No. 17 Illinois Prepares To Host No. 10 Michigan

Brandon Moore makes the stop against the Golden Bears.
Brandon Moore makes the stop against the Golden Bears.

Sept. 17, 2000

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No. 17/19 ILLINOIS (3-0) vs. No. 10/10 Michigan (2-1)

Sept. 23, 2000
6:30 p.m. CT -- ESPN
Memorial Stadium (70,900)
Champaign, Illinois

The 17th-ranked Fighting Illini look to extend their longest winning streak since winning 10 straight during the Big Ten Championship season of 1983. Illinois enters the Big Ten opener against 10th-ranked Michigan having won seven straight games dating back to the 1999 season. Michigan had climbed to No. 3 in the national rankings until losing, 23-20, at UCLA last week. Illinois will be looking to snap a six-game losing streak in Big Ten openers since a 28-10 victory over Purdue in 1993.

The Illini stayed unbeaten at 3-0 with a 17-15 victory over the Cal Bears at Memorial Stadium Saturday. Illinois had jumped out to a 14-2 lead until a bizarre play at the end of the first half put Cal back in the game. With Cal on the Illini 2-yard line and 3 seconds remaining in the half, Illinois defensive end Fred Wakefield batted a Kyle Boller pass into the waiting hands of Charon Arnold for a Bear touchdown. Steve Fitts booted a 33-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to give Illinois a 17-9 lead before Boller and Arnold hooked up again for a touchdown, this time from 32 yards with 1:26 remaining in regulation. The ensuing two-point conversion attempt failed when Wakefield again batted the pass away - this time to the ground.

Illinois quarterback Kurt Kittner was forced to the sidelines in the third quarter after suffering a sprained knee. Kittner was held to his lowest statistical day since his freshman season after completing just four of 16 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. Backup Dustin Ward played the remainder of the game, completing three of eight passes for 39 yards. Antoinio Harris (83 yards) and Jameel Cook (78 yards) led the Illini rushing attack that ran up 222 yards on the day. Cal punter Nick Harris turned in one of the greatest punting performances in the history of Memorial Stadium. Harris averaged 41.4 yards on 12 punts for the day, but dropped 10 of his 12 punts inside the 20, nine of his 12 inside the 15 and five within the 5-yard line.

At the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Michigan was moving into position for at least a game-tying field goal attempt when a late UCLA interception gave the Bruins the victory. Wolverine running back Anthony Thomas has rushed for an average of 140.3 yards and a total of four touchdowns over the first three games. Freshman quarterback John Navarre had led the nation in passing efficiency until Saturday's loss to UCLA.


RON TURNER (14-23 in his fourth year at Illinois, 21-27 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. 23 contest against Michigan with a 21-27 head coaching record, 14-23 at Illinois. The Illini have won seven in a row and eight of their last nine games.

Turner is 1-0 against Michigan as a head coach after a stunning 35-29 victory at Ann Arbor last season. Trailing the ninth-ranked Wolverines 27-7 in the third quarter, Illinois scored 28 points in the final 17:41 of the game to stun Michigan on its home field.

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.

LLOYD CARR (51-14 in his sixth year at Michigan and overall) - Carr is in his sixth year as head coach at Michigan after serving as assistant coach of the Wolverines from 1980-94. Other collegiate stops include two years as the defensive back coach at Eastern Michigan (1976-77) and two years as the defensive back coach at Illinois in 1978-79 under Gary Moeller. Carr is 2-1 against Illinois as a head coach.

Michigan leads the all-time series 60-21-2, including a 5-2-1 advantage in the 1990s. Michigan leads the series 29-11-1 in games played in Champaign. The last Illinois victory in the series at Champaign was in 1983 when Illinois won 16-6 on the way to the Big Ten title.

Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr served on Gary Moeller's Illinois staff as defensive backs coach in 1978 and 1979. Illinois was 3-16-3 during those two seasons. Illinois receivers coach Robert Jackson and defensive ends coach Osia Lewis served on the same Oregon State staff as Michigan defensive line coach Brady Hoke from 1990-94. Lewis joined the staff in 1991. Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Kish was on the same Army staff as Michigan offensive tackles/tight ends coach Andy Moeller from 1988-91. Moeller and Illini offensive line coach Harry Hiestand were on the same Missouri staff from 1994-96.

Senior tight end B.J. Ogata is the only Illini player to hail from Michigan. Ogata is a native of Arcadia, Mich.

Illinois' current seven-game winning streak ranks among the best in school history. Here's a look at the longest winning streaks in Fighting Illini football history.

131909-11 (4-1909, 7-1910, 2-1911)
1923-24 (8-1923, 5-1924)
91927-28 (5-1927, 4-1928)
1919-20 (4-1919, 5-1920)
1914-15 (7-1914, 2-1915)
81946-47 (6-1946, 2-1947)
1925-26 (4-1925, 3-1926)
1999-2000 (4-1999, 3-2000)

Illinois set a school record in 1999 by scoring an average of 32.3 points per game. After three games in 2000, Illinois has upped that to an average of 33.7 points per game. Scoring so far has been balanced with seven rushing TDs and seven passing.

Illinois leads the Big Ten in rushing with an average of 255.3 yards per game. That average would rank second all time at Illinois following the 1953 squad that averaged 275.7 rushing yards per game. The 1963 team averaged 231.4 yards per game. Team stats are available since 1950.

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 (2 field goals and a late touchdown). Illinois held California to 276 yards in total offense (2 TDs) and just 114 yards in net rushing.

The Illini's 17-15 win over California marks the seventh 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 (35-6) and San Diego State (49-13) in the first two games of the season. The last time an Illinois team won seven straight games was in 1983 when they won 10 in a row. When the Illini take the field against Michigan, they will be searching for consecutive win No. 8. Illinois has not won eight straight since the same season in 1983.

With their 17-15 win over California, the Illini jumped up to 17th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll, and xx in the Associated Press rankings. The last time and Illinois team reached as high 17th nationally was in 1991 when the team was 4-2 following a 17-11 loss to Iowa. The squad 13th the previous week, coming off a 10-7 win over Ohio State. 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
Sept. 1719th17thNebraska6

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 seven-touchdown, 60 percent completion performance in the last three games, Kittner is on-track to continue his productivity of a year ago. He has connected with three different receivers for TDs (11 different receivers in 1999), including four 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.

When the No. 10 Michigan Wolverines come to town, it will be the first time the Illini have faced a Top-25 team this season. Illinois is 2-10 against ranked opponents in Coach Ron Turner's era and has a 29-87-3 record all-time. In 1999, Turner's Illini knocked off No. 9 Michigan and No. 25 Ohio State on the road.

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, 203.6 yards per game, (109.3 yards a game for Harris and 94.3 ypg for Harvey) and they would be ranked second 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 1,691 yards and needs 160 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 first two games, Fitts was a perfect 12-of-12 on extra point attempts and averaged 41.8 yards per punt, including a 50-yarder. 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)


  • 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.

    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.