Troy Pollard ran for 101 yards a TD against South Dakota State last week.
Sept. 12, 2011
The Illinois/Arizona State game will be nationally televised on the Big Ten Network with an air time of 6 p.m. CT. Eric Collins (play-by-play), Chris Martin (color analyst) and Dionne Miller (sidelines) will call the action with Jim Ressler producing and Dennis Lanius directing.
The 41-station Illini Sports Network will carry the radio broadcast with the pregame show beginning at 5:30 p.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 (135) XM (195) satellite radio.
Tickets are available for Saturday's game against Arizona 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.
Illinois dominated South Dakota State, 56-3, last weekend to improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2005, Ron Zook's first season at Illinois. The Illini are looking to start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2001 and for their first four-game winning streak since 2007.
Saturday's game will mark the third of five straight home games to start the 2011 season. Illinois has eight total home games this season for the first time in the Memorial Stadium era and first time since 1903, when the Illini played nine home games. After last Saturday's victory, the Illini have an all-time record of 249-209-14 at Memorial Stadium.
Illinois' 53-point margin of victory against South Dakota State is its largest since 1944, when the Illini defeated Illinois-Normal (Illinois State), 79-6. Illinois' 56 points were its most at home since 2002, when the Illini scored 59 against Arkansas State.
Illinois leads the nation in third-down efficiency, converting 21-of-29 (.724) third downs during the first two weeks. The Illini converted 12-of-18 third downs in the season-opener against Arkansas State and were successful on 9-of-11 third downs last week against SDSU.
Fresh off a record-breaking 2010 season, the Illini offense has picked up the pace even more in 2011. Through two games, the Illini lead the Big Ten in scoring offense (44.5 ppg), total offense (496.0 ypg) and rushing offense (283.0). 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).
Not to be outdone, the Illini defense has allowed only 18 total points (9.0 ppg), including only one touchdown, in 2011. Illinois ranks sixth nationally in rushing defense (42.5 ypg) and 13th in both scoring defense (9.0 ppg) and total defense (223.0 ypg).
The Illini allowed only 96 yards to South Dakota State, marking the first time since 1998 that a UI opponent had fewer than 100 total yards in a game (69 yards by Middle Tennessee State).
The Illini were penalty-free in the opener, marking the first time in 18 years that an Illinois team did not commit a penalty in a game. The last time it happened was on Nov. 20, 1993, against Wisconsin. With only five penalties for 37 yards on the season, the Illini rank fifth nationally in in fewest penalties committed (2.5 per game) and third in fewest penalty yards per game (18.5 ypg).
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase has picked up where he left off last season, completing 22-of-31 passes for 369 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and rushing for another 117 yards and two TDs so far in 2011. His passing efficiency rating of 192.25 ranks eighth nationally and second in the Big Ten. Scheelhaase has thrown 15 TDs against just one INT over the last nine games.
Senior WR A.J. Jenkins is saving his best season for his last. He had a career-high 11 receptions for a career-best 148 yards against Arkansas State, including a career-long 72-yard touchdown. Through two games, Jenkins lead the Big Ten in both receptions per game (8.0) and receiving yards per game (109.5), which rank 12th and 20th in the nation, respectively.
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. His has an overall record of 30-45 at Illinois.
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 206.8 yards per game (15,512 yards in 75 games) in the last six-plus seasons tops Wisconsin's 199.2 ypg (15,937 yards in 80 games) during that same time span.
The Illini are averaging 283.0 yards per game on the ground this season, which ranks eighth in the nation and first in the Big Ten. After piling up 364 yards on the ground last week against South Dakota State, the Orange and Blue have rushed for at least 200 yards in seven straight games.
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.
ILLINOIS VS. RANKED OPPONENTS
Illinois faces its first top-25 opponent of the season on Saturday as Arizona State is ranked No. 22 in this week's Associated Press poll and No. 18 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Future 2011 opponents in the current AP Top 25 include No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 17 Ohio State. Michigan, Penn State and Northwestern all are receiving votes in this week's poll.
The Illini have dropped 10 straight games to opponents ranked in the AP poll, with their last win coming on Nov. 10, 2007 at No. 1 Ohio State (28-21). Last season, the Illini beat Northwestern when they were ranked 25th in the coaches poll, but they were unranked in the AP poll.
The last Illini win over an AP-ranked foe at home was on Oct. 6, 2007 against No. 5 Wisconsin (31-26). Illinois has not played a ranked non-conference opponent at Memorial Stadium since beating No. 25 Louisville, 34-10, in 2001.
In the Ron Zook era, the Illini are 3-18 against ranked teams, with all three wins coming in the 2007 Rose Bowl season - No. 21 Penn State, No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 1 Ohio State. In his nine-plus years as a head coach, Zook has posted nine wins over ranked opponents.
ARIZONA STATE SERIES NOTES
Saturday's game will be the first meeting between the two schools in 23 years. Arizona State leads the all-time series 2-0, picking up back-to-back wins over the Illini in 1987 (21-7 in Champaign) and 1988 (21-16 in Tempe).
The Illini have not beaten a Pac-12 opponent since 2001, when they topped California on the road, 44-17. Since then, Illinois has dropped five straight to Pac-12 teams, falling to both UCLA and Cal in 2003, UCLA in 2004, Cal in 2005 and USC in the 2008 Rose Bowl. Illinois coach Ron Zook is 0-2 all-time against the Pac-12, falling to Cal in 2005 and USC in 2008.
Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and Arizona State cornerbacks coach Greg Burns were on the same coaching staff at Louisville in 1998 and '99. Petrino was the receivers coach, while Burns was the secondary coach for the Cardinals.
Arizona State Director of Football Operations John Wrenn was an assistant coach at Illinois in 1985 and '86 under former UI coach Mike White. A native of Moline, Ill., and a graduate of Western Illinois, Wrenn was a successful high school coach in Illinois in the '80s and '90s.
ILLINOIS IN THE NCAA RANKINGS
As a team, Illinois ranks in the top-20 nationally in eight categories - sixth in rushing defense (42.5 ypg), eighth in rushing offense (283.0 ypg), 10th in turnover margin (+2.0), 13th in scoring defense (9.0 ppg), 13th in total defense (223.0 ypg), 15th in passing efficiency (182.94), 18th in total offense (496.0 ypg) and 19th in scoring offense (44.50 ppg).
LB Trulon Henry is tied for third nationally and first in the Big Ten in interceptions (1.0 per game).
QB Nathan Scheelhaase is eighth in the nation in passing efficiency (192.25) and 48th in total offense (243.0 ypg).
WR A.J. Jenkins ranks 12th nationally in receptions per game (8.0 rpg) and 19th in receiving yards per game (109.5 ypg). He leads the Big Ten in both categories.
FIRST TIME ILLINI
A total of 24 Illini have made their Fighting Illini debuts so far this season. The list includes nine true-freshmen, 10 redshirt-freshmen, one transfer, three sophomores and one senior.
True-freshmen that have played in 2011: LB Ralph Cooper, CB Valdon Cooper, TE Jon Davis, LB Henry Dickinson, P Justin DuVernois, RB Josh Ferguson, TE Matt LaCosse, QB Reilly O'Toole and RB Donovonn Young.
Redshirt-freshmen that have played in 2011: LB Houston Bates, OL Simon Cvijanovic, OL Michael Heitz, OL Alex Hill, DT Jake Howe, WR Jake Kumerow, WR Fritz Rock, DL Austin Teitsma, LB Earnest Thomas and DL Dejazz Woods.
Sophomores that have debuted in 2011: OL Jake Feldmeyer, DB Kaeman Mitchell and holder Tim Russell.
Upperclassmen that have debuted in 2011: WR Brandon Clear, a four-year transfer from Clemson, has played in both games, and senior walk-on RB Ronald Stewart, got in late in the win over South Dakota State, getting his first career carry on the final play of the game.