No. 19 Football Returns Home To Face California

Junior Kurt Kittner leads the Illini up against the California Golden Bears.
Junior Kurt Kittner leads the Illini up against the California Golden Bears.

Sept. 10, 2000

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No. 19/19 ILLINOIS (2-0) vs. CALIFORNIA (1-0)

Sept. 16, 2000
11:10 a.m. CT -- ESPN
Memorial Stadium (70,900)
Champaign, Illinois

The 19th-ranked Fighting Illini return home with a six-game winning streak intact for a match-up against PAC-10 foe California Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The Illini are coming off a 49-13 victory at San Diego State to improve to 2-0 on the season. The six-game winning streak for Illinois stretches back to the final four games of 1999. The average margin of victory over the last six opponents is 28.5 points. California opened the season by holding off Utah 24-21 Saturday at Berkeley.

Illinois opened a 35-6 lead at halftime and never looked back at Qualcomm Stadium. Rocky Harvey (124 yards) and Antonio Harris (117 yards, 3 TDs) each topped the century mark in rushing for the second consecutive game, while quarterback Kurt Kittner was efficient with 18 completions in 25 attempts for 148 yards and three touchdowns.

Cal jumped out to a 24-7 lead after three quarters, then held on as Utah scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and had a 55-yard field goal attempt come up short with 2 seconds remaining that would have tied the score. Two of Utah's touchdowns against the Golden Bears came on an interception return and punt return.

Sophomore quarterback Kyle Boller completed 18 of 28 passes for 209 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Tailback Joe Igber had 26 rush attempts for 84 yards and one touchdown.

RON TURNER (13-23 in his fourth year at Illinois, 20-27 overall) - 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. He enters the Sept. 16 contest against California with an 20-27 head coaching record, 13-23 at Illinois. The Illini have won seven of their last eight games.

Turner is 0-1 against California as a head coach after a 46-16 loss to the Golden Bears in his very first game as a head coach at San Jose State in 1992. Turner is 0-2 against the PAC-10 while at Illinois, dropping games to Washington State in 1997 and 1998. Turner lost to both California and Stanford while at San Jose State in 1992. Turner was at Stanford from 1989-91 and went 3-0 versus California in The Big Game while a Cardinal coach.

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. 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.

TOM HOLMOE (13-21 in his fourth year at Cal and overall) - Holmoe is in his fourth year as head coach at California after stints as an assistant at BYU, Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers. Cal opened the 2000 season with a 24-21 win over Utah. Illinois will be the first Big Ten opponent faced by Holmoe as a head caoch.

Illinois leads the all-time series by a 5-1 margin, but the teams have not met on the gridiron since 1974. Illinois has wins at Berkely in 1955 (20-13), 1964 (20-14) and in 1973 (27-7). The Illini won in Champaign in 1956 (32-20) and 1963 (10-0). The Golden Bears own a 31-14 win over Illinois in Champaign in 1974. In the six previous contests, the Illini have had a 100-yard rusher in four with Harry Jefferson rushing for 127 in 1955, Illini radio analyst Jim Grabowski rushing for 110 in 1964, George Uremovich running for 149 in 1973 and Chubby Phillips running for 127 in 1974. Illinois is scheduled to travel to Berkeley next Sept. 1 to open the 2001 season.

Against the PAC-10 Conference, Illinois is 24-39 all time, with the last win coming 9-7 over Arizona in 1995. Cal (5-1) and UCLA (5-4) are the only PAC-10 schools in which the Illini hold an advantage in the series.

California offensive coordinator Steve Hagen was a graduate assistant at Illinois in 1984 under Mike White, a Cal graduate and former head coach at both California and Illinois. In fact, Illinois has had two coaches who were head coaches at both California and Illinois in White (1972-77) and Pete Elliott (1957-59).

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. The Illini defense held San Diego State to 250 yards in total offense and to just two field goals and a late touchdown.

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. Preston attended Mt. Carmel High School in San Diego.

The Illini's 49-13 win over San Diego State on Saturday marks the sixth straight win for Illinois dating back to the last loss on Oct. 30 to No. 2 Penn State. The Illini went on a streak defeating Iowa (40-24), Ohio State (46-20), Northwestern (27-7) and Virginia (63-21) in the Bowl in 1999 and downed Middle Tennessee in the season opener this season. The last time an Illinois team won six straight games was in both 1989 and 1990. The win was also Illinois' fifth straight road win for the squad (the Illini went 5-1 on the road last year). The Illini last won five straight away games in 1989. When the Illini take the field against California, they will be searching for consecutive win No. 7. Illinois has not won seven straight since 1983 when they won 10 games in a row.

As of Sept. 6 tickets for Illinois' football game against Michigan on Sept. 23 have been sold out for the 70,900-seat Memorial Stadium. The sellout marks the first time since Sept. 2, 1995 that Illini have sold out a game. Ironically the 1995 contest was against the Wolverines.

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
Sept. 1019th19thNebraska6

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 six-touchdown, 70 percent completion performance in the last two games, Kittner is on-track to continue his productivity of a year ago. He connected with three different receivers for TDs (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.

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. Junior Rocky Harvey and sophomore Antoineo Harris each posted 100-yard rushing games against Middle Tennessee and San Diego State, marking the first time in school history two Illinois tailbacks have had 100+ yards in back-to-back games. The consecutive performances prove that together they are one of the premier running back duos in college football. Combine the numbers of the tandem, 241.5 yards per game, (122.5 yards a game for Harris and 118 ypg for Harvey) and they would be ranked first in the nation, according to this week's NCAA stats. The two-tailback combo of Harvey and Havard rushed for 1,564 yards in 1999 which combined ranked third in the Big Ten. The 2,082 yards rushing by the Illini team in 1999 is the most since 1978 when the squad ran for 2,186 yards. Harvey is also looking to break into the Illinois top-10 career yardage list. He is currently 13th with 1,644 yards and needs 207 for 10th.

In the Illini season opener against Middle Tennessee, Steve Fitts started at both punter and placekicker, becoming 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. He followed up that performance with another flawless night with seven converted PATs. 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)


  • 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.

  • This year's dynamic duo at the wide receiving positions are very familiar with each other. Not only did flanker Greg Lewis and split end Walter Young grow up as high school rivals, but they are cousins as well.

  • 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 were honored in the October football preview issue of Playboy. 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 is making 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, is making 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 returning receiver. 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.