Sept. 23, 2013
Beckman Press Conference: Video | Quotes
Monday Interviews: OC Cubit | DC Banks | QB Scheelhaase | LB Brown | DE Kynard
The Fighting Illini (2-1) return to Memorial Stadium to host the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks (0-3) after an open date last weekend. Illinois is coming off a 34-24 loss to No. 19 Washington at Soldier Field on Sept. 14.
The revamped Illinois offense, directed by new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, has jumped at least 60 spots in the national rankings from last year to this year in passing offense, passing efficiency, scoring offense, total offense and turnovers lost, with the biggest turnaround a 95-place swing in long plays from scrimmage. The results have been astounding:
| ILLINOIS' OFFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT IN 2013
|Category||2012 (Final Nat'l Rk)||2013 (Current Nat'l Rk)||Difference|
|Scrimmage plays of 20+ yds||34 (122)||21 (27)||+95|
|Turnovers lost||30 (107)||3 (15)||+92|
|Passing Offense (ypg)||138.83 (107)||306.0 (21)||+96|
|Scoring Offense (ppg)||16.67 (119)||37.0 (42)||+77|
|Passing Efficiency||113.42 (102)||161.21 (26)||+76|
|Total Offense (ypg)||296.67 (119)||437.7 (56)||+63|
Illinois tallied nine scrimmage plays of 20-plus yards against Cincinnati and has 21 plays of 20-plus yards on the season, ranking 27th nationally. 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 17 passing plays of 20-plus yards is the 15th-most nationally and their four passing plays of 50-plus yards ranks sixth nationally.
Senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase appears to have saved 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 25 in the nation in both total offense (300.7 ypg, 24th) and passing yards per game (294.7, 15th) through week four.
Running back Josh Ferguson and wide receiver Ryan Lankford rank 1-2 in the Big Ten in yards per reception. Ferguson ranks third in the nation with a 26.4 yards-per-catch average (seven receptions, 185 yards, two TDs), while Lankford ranks 12th nationally at 22.5 yards per catch (10 receptions, 225 yards, one TD).
Senior LB and Butkus Award candidate Jonathan Brown leads the Big Ten and ranks third nationally in tackles per game (12.7). Brown had 15 stops against Washington, a B1G single-game high this season. Sophomore LB Mason Monheim is averaging 10.0 tackles per game to rank 24th nationally and second in the Big Ten behind only teammate Brown.
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 have a 100-yard kickoff return TD from sophomore 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 11th nationally in kickoff returns (28.00 ypr) and 51st in punt returns (8.7 ypr), improvements of 96 and 67 spots, respectively.
Illinois is one of five teams in the nation with a perfect fourth-down conversion percentage (1-of-1) and one of 16 teams with a perfect fourth-down converstion percentage defense (0-of-3). Only the Fighting Illini and top-ranked Alabama (1-of-1 and 0-of-1, respectively) are perfect in both categories this season.
The Illini are playing their fourth-straight game in the state of Illinois on Saturday, with the Southern Illinois, Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio) contests at Memorial Stadium and the Washington game on Sept. 14 in Chicago's Soldier Field. Illinois plays its first road game on Oct. 5 at Nebraska, which will be the latest UI has played its first game outside the state's borders since 1994, when the Illini also played at Soldier Field and had three home games before playing a road game.
ILLINI STAFF TO PARTICIPATE IN COACH TO CURE MD WEEK
Illinois coach Tim Beckman and staff join forces with coaches around the country this weekend to support the Coach to Cure MD program. All the Fighting Illini coaches will be wearing patches on their sleeves for the Miami (Ohio) game on Sept. 28 to raise awareness and funding for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research, and a family who has been affected by the disease will participate in the coin toss prior to the game. Fans are encouraged to donate online at www.CoachtoCureMD.org or donate $5 by texting "CURE" to 90999.
FORMER ILLINI HEADING TO SPACE
Former Illini defensive back and current NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins is scheduled to make his first space flight this Wednesday, Sept. 25. Hopkins and crewmates Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy will launch from Baikonur Kazakhstan at 3:58 pm CT on Wednesday, and will arrive at the International Space Station approximately six hours later. Hopkins will remain on board as a Flight Engineer on Expedition 37/Expedition 38, which is scheduled to end with the Soyuz landing in March 2014. During its time on the station, the crew will conduct science experiments and maintenance.
Hopkins played for coach John Mackovic at Illinois, helping the Fighting Illini reach four straight bowl games from 1988-91. He started his career as a walk-on and by the time he was a senior he was a team captain. He graduated from Illinois in 1991 with a degree in aerospace engineering and got his master's degree in aerospace engineering from Stanford in 1992. A colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Hopkins was selected in July 2009 as one of 14 members of the 20th NASA astronaut class.
Wednesday's launch will be carried live on NASA Television and streamed live at http://www.nasa.gov/ntv. More information on Hopkins and his mission can be found at www.nasa.gov/station and on Twitter @AstroIllini.
BUSY SPORTS WEEKEND IN CHAMBANA
Saturday's football game against Miami (Ohio) is the centerpiece of a busy sports weekend in Champaign-Urbana, which is fitting for the annual Dads Weekend on campus. On Friday night, Fighting Illini volleyball hosts Iowa at State Farm Center (7 p.m.), while soccer also hosts the Hawkeyes at the same time. Following the football game on Saturday, volleyball faces Nebraska at Huff Hall at 4 p.m. before the men's and women's basketball teams kick off their preseason at Illini Street Jam, which will be held outdoors at the intersection of Green and Wright Streets in Campustown. Then on Sunday, the Illini host the eighth-annual Soccer Fest against Nebraska at 1 p.m.
BYE WEEK FACTS
The Fighting Illini are coming off an open weekend heading into Saturday's Miami (Ohio) game. It's the first of two byes for Illinois this season, marking just the fourth time in school history that the team has more than one open week in a season. The only other times were in 1989, 2009 and 2010.
Illinois has played 32 games after a bye in the modern era (since 1985, when bye weeks became commonplace) and is 11-21 in those contests. The Illini have lost 10 straight games coming off a bye, with their last win coming over Indiana (45-14) on Oct. 26, 2002.
MIAMI (OHIO) SERIES NOTES
Illinois holds a 2-0 lead in the all-time series against Miami (Ohio), winning 20-7 in Champaign in 1932 and 45-0 in Champaign in 1941.
Illini head coach Tim Beckman is 1-1 against Miami (Ohio) as a head coach, beating them 49-28 in 2011 when he led Toledo, and falling to the RedHawks 31-24 in 2009, his first season at UT.
Illini defensive line coach Greg Colby and RedHawk defensive coordinator Jay Peterson coached together at Northwestern in 2002 and 2003, when Colby was defensive coordinator and Peterson led the defensive line. Illinois executive senior associate athletics director and football sport administrator Jason Lener came to Champaign-Urbana in December 2011 after serving as deputy athletic director at Miami from 2006-11.
ILLINOIS AGAINST THE MAC
The Illini are 9-2 all-time against the Mid-American Conference, with the most recent matchup a 24-7 win over Western Michigan to start the 2012 season. Illinois has won four of its last five meetings against MAC opponents. The Broncos also hold one of Illinois' two MAC losses, with WMU beating the Illini in 2008. Ohio also beat UI in 2006. All games except for the 2008 game against Western Michigan - which was at Ford Field in Detroit - have taken place in Champaign.
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, and the Big Ten, in tackles so far this season as Brown is averaging a Big Ten-best 12.7 stops per game, third-best in the NCAA, and Monheim ranks second in the Big Ten and 24th nationally with 10.0 tackles per game.
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. Illinois linebacker lore also includes recent NFL Draft picks Danny Clark, Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey.
WHOSE HOUSE? SCHEEL-HOUSE
Senior quarterback Nathan 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 three-game 2013 numbers versus his 10-game 2012 numbers below:
| Scheelhaase Passing 2012 vs. 2013|
Scheelhaase's 728 yards in the first two games were the most for an Illini QB in the first two games of a season since Jason Verduzco passed for 783 yards in the first two games of 1991. Scheelhaase also had 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).
Scheelhaase ranks fifth on the Illinois career touchdown passes list with 41, just one behind Jason Verduzco's fourth-place total of 42. He also holds the No. 4 spot in career total offense at Illinois with 7,993 yards, is fourth in career passing efficiency (128.3), sixth in passing yardage (6,180), sixth in completions (551), seventh in attempts (903) and 18th in rushing yardage (1,813) - second among quarterbacks - at Illinois.
Scheelhaase has flashed the big-play ability in 2013 that Illini fans saw from him early in his career, posting 16 plays of 20-plus yards in the first three 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 and Wyoming's Brett Smith each have four. Scheelhaase is tied for fifth on the list with Cody Fajardo (Nevada) and Connor Shaw (South Carolina).
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 and Washington.
NEW 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).
ILLINI ARE ALL OVER THE NFL
Illinois had 24 former players on 2013 NFL opening day rosters, plus two on a practice squad, the fifth-most amoung Big Ten teams behind Ohio State (31), Iowa (26), Penn State (25) and Wisconsin (25) and ahead of Michgan (23), Nebraska (23), Purdue (18), Michigan State (15), Northwestern (7), Indiana (5) and Minnesota (4).
Illinois led all Big Ten schools with four players selected in the 2013 NFL Draft: OL Hugh Thornton (third round, Colts), DT Akeem Spence (fourth round, Buccaneers), CB Terry Hawthorne (fifth round, Steelers) and DE Michael Buchanan (seventh round, Patriots).
Illinois has had four players chosen in each of the last four drafts (2010-2013).
Sixteen Illini have been drafted since 2010, including 10 in the first three rounds (most in the Big Ten).
Illinois has shown a great ability to sustain drives early in the season. Through three games, the Illini have six drives of 10-plus plays, five of which ended with scores and resulted in a total of 27 points. Last year, Illinois managed only 11 scoring drives of 10 or more plays.
Conversely, the Illini also have shown quick-strike capability, with four scoring drives of zero, one or two plays. V'Angelo Bentley's 100-yard kickoff return against Southern Illinois doesn't even register in the game's drive chart, and the Illini had two-play scoring drives against SIU and Cincinnati. Most recently, Nathan Scheelhaase hit Ryan Lankford with a 72-yard touchdown strike late in the third quarter against Washington, a one-play drive that required only 16 seconds.
Illinois' offense has been amazingly balanced, as 13 different players have caught a pass and nine different players have had a rushing attempt. Against Cincinnati, 11 different players caught passes, equaling the most since 11 players caught at least one pass against Purdue on Oct. 30, 2010.
Against Cincinnati, Illinois matched its longest drive in school history, covering 99 yards on 12 plays over 5:07. It marked the fifth time since 1971 the Illini have recorded a 99-yard drive, and the first since Oct. 21, 2009, against Michigan. The Illini also had a 94-yard TD drive (seven plays in 1:15) and an 88-yard TD drive (7 plays in 3:16) in the season opener against SIU.
Senior wide receiver Ryan Lankford has had a pair of 100-yard game already this season (career-high 115 against SIU and an even 100 against Washington), giving him three career 100-yard receiving games. Against Cincinnati, Lankford did his damage on the ground, rushing for 46 yards on three carries, including a darting 29-yard TD run, the first of his career, on an end-around. For the season, Lankford is averaging a whopping 22.5 yards per reception (10 catches, 225 yards), which ranks second in the Big Ten and 12th in the nation.
Against Washington, Lankford caught a career-long 72-yard touchdown from Scheelhaase, equaling the 15th-longest touchdown pass in school history. It is the longest touchdown reception since the 77-yard TD catch by A.J. Jenkins on Oct. 8, 2011, at Indiana.
True-freshman QB Aaron Bailey recorded his second career touchdown, a 10-yard TD run on fourth down, against Washington at Soldier Field. On the season, Bailey has seven total carries resulting in four first downs and two touchdowns.
Sophomore running back Josh Ferguson posted his first career 100-yard receiving game with 103 yards on four catches against SIU, highlighted by a career-long 53-yard touchdown reception, the first TD catch of his career. He had three "big plays" against the Salukis with a 53-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass, a 26-yard reception and a 34-yard run. He followed that up with a 48-yard TD reception against Cincinnati in week two and a 27-yard catch against Washington. For the season, Ferguson ranks second in the nation in yards per reception with seven catches for 185 yards (26.4 ypr). In 2012, Ferguson led all Big Ten freshmen in all-purpose yards per game (90.7).
The starters on the Illini offensive line are massive, as all five are listed at at least 300 pounds and have an average weight of 309 pounds (Simon Cvijanovic - 310, Michael Heitz - 305, Alex Hill - 315, Ted Karras - 300, Corey Lewis - 315).
The Illini have held opponents 0-for-3 on fourth down this year, making Illinois one of 16 teams in FBS yet to allow a fourth-down conversion and one of only eight to stay perfect in three or more attempts.
Butkus Award candidate Jonathan Brown leads the Big Ten with 38 tackles and ranks third in the nation at 12.7 tackles per game after a 15-tackle performance against Washington, a single-game Big Ten high for this season. Over the last two years, Brown has put up monster numbers when healthy. He was leading the Illini with 59 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 2012 before having his season cut short by a shoulder injury. That followed a breakout 2011 season, when he earned All-Big Ten honors with 108 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. He ranked sixth in the nation in TFLs per game (1.63) and led the Big Ten in TFLs per game during conference play (2.07). Brown is a member of preseason watch lists for the Butkus Award, Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy.
Sophomore LB Mason Monheim has 30 tackles - which ranks second in the Big Ten and 24th nationally - 2.5 TFLs and a sack in 2013, a solid start after a stellar freshman season that saw him earn second-team freshman All-America honors by Phil Steele. Monheim started the final 10 games of the season and led all Big Ten freshmen with 86 tackles. Monheim ranked 15th in the conference in tackles per game (7.2), while no other B1G freshman was in the top 50. He was the first Illini true-freshman ever to lead the team in tackles.
Sophomore Eaton Spence reached double-digit tackles for the first time in his career with 14 stops against Washington, which equaled the second-most tackles by a Big Ten player in a game this year (behind only Jonathan Brown's 15 tackles). For the season, Spence ranks fifth in the Big Ten in tackles per game (8.3 tpg).
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Junior Justin DuVernois, a 2013 Ray Guy Award candidate, earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors following a stellar performance against Washington at Soldier Field. DuVernois punted five times for an average of 45.2 yards, pinning the Huskies inside the 20 three times and inside the 10 twice. He also had a career-high three punts over 50 yards. For the season, he is averaging 42.1 yards per kick - fourth-best in the Big Ten - up from his 41.9 average last season, which ranked fourth in the conference and was 3.6 yards per kick better than 2011.
V'Angelo Bentley's 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown against Southern Illinois was the longest by a single player in school history and equaled the longest touchdown in Illinois history. It matched the record set by Travis Williams and Eugene Wilson, who combined for 100 yards on a kick return lateral play, against Purdue on Oct. 12, 2002. It also marked Illinois' first kick return TD since A.J. Jenkins (96 yards) against Indiana on Oct. 18, 2008.
Bentley is averaging 37.5 yards per kick return this season, which leads the Big Ten and ranks third in the nation.
Illinois has streaks of 52 games and 147 attempts without missing a PAT. The last time the Fighting Illini did not convert a PAT kick was on Sept. 5, 2009, against Missouri.
Complete Illinois-Miami (Ohio) Game Notes