prepare for the 2011 season. It marks the fourth year Illinois players have taken the voluntary class over the summer. Illini strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez said it started with 15-20 players in 2008 and has gradually increased in popularity among the team. Hernandez got the idea from former Illini and current Cleveland Brown OL Tony Pashos, who uses yoga to help prevent injuries by increasing flexibility and mental focus.
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
SOUTH DAKOTA ST: TBA
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.