The Illini defense is allowing just 13.0 points and 72.0 rushing yards per game thus far.
Sept. 14, 2010
The Illinois/NIU game will be nationally televised on the Big Ten Network with an air time of 11 a.m. CT. Wayne Larrivee (play-by-play) and Muhsin Muhammad (color analyst) will call the action with John Walsh producing.
The Illini Sports Network will carry the radio broadcast with its 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 can be heard on the 41 stations of the Illini Sports Network as well as on SIRIUS (130) XM (198) Radio satellite radio.
Tickets are still available for Saturday's game against Northern Illinois. Tickets can be purchased at the UI Athletic Ticket Office at Assembly Hall, by calling 1-866-ILLINI-1 or online at fightingillini.com.
FOLLOW THE ILLINI...
The Fighting Illini will be looking for their second straight victory this Saturday when they welcome the Northern Illinois Huskies to Memorial Stadium as the second game of a three-game homestand. Illinois is off next Saturday before hosting Ohio State on Oct. 2.
Illinois is 12-0 all-time against the other public universities in the state. The Illini are 3-0 against Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois and Illinois State, 2-0 against Eastern Illinois and 1-0 against Western Illinois. The combined score of those meetings is 483-168 in favor of the Illini and all but one of those 12 meetings have come since 1985 (Illinois played ISU in 1944). This year marks the first time Illinois has played more than one in-state public university in the same season.
Junior running back Mikel Leshoure has topped the 100-yard mark in both games this season, going for 112 yards on 20 carries in the opener against Missouri and rushing for 106 yards on 14 carries last week against SIU. Dating back to last season, Leshoure has topped 100 yards in three straight games and in five of his last eight games overall. During that span, Leshoure has 789 yards on 113 carries (7.0 ypc).
Redshirt-freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase bounced back from a shaky opener against Mizzou with an outstanding game last week against SIU. Scheelhaase earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after completing 14-of-18 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His 221.31 passer rating for the SIU game is the sixth-highest single-game efficiency rating in school history and is the 12th-best total in the NCAA so far this season.
The Illinois defense has made big strides so far this year under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. In the first two games of 2009 (Missouri and Illinois State), the Illini allowed 840 total yards and 54 points. In two games this season (Mizzou and SIU), the Illini have allowed just 609 yards and 26 points.
Senior punter Anthony Santella has been crushing the ball so far this season. Santella leads the Big Ten and ranks second in the NCAA in punting with an average of 49.0 yards on nine punts, including five punts of 50+ yards and two inside the 20. He averaged a career-best 50.8 yards per punt in the SIU game, tying the fifth-best single-game average in school history.
Seventeen Illini, including seven true-freshmen, have made their Fighting Illini debuts this season. True-freshmen FB Jay Prosch and TE Evan Wilson both started the first two games, while true-frosh LB Jonathan Brown, bandit Brandon Denmark, WR Ryan Lankford, WR Darius Millines and QB Miles Osei also have seen action this season. In addition, two transfers: FS Trulon Henry and FB Chris Willett; six redshirt-freshmen: RB Bud Golden, FS Steve Hull, DE Tim Kynard, TE Justin Lattimore, QB Nathan Scheelhaase and DT Akeem Spence; and two sophomores: LS Zak Pedersen and TE Eddie Viliunas; all have seen the field for the first time in their UI careers this season.
Illini coach Ron Zook is in his sixth 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. Saturday's game against NIU will be Zook's 100th career game as a head coach. He has an overall head coaching record of 45-54 in eight-plus seasons at Florida and Illinois combined and is 22-40 in five-plus seasons at Illinois.
ILLINOIS-NIU SERIES NOTES
Saturday's meeting will be only the fourth between Illinois and Northern Illinois.
The Fighting Illini lead the series 3-0, winning 30-14 in 1992, 34-10 in 1994 and 17-12 in 2001. All three games were played at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Former Illini kick-off specialist Michael Cklamovski now is playing the same role for the Huskies. Cklamovski, who was on the Orange and Blue roster from 2006-09, earned a bachelor's degree in political science and communications from Illinois in 2010 and currently is enrolled in law school at NIU where he is utilizing his final year of football eligibility.
ILLINI IN THE NCAA RANKINGS
The Illinois defense has racked up 17 tackles for loss in the first two games (8.5 per game), which leads the Big Ten and ranks 14th nationally. Already 10 different Illini defenders have at least a half-TFL, led by senior CB Travon Bellamy's 3.0 TFL, which ties him for fifth in the Big Ten.
Senior punter Anthony Santella leads the Big Ten and is second nationally in punting with a 49.0 average. As a team, the Illini lead the conference and rank 16th nationally in net punting at 42.33 yards.
Illinois' defense has been stout so far, holding opponents to just 13.0 points per game and 72.0 rushing yards per game, totals that rank 22nd and 12th in the nation, respectively.
Doak Walker Award candidate Mikel Leshoure is averaging 109.0 rushing yards per game this season, which puts him 20th in the nation and the sixth in the Big Ten.
LESHOURE PASSES 1,000 YARDS, FORD APPROACHING MARK
Junior running back Mikel Leshoure went over the 1,000-yard career rushing mark with his 106 yards on the ground against Southern Illinois, becoming the 36th Illini player to accomplish the feat. Leshoure enters this weekend's contest with 1,078 yards, which puts him ninth on the active Big Ten career rushing list.
Fellow junior Jason Ford is also approaching the 1,000-yard milestone, needing just 78 yards on the ground to become the 37th Illini to reach the mark.
Active Big Ten Career Rushing Leaders (as of 9/12/10)
1. Evan Royster, Sr., PSU 2,990 2. John Clay, Sr., WIS 2,661 3. Terrelle Pryor, Jr., OSU 1,540 4. Duane Bennett, Jr., MIN 1,249 5. Brandon Saine, Sr, OSU 1,181 6. Zach Brown, Sr., WIS 1,152 7. Dan Herron, Jr., OSU 1,149 8. Adam Robinson, So., IOWA 1,099 9. Mikel Leshoure, Jr., ILL 1,078 10. DeLeon Eskridge, Jr., MIN 1,059 -------------------------------------------- 11. Ralph Bolden, Jr., PUR 963 12. Stephfon Green, Jr., PSU 942 13. Jason Ford, Jr., ILL 922 14. Denard Robinson, So., MICH 806
The injury bug hit the Illini hard heading into the 2010 season. Two probable starters are out for the season in OL Corey Lewis, who tore his left ACL during spring ball, and safety Supo Sanni, who ruptured his right Achilles in practice on Aug. 25. The following players have missed the first two games of the season and are expected to miss this Saturday's game against Northern Illinois as well: CB Terry Hawthorne (foot), FB/TE Zach Becker (feet) and TE Russell Ellington (shoulder). Senior WR Eddie McGee suffered an ankle sprain in last week's SIU game and is questionable for this Saturday's contest, as is bandit Nate Palmer, who has been sidelined with a toe injury since training camp.
A pair of Illini defenders have returned from season-ending injuries last season. Linebacker Martez Wilson missed 11 games with a neck injury last season and received a medical redshirt, while cornerback Miami Thomas suffered a knee injury in training camp last year, missing the entire season. Both players were at full strength during preseason training camp and Wilson returned to action in the season-opener and has registered 14 tackles, including 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks and one forced fumble, through two games this season.
CHANGING THINGS UP
With the rash of injuries during training camp, the Illini made several position changes heading into the season. Sophomore Justin Green moved from running back to cornerback, sophomore Jack Ramsey went from wide receiver to cornerback and redshirt-freshman Steve Hull switched from wide receiver to safety. All three have made big contributions at their new positions in the opening weeks. Green started both games and has registered 11 tackles and two pass break-ups, Hull has seven tackles and Ramsey has two tackles at CB while also returning three kicks for 78 yards and five punts for 18 yards.
Junior Tavon Wilson also made a move during training camp, going from cornerback to strong safety. He responded with a career-high three pass break-ups against SIU and has nine tackles, a half-TFL and one fumble recovery on the season.
In addition, a few other position changes took place during spring ball. Junior Russell Ellington, who ranked fifth on the team last year with 42 tackles at linebacker, was converted to a tight end and sophomore Eddie Viliunas, a former walk-on quarterback, was moved to tight end as well. Viliunas saw action in two-tight end sets during the first two games, while Ellington is recovering from a shoulder injury.
The three points allowed to Southern Illinois last Saturday mark the lowest point total allowed by an Illinois team since shutting out Western Illinois on Sept. 8, 2007.
The Orange and Blue defense has allowed just six points (2 field goals) off of seven turnovers this season.
The Illini's defensive turnaround this season is even more impressive when field position is taken into account. Opponents have started six drives in plus territory, but the UI defense has allowed just three field goals on those six drives. The average starting position for opponents is the 36.2 yard line, compared to the 26.0 yard line for the Illini offense.
The defense has been especially stout in the red zone. In opponents' 10 trips inside the 20 this season, the Illini have allowed just two touchdowns and four field goals.
Illinois' defense held Southern Illinois to just 46 rushing yards on 29 carries, marking the fifth time in the last two seasons the Illini have held their opponent under 100 rushing yards. Through two games, the Illini are allowing just 72.0 ypg on the ground, which ranks 12th in the nation.
Cornerback Travon Bellamy recorded a career-high 12 tackles vs. Missouri and then had a team-high seven stops against SIU. His 9.5 tackles per game leads the team and is tied for fifth in the conference. Bellamy also has a team-high 3.0 tackles for loss, which ties him for fifth in the Big Ten in that category.
Linebacker Ian Thomas tied his career high with 13 tackles against Mizzou. Thomas' 1.5 TFL in that game also marked a new career high. Thomas currently ranks second on the team in both tackles (17) and TFL (2.5). Last season, Thomas' 7.7 tackles per game led Illinois and ranked 10th in the conference.
Defensive tackle Corey Liuget tied his career high with 2.5 TFLs in the opener against Missouri, equaling his total against Michigan on Oct. 31, 2009. After ranking second on the team with 8.0 TFL in 2009, Liuget dropped 30 pounds in the offseason to get down to 285 in hopes of being more mobile and harder to block.
Butkus Award candidate Martez Wilson forced his second career fumble against Missouri and has racked up 14 tackles, 1.5 TFL and a half-sack thus far this season.
New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino's offense has shown its versatility early this season. The team's opening drive of the season was a 17-play, 9:14 monster that resulted in a 21-yard field goal. The drive exceeded last year's longest drive by 1:54 and also tied last year's longest drive in terms of plays. Illinois also had a 15-play drive against Southern Illinois. In contrast, the Illini have also had three scoring drives that lasted less than a minute: a 45-second drive that led to a field goal at the end of the first half against Missouri and touchdown drives of 37- and 39-seconds against SIU.
When redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase took the field for the first play against Missouri, he became just the third redshirt-freshman in Illinois history to start a season opener. Scott Weaver (1993) and Rich Weiss (1978) are the only other two redshirt-freshmen to take the first snap of a season. Scheelhaase ran for 76 yards on 16 carries and threw for 81 yards and one touchdown in his debut.
Scheelhaase directed a long scoring drive during his first career series as the Illini signal-caller. The drive spanned 17 players and chewed up 9:14 one the clock in the first quarter, leading to a field goal.
Junior WR A.J. Jenkins tallied a career-high five receptions against SIU and had his second career 100-yard game, finishing with 114 yards, just three shy of his career best (117 yards vs. Minnesota in 2008). Jenkins' 54-yard TD catch against the Salukis equaled his career-long reception and marked his fifth career TD catch.
Weak-side tackle Jeff Allen anchors the Fighting Illini offensive line once again. The junior has started every game since the fourth game of his freshman season, giving him 23 consecutive starts.
Three Fighting Illini notched the first catches of their career against SIU last week. Redshirt-freshman Justin Lattimore hauled in a 33-yard touchdown from Scheelhaase in the third quarter for his first career reception, while true-freshmen Evan Wilson and Ryan Lankford also recorded their first career receptions. Wilson had a 34-yard reception in the first quarter to set up an Illini score and Lankford had a 10-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
The Illini offense finished last season with a flurry, averaging 35.4 points and 449.8 yards per game over the final five games of 2009.
Current senior Eddie McGee, who saw action at both QB and WR last season, was the only FBS player with 300+ pass yards, 100+rush yards and 100+ receiving yards in 2009.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Senior punter Anthony Santella has had two stellar games to open the season. Santella had a 46.8 average on four punts against Missouri and followed that up with a career-best 50.8 average on five punts against SIU, equaling the fifth-best single-game punting average in school history. Santella currently ranks second in the nation with a 49.0 average on nine punts.
Santella has vastly improved in each of his four seasons. He's gone from averaging 37.7 yards per punt in 2007 to 39.7 in 2008, 41.3 in 2009 and now 49.0 so far this season. He currently ranks fifth in the Illinois record books in career punting average (40.2), seventh in career yardage (7,561) and eighth in career punts (188).
Sophomore kicker Derek Dimke booted a career-long 52-yard field goal at the end of the first half against Missouri on Sept. 4. That kick tied the sixth-longest field goal in school history and was the longest Illinois since Jason Reda's 52-yarder at Indiana on Oct. 8, 2005. Dimke's previous career best was a 48-yard field goal in 2009 against Cincinnati. He also kicked off three times against Mizzou, averaging 69.0 yards per kick, the second-highest single-game total of his career. Since taking over kicking duties late last season, Dimke is a perfect 7-for-7 on field goals and 18-for-18 on extra points.
The Illini special teams returned a fairly intact group from a year ago. Back this season are four-year starting punter Anthony Santella and a pair of junior kickers in Matt Eller and Derek Dimke, who have combined for all the kickoff, field goal and extra point duties during the past two seasons. Lost only to this clan is the stability at long snapper with the graduation of Tad Keely. Replacing him is sophomore Zak Pedersen, who saw his first action in the season opener against Missouri.
ILLINI RUSHING ATTACK OVER THE YEARS
Illinois averaged 205.0 rushing ypg from 2006-09, leading the Big Ten during that span. The Illini led the conference in rushing yards per game in 2006 and 2007 and were second in 2009, just 3.4 ypg behind leader Wisconsin. So far this season Illinois is averaging 184.0 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 40th nationally.
The Fighting Illini averaged 200.4 yards per game on the ground last season, ranking 17th in the nation and marking the third time under head coach Ron Zook that the Illini averaged over 200 yards rushing as a team. It marked the third time in the last five years that Illinois finished the season ranked among the NCAA Top 20.
Leshoure's 6.8 yards per carry in 2009 led all BCS conference players with at least 100 attempts, and he and teammate Jason Ford (6.1 ypc) ranked 1-2 in the Big Ten in that category last season.
Leshoure had 571 rushing yards in the second half of last season. The only Big Ten player with more rushing yards during that span was Wisconsin's John Clay (801).
As a team, Illinois averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season to lead the Big Ten.
GRIFFITH RETURNS FOR 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF NCAA-RECORD 8 TD GAME
Illini great Howard Griffith, noted studio analyst for the Big Ten Network, returned to Memorial Stadium on Sept. 11 when the Illini hosted Southern Illinois to commemorate his monumental performance 20 years ago against the Salukis. In that game, Griffith broke the NCAA record for points (48) and rushing touchdowns in a game (8). He still holds or shares NCAA records for rushing touchdowns in a quarter (4) and a game, as well as most consecutive rushes for a touchdown in a game (3). Griffith went on to play eight seasons in the NFL and won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos in 1997 and `98.
NEW NAME, NEW HOME, NEW TIME FOR ZOOK TV SHOW
Fighting Illini Insider, a 30-minute weekly television show produced by the University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA) premiered on Tuesday, September 7, on a new Central Illinois home. Fans in Champaign-Urbana, Springfield and Decatur can to watch the show at 6:30 p.m. on the Central Illinois CW Network and then at 11:00 p.m. on Fox 55/27. Fans nationwide can catch the show this fall on the Big Ten Network on Thursdays at 4 p.m. CT.
The format of the show will allow programming to briefly highlight all 19 varsity sports while focusing primarily on football in the fall and men's and women's basketball in the winter. The show will run weekly into May and will feature the spring sports later in the year. The weekly Fighting Illini Insider will maintain a consistent name throughout the year and will replace the previously named Ron Zook Show, Bruce Weber Show and Jolette Law Show.
Fighting Illini Insider Air Times
Tuesdays 6:30 p.m. Central Illinois CW 23.1 (Champaign-Urbana, Springfield, Decatur) 11:00 p.m. Fox 55/27 (Champaign-Urbana, Springfield, Decatur)
Thursdays 4:00 p.m. CT Big Ten Network (Nationwide)
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday (Replay - Central Illinois) 7:30 a.m. THIS TV Illinois 23.2 / Comcast - 232 / Mediacom - 115
The coaching staff designates different team captains for each game week throughout the season. Here is a list of this year's game captains:
MISSOURI: LB Nate Bussey, OL Randall Hunt, WR Eddie McGee, DL Clay Nurse
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS: OL Jeff Allen, LB Nate Bussey, WR Jarred Fayson, DL Clay Nurse
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: OL Jeff Allen, WR Jarred Fayson, LB Ian Thomas, DB Tavon Wilson