Sept. 9, 2013
The Fighting Illini (2-0) look to continue their hot start on Saturday when they head to the Windy City to host No. 19/23 Washington at Soldier Field for Chicago Homecoming (5 p.m. CT, BTN). A win would make Illinois 3-0 for only the second time in the last 12 seasons. The other was in 2011, when the Illini started the season 6-0.
Saturday's game against Washington will be Illinois' first in the city of Chicago since the 48-27 victory over Northwestern at Wrigley Field on Nov. 20, 2010. It also will mark the Illini's second-ever game at Soldier Field. The first was against Washington State on Sept. 1, 1994, a 10-9 victory for the Cougars.
Following Saturday's shellacking of Cincinnati, the Illini are receiving votes in both polls for the first time since Oct. 24, 2011. Illinois sits 34th in the AP poll (nine votes) and 39th in the coaches poll (three votes).
The revamped Illinois offense, directed by new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, has jumped at least 85 spots in the national rankings from last year to this year in passing offense, passing efficiency, scoring offense and total offense. The results so far have been astounding:
| ILLINOIS' OFFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT IN 2013
|Category||2012 (Final Nat'l Rk)||2013 (Current Nat'l Rk)||Difference|
|Passing Offense (ypg)||138.83 (107)||363.50 (10)||+97|
|Scoring Offense (ppg)||16.67 (119)||43.50 (27)||+92|
|Passing Efficiency||113.42 (102)||180.90 (14)||+88|
|Total Offense (ypg)||296.67 (119)||493.00 (34)||+85|
|Rushing Offense (ypg)||127.83 (97)||129.50 (87)||+10|
Illinois tallied nine plays of 20-plus yards against Cincinnati and has 17 plays of 20-plus yards on the season, fifth-most in the nation. The Illini had 34 plays of 20-plus yards in the entire 2012 season, ranking 122nd nationally (out of 124). The Orange and Blue's 13 passing plays of 20-plus yards is second-most nationally behind only Baylor.
Senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase looks to be saving his best season for last. A four-year starter, Scheelhaase has thrived in Cubit's system, leading the Big Ten and ranking in the top 10 in the nation in both total offense (362.5 ypg) and passing yards per game (364.0) through week two.
Scheelhaase has more passing touchdowns (six) in two games than 102 of the 123 FBS teams. He also has thrown for 728 yards, more than 116 of 123 FBS teams through week 2.
Scheelhaase's 728 yards are the most in Illinois' first two games of a season since Jason Verduzco passed for 783 yards in the first two games of 1991. Scheelhaase also has six passing touchdowns, equaling the school record for most TD passes in the first two games of a season shared by Juice Williams (2008) and Kurt Kittner (2000).
Senior LB and Butkus Award candiate Jonathan Brown leads the Big Ten and ranks 14th nationally in tackles (11.5 tpg). Brown had 14 stops against Cincinnati, a B1G single-game high this season.
The Illinois return game has improved in a big way. After ranking 107th nationally in kick returns (18.83 ypr) and 118th in punt returns (1.56 ypr) in 2012, the Illini already have a 100-yard kickoff return TD from sophomore DB V'Angelo Bentley vs. SIU, the first UI kick return TD since 2008, and a 38-yard punt return from Miles Osei vs. Cincinnati, the longest by an Illini since 2004. Illinois currently ranks 17th nationally in kickoff returns (29.00 ypg) and 34th in punt returns (10.63 ypg).
The University of Illinois and Chicago Bears have a long-standing tradition dating back to the original Decatur Staleys, who were founded by University of Illinois alums George Halas and Dutch Sternaman. Some of the highlights are below:
Orange & Blue: The Chicago Bears team colors have always been orange and blue, after those of the University of Illinois, the alma mater of founder George "Papa Bear" Halas.
Dick Butkus: The greatest linebacker in the history of the game. Butkus joined the Bears as a first-round draft pick in 1965 after an All-American career at Illinois. Butkus went on to earn All-Pro honors seven times and is a member of the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame. Jersey number 50 retired at Illinois, 51 retired by the Bears. Bears Hall of Fame member.
Red Grange: Illinois All-American was first major signing by Halas and the fledgling National Football League. Halas took Grange and the Bears on a coast-to-coast barnstorming tour in which the club played 16 games in nine weeks. The tour is generally credited with saving the professional game and putting the NFL on the national sports map. Grange is a charter member of the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame. Jersey number 77 retired at Illinois and by the Bears. Also coached for the Bears for eight seasons from 1933-40. Bears Hall of Fame member.
George Halas: Chicago Bears founder, player and long-time coach, earned a B.S. degree at Illinois in 1918 while lettering in football, basketball and baseball. A charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Bears Hall of Fame member, Halas selected orange and blue as the team's colors as a nod to his alma mater. Halas passed away in Oct. 1983, and starting in 1984 the Bears added the initials GSH to the left sleeve of their jerseys in honor of the late "Papa Bear." The Bears uniforms still don the initials to this day.
1985: The Chicago Bears spent a week in Champaign-Urbana practicing for Super Bowl XX. The Bears used the Memorial Stadium Bubble to prepare for the New England Patriots, whom the Bears defeated 46-10 in New Orleans.
1994: Illinois opened the 1994 season at Soldier Field with a 10-9 loss to Washington State on Sept. 1. Simeon Rice set an Illini single-game record with five quarterback sacks.
2002: The Chicago Bears played all of their home games (eight regular season and two exhibition games) at Memorial Stadium on the University Illinois campus during the 2002 season while Soldier Field was being renovated. The Bears also played their two 2003 home preseason games at Memorial Stadium while the finishing touches were put on the Soldier Field renovation.
Memorial Stadium: The Chicago architecture firm of Holabird & Roche built Memorial Stadium, as well as Soldier Field, also named in honor of those killed in World War I.
WASHINGTON SERIES NOTES
Washington leads the all-time series with the Illini by a 5-4 margin, but the teams haven't met since 1972. The two programs are 2-2 in games played in Champaign, while Washington holds a 3-1 margin in Seattle. The Illini notched a 17-7 win in the 1964 Rose Bowl. Illinois will travel to Seattle in the third week of 2014 for a Sept. 13 tilt at Husky Stadium.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Illinois' 1964 Rose Bowl victory over the Huskies, an Illini squad that was led by Chicago-born Illini legends Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski. Washington took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, but Illinois' defense took over and the Illini managed touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters for the 17-7 final score. Grabowski earned MVP honors, finishing with 125 yards and a touchdown.
ILLINOIS VS. RANKED OPPONENTS
Illinois faces its first top-25 opponent of the season on Saturday as Washington is ranked No. 19 in this week's Associated Press poll and No. 23 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Four future opponents are ranked in this week's poll - No. 4 Ohio State, No. 17 Northwestern, No. 20 Wisconsin and No. 23 Nebraska.
The Illini have lost five straight and 14 of their last 15 against ranked foes since beating No. 1 Ohio State 28-21 on Nov. 10, 2007. The lone win during that span came on Sept. 17, 2011, over No. 22/18 Arizona State, 17-14, at Memorial Stadium.
Last season, Illinois faced just two opponents ranked in the AP poll at the time of the game, falling to No. 25 Michigan, 45-0, and No. 6 Ohio State, 52-22.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman is 0-6 against ranked opponents in his four-plus years as a head coach.
LINEBACKER U, IT'S NOT WHERE YOU THINK IT IS
Like many Illini teams over the years, the 2013 Illini defense is led by its linebacking corps. This year, senior Jonathan Brown, a 2012 Butkus Award semifinalist, and sophomore Mason Monheim, a 2012 Freshman All-American key the attack. Brown has piled up 190 tackles, 30 TFLs and 9.0 sacks over the last two-plus seasons, while Monheim became the first true-freshman ever to lead the Illini in tackles and led all Big Ten freshmen with 86 stops last season. Not surprisingly, the duo is leading the team in tackles so far this season as Brown has a Big Ten-best 23 stops, while Monheim is second on the team and third in the Big Ten with 18.
Illinois' history at the linebacker position is up there with any program in the nation. It begins with football legend Ray Nitschke, who donned the Orange and Blue from 1955-57, and 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 first-team All-Americans like Darrick Brownlow (1990), Simeon Rice (1994 & `95) and J Leman (2007), in addition to Butkus, Howard and Hardy and recent NFL Draft picks like Danny Clark, Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey.
WHOSE HOUSE? SCHEEL-HOUSE
Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw for a career-high 416 yards in the season-opener, the 10th-best single-game passing performance in school history the fifth-most ever by an Illinois quarterback at Memorial Stadium.
Scheelhaase followed that up with 312 yards and tied his career-high with four TD passes against Cincinnati, marking the first time he has passed for 300 yards in back-to-back games in his career. The last Illinois quarterback to have consecutive 300-yard passing games was Juice Williams at Michigan (310, 10/4/2008) and vs. Minnesota (462, 10/11/2008).
Scheelhaase already has surpassed his 2012 season totals for touchdown passes, 30-plus-yard pass plays and 50+ pass plays. Take a look at his two-game 2013 numbers versus his 10-game 2012 numbers below:
| Scheelhaase Passing 2012 vs. 2013|
Scheelhaase jumped two spots into fifth place on the Illinois career list with 40 career touchdowns, passing Tony Eason (38) and Jon Beutjer (39). He also holds the No. 4 spot in career total offense at Illinois with 7,816 yards, is fourth in career passing efficiency (129.3), sixth in passing yardage (6,024), sixth in completions (542), seventh in attempts (878) and 18th in rushing yardage (1,792) - second among quarterbacks - at Illinois.
Scheelhasse racked up 340 of his 416 passing yards in the first half against Southern Illinois, marking the most ever for an Illini in the first half and the most in any half since Juice Williams totaled 347 passing yards in the second half against Minnesota on Oct. 11, 2008. Scheelhaase earned week one Big Ten Player of the Week honors after his performance against the Salukis.
After starting the first two games this season, Scheelhaase now has 38 career starts under his belt, tied for the third-most in the nation by a quarterback behind only Georgia's Aaron Murray (43) and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez (41).
Scheelhaase has flashed the big-play ability in 2013 that Illini fans saw from him early in his career, posting 13 plays of 20-plus yards in the first two games. Scheelhaase had only 18 such "big plays" in 2012, when he missed two games and was limited in many others because of injuries, but he posted 29 big plays in 2011 and 33 in 2010.
Scheelhaase is one of only seven active quarterbacks in the nation with three or more games where he posted at least three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. Clemson's Tahj Boyd leads the list with eight, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel has seven and Louisiana-Monroe's Kolton Browning has four. Scheelhaase is tied for fourth on the list with Cody Fajardo (Nevada), Brett Smith (Wyoming) and Connor Shaw (South Carolina).
Scheelhaase started his fourth consecutive season-opener this season, making him one of only seven current quarterbacks in the nation to start four straight openers. Scheelhaase joins Kolton Browning (Louisiana-Monroe), Logan Kilgore (Middle Tennessee), Taylor Martinez (Nebraska), Taylor McHargue (Rice), Aaron Murray (Georgia) and Corey Robinson (Troy) in the select club.
Scheelhaase led Illinois to bowl victories in each his first two seasons (2010 Texas Bowl and 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl), making him one of only two QBs in Big Ten history to start and lead their teams to bowl wins during both his freshman and sophomore seasons (Brooks Bollinger, Wisconsin). After missing a bowl in 2012, Scheelhaase is looking to end his UI career with a third bowl win, something no Illini QB has done previously.
COREY LEWIS: THE COMEBACK KID
Senior OT Corey Lewis is one the feel-good stories in college football. After missing more than two-and-half years (34 games) recovering from three ACL tears and five different knee surgeries, Lewis saw his first game action in over 1,000 days at Ohio State on Nov. 3, 2012, and played in the season's final four games. With a bachelor's degree in communication already in hand and a sixth year of NCAA eligibility granted, Lewis made his first career start in the 2013 season-opener against Southern Illinois, more than five years after first setting foot on campus, and also started against Cincinnati.
FRESH FACES TAKE THE FIELD
Illinois has had 25 players make their Illini debuts this far in 2013: 10 true-freshmen (Aaron Bailey, Dillan Cazley, Jarrod Clements, Caleb Day, Jaylen Dunlap, Darius Mosely, Austin Schmidt, Dawuane Smoot, Dionte Taylor, Tyler White), 10 redshirt-freshmen (Robbie Bain, Taylor Barton, B.J. Bello, Devin Church, Cedric Doxy, Zach Hirth, Jevaris Little, T.J. Neal, Joe Spencer, LaKeith Walls), one sophomore (Tim Clary) and four transfers (Martize Barr, Abe Cajuste, Eric Finney, Zane Petty).
Complete Illinois-Washington Game Notes