Jason Ford and the Illini open up Big Ten play when Ohio State comes to Memorial Stadium this Saturday.
Sept. 27, 2010
Oct. 2, 2010 // 11 a.m. CT kickoff // Big Ten Network
Champaign, Ill. // Memorial Stadium (62,870)
The Illinois/OSU game will be nationally televised on the Big Ten Network with an air time of 11 a.m. CT. Eric Collins (play-by-play), Chris Martin (color analyst) and Charissa Thompson (sideline) will call the action with Jim Ressler producing. Find the Big Ten Network on your TV system
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 (122) XM (143) Radio satellite radio. Illini Sports Network Radio Station List
A limited number of tickets are available for Saturday's game against Ohio State. Tickets can be purchased at the UI Athletic Ticket Office at Assembly Hall, by calling 1-866-ILLINI-1 or online at fightingillini.com.
The Fighting Illini will be looking for their third-straight victory this Saturday when they welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes to Memorial Stadium to open the Big Ten schedule.
Junior running back Mikel Leshoure has topped the 100-yard mark in all three games this season and in four straight games dating back to last season, which ties J.C. Caroline and Robert Holcombe for the most consecutive 100+ rushing efforts in school history. Leshoure will be gunning for five straight against an OSU defense that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 27 games.
Leshoure has run for 969 yards on 137 carries (7.1 ypc) since the mid-point of last season (nine games). Among Big Ten players, only Wisconsin's John Clay (1181 yards on 189 carries, 6.2 ypc) has more rushing yardage since Oct. 24 of last season. So far this season, Leshoure ranks second in the Big Ten and seventh in the nation in rushing with 132.7 ypg.
Senior punter Anthony Santella ranks second in the nation with an average of 48.9 yards on 15 punts this season, including seven punts of 50+ yards and three inside the 20. He averaged a career-best 50.8 yards per punt in the Southern Illinois game, tying the fifth-best single-game average in school history, and boomed a career-long 67-yarder against Northern Illinois. As a team, Illinois ranks fourth in the nation in net punting (43.3 ypk).
The Illinois defense has made big strides so far this year under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. In the first three games of 2009, the Illini allowed 1,158 total yards (386.0 ypg) and 84 points (28.0 ppg). In three games this season, the Illini have allowed just 999 yards (333.0 ypg) and 48 points (16.0 ppg).
Redshirt-freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has shown his dual-threat ability in Illinois' first three games. He earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors on Sept. 13 after completing 14-of-18 passes for 229 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against SIU. His 221.31 passer rating for that game is the sixth-highest single-game efficiency rating in school history. He then ran for 115 yards on 15 carries against NIU, marking the seventh-best rushing game by a QB in school history. Through three games, Scheelhaase ranks second on the Illini in rushing, with 204 yards on 40 carries (5.1 ypc).
Seventeen Illini, including seven true-freshmen, have made their Fighting Illini debuts this season. True-freshmen LB Jonathan Brown, bandit Brandon Denmark, WR Ryan Lankford, WR Darius Millines, QB Miles Osei, FB Jay Prosch and TE Evan Wilson all 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 OSU will be Zook's 101st career game as a head coach. He has an overall head coaching record of 46-54 in eight-plus seasons at Florida and Illinois combined and is 23-40 in five-plus seasons at Illinois.
ILLINOIS-OHIO STATE GAMEDAY INFORMATION
The Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA) strongly encourages fans to arrive at Memorial Stadium early as a sellout crowd is expected. Parking lots open at 7 a.m. on game day and Memorial Stadium opens at 9:30 a.m. For this game, Pennsylvania Avenue will be closed from Lincoln Avenue to Fourth Street for bus parking. As a reminder, overnight parking is not allowed in football parking lots. Traffic updates can be found on WDWS 1400-AM. Illinois Football Parking and Game Day Information
OHIO STATE SERIES NOTES
This weekend's game between Illinois and Ohio State will mark the 97th meeting between the two teams, dating back to 1902. OSU holds the series lead, 62-30-4, and also leads in Champaign, 33-12-0. The Illini's last win over OSU was in Columbus in 2007, 28-21.
Illinois' last win over the Buckeyes in Champaign was at 10-7 victory on Oct. 12, 1991. However, the last four meetings between the two teams at Memorial Stadium have been close. The Illini lost by three in 2001 (24-21), seven in overtime in 2002 (23-16), seven in 2006 (17-10), and 10 in 2008 (30-20).
Illinois has fared as well against Buckeyes as nearly any Big Ten team recently, posting a 9-11 record against OSU dating back to 1988. Only Michigan has more victories over Ohio State during the span, posting an 11-10-1 record vs. the Buckeyes.
This will be Ron Zook's sixth head-to-head meeting with Ohio State. He is 1-4 in those five meetings, while Buckeye coach Jim Tressel is 5-2 in his career vs. the Illini.
Zook was the defensive backs coach on the Ohio State coaching staff from 1988-90 under John Cooper. The Illini were 3-0 vs. Ohio State during that time, including two wins in Columbus.
Zook is a native of Loudonville, Ohio, and is a 1976 graduate of Miami of Ohio. He was a three-year letter-winning defensive back from 1973-75 and a captain of the 1975 team. During his time, Miami was 32-1-1.
The Illini have faced a ranked Ohio State team on 37 occasions in the series history and are 11-26 vs. the Buckeyes in those contests (dating back to 1942 when rankings were recorded in Illinois archives).
Illinois has 12 players on its roster from the state of Ohio, including the following players who have seen regular time on the field in 2010: junior defensive tackle Daryle Ballew (Cincinnati/Withrow), redshirt-freshman safety Steve Hull (Cincinnati/Sycamore), sophomore defensive end Whitney Mercilus (Akron/Garfield), senior offensive lineman Ryan Palmer (Canton/Glen Oak), sophomore defensive end Justin Staples (Lakewood/St. Edward), sophomore offensive lineman Hugh Thornton (Oberlin) and sophomore defensive back Ashante Williams (Mayfield).
THE BATTLE FOR THE ILLIBUCK
This week, Illinois and Ohio State will play for the coveted Illibuck Trophy. Ohio State leads the "Illibuck" series with a 58-23-2 mark.
"Illibuck" is - or was - a turtle, destined for long life, it was hoped. But the wear and tear of traveling between Champaign-Urbana and Columbus was too much, even for a hardy marine reptile. "Illibuck" died in the spring of 1927 and his successor is now a wooden replica. Members of two junior honorary societies, Bucket and Dipper of Ohio State and Sachem of Illinois, annually meet at halftime of the Fighting Illini-Buckeye game to present the "Illibuck" trophy to the previous year's winning school.
Illinois last took the "Illibuck" with a 28-21 win at Columbus in 2007, but Ohio State took it back with a 30-20 win in Champaign in 2008 and retained it last year with a 30-0 win at Ohio Stadium.
HIGHTLIGHTS AGAINST THE BUCKEYES
Illinois has held Ohio State to less than 100 yards passing in each of the last two meetings. In 2008, the Buckeyes had just 49 passing yards and last year they had only 82 yards through the air against the Illini.
Illinois is averaging 185.3 yards per game on the ground against Ohio State in the last three meetings and holds an overall edge in total yards during that span. Illinois has amassed 1,025 yards vs. OSU since 2007 (341.7 ypg), while the Buckeyes have totaled 1,002 yards vs. the Illini (334.0 ypg).
In 2007, Illinois beat No. 1 Ohio State, 28-21, in Columbus, marking the first time the Illini beat a top-ranked team since 1956. The victory ended OSU's 29-game regular season winning streak and 21-game Big Ten win streak.
In that 2007 victory, current redshirt-junior CB Miami Thomas had a career-game as a true-freshman. Thomas tipped a pass in the end zone that led to an interception in the third quarter and then had a key interception in the fourth quarter to help seal the Illini win. Unfortunately for Thomas, his career has been derailed by injuries since then, missing most of 2008 and all of the 2009 season with separate knee injuries. He has returned to the field this year, but is still not at 100 percent.
BYE WEEK FACTS
The Fighting Illini are coming off a bye weekend heading into Saturday's game against Ohio State. It is the first of two byes for Illinois this season, marking just the third time in school history that the team will have more than one open week in a season. The only other times were in 1989 and 2009.
Illinois has played 25 games after a bye weekend in the modern era and is 11-14 in those contests. The Illini have faced Ohio State seven times after an off weekend, going 4-3. Those games came in six consecutive years from 1985-90 and last season, when the Buckeyes won 30-0 in Columbus.
ILLINOIS VS. RANKED OPPONENTS
Illinois will face its first top-25 opponent of the season when No. 2 Ohio State comes to Memorial Stadium this Saturday. In addition, three of the Illini's future opponents are in this week's AP top-25: No. 19 Michigan, No. 22 Penn State and No. 24 Michigan State.
The Illini are 3-9 vs. top-25 opponents over the past three-plus seasons, including a win over No. 1 Ohio State in 2007. Illinois is 2-4 against top-10 foes during that span with wins over No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 1 Ohio State, and a loss to No. 7 USC in 2007, losses to No. 6 Missouri and No. 10 Ohio State in 2008 and No. 5 Cincinnati in 2009. In the Ron Zook era, the Illini are 3-16 against ranked teams.
In his eight-plus years as a head coach, Ron Zook has posted nine wins over ranked opponents.
ILLINI IN THE NCAA RANKINGS
Senior punter Anthony Santella leads the Big Ten and is second nationally in punting with a 48.9 average. As a team, the Illini lead the conference and rank fourth nationally in net punting at 43.27 yards.
Doak Walker Award candidate Mikel Leshoure is averaging 132.7 rushing yards per game this season, which puts him seventh in the nation and the second in the Big Ten. Overall, the Illinois rushing offense is ranked 18th nationally at 229.0 ypg.
The Illinois defense has racked up 23 tackles for loss in the first three games (7.7 per game), which is second in the Big Ten and ranks 20th nationally. Already 10 different Illini defenders have at least 1.0 TFL, led by senior CB Travon Bellamy and junior LB Ian Thomas, who both have 4.0 TFL and are tied for sixth in the Big Ten.
Illinois' defense has been stout so far, holding opponents to just 16.0 points per game and 102.3 rushing yards per game, totals that rank 27th and 25th in the nation, respectively.
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 197.9 yards per game (12,470 yards in 63 games) in the last 5+ seasons tops Wisconsin's 193.1 ypg (13,324 yards in 69 games) during that same time span.
The Illini led the conference in rushing yards per game in 2006 and 2007, and were second in 2009. So far this season, Illinois is averaging 229.0 ypg on the ground, which ranks 18th nationally and fifth in the Big Ten.
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 also marked the third time in the last five years that Illinois finished the season ranked among the NCAA Top 20.
Mikel 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 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 1,258 yards, which puts him 27th on the UI career rushing list and fifth among active Big Ten players.
Fellow junior Jason Ford is also approaching the 1,000-yard milestone, needing just 54 yards on the ground to become the 37th Illini to reach the mark.
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 three games of the season and are questionable for this Saturday's game against Ohio State: CB Terry Hawthorne (foot), FB/TE Zach Becker (feet) and TE Russell Ellington (shoulder). Senior WR Eddie McGee suffered an ankle sprain in the SIU game and missed the NIU game, but is expected to return this weekend, 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 went through preseason training camp without further issues and Wilson returned to action in the season-opener and has registered a team-high 25 tackles, including 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks and one forced fumble, through three games this season. Thomas saw his first action of the season in the Sept. 18 game vs. NIU.
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, redshirt-freshman Steve Hull switched from wide receiver to safety and sophomore Jack Ramsey went from wide receiver to cornerback and now back to receiver. All three have made big contributions at their new positions in the opening weeks. Green has started all three games and has registered 19 tackles and four pass break-ups, Hull has nine tackles and Ramsey had two tackles at CB and is also the team's top return man.
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 11 tackles, a half-TFL and two fumble recoveries 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 three games, while Ellington is recovering from a shoulder injury.
The Illini defense has been much improved over last season. This year, Illinois ranks 25th nationally in rushing yards allowed (102.3 ypg), 27th in points allowed (16.0 ppg) and 48th in total defense (333.0 ypg). At the end of last season, the Orange and Blue ranked 76th in rushing defense (154.4 ypg), 96th in scoring defense (30.2 ppg) and 91st in total defense (403.3 ypg).
The Illini's defensive turnaround this season is even more impressive when field position is taken into account. Opponents have started seven drives in plus territory, but the UI defense has allowed just one touchdown and three field goals on those seven drives. The average starting position for opponents is the 33.4 yard line, compared to the 25.7 yard line for the Illini offense.
The defense has been especially stout in the red zone. In opponents' 12 trips inside the 20 this season, the Illini have allowed just four touchdowns and four field goals. Illinois' 66.7 red zone scoring percentage for opponents ranks third in the Big Ten and 18th in the nation.
The three points allowed to Southern Illinois on Sept. 11 mark the lowest point total allowed by an Illinois team since shutting out Western Illinois on Sept. 8, 2007.
The Illini defense held NIU running back Chad Spann to just 15 yards on 13 carries. Spann currently ranks 13th in the nation, averaging 114.5 ypg, and racked up 223 yards on 15 carries against Minnesota on Sept. 25, one week after the Fighting Illini shut him down.
The Orange and Blue defense has allowed just six points (2 field goals) off seven turnovers this season.
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 three games, the Illini are allowing just 102.3 ypg on the ground, which ranks 25th in the nation.
Butkus Award candidate Martez Wilson had a game-high 11 tackles against NIU on Sept. 18 and is tied for the team lead and sixth in the conference with 8.33 tackles per game. Wilson forced his second career fumble against Missouri in the opener and has racked up 3.0 TFL and one sack thus far this season.
Cornerback Travon Bellamy recorded a career-high 12 tackles vs. Missouri and then had a team-high seven stops against SIU. His 8.0 tackles per game is third on the team and ranks ninth in the conference. Bellamy also has a team-high 4.0 tackles for loss, which ties him for sixth 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 is currently tied for the team lead in both tackles (25) and TFL (4.0). 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. 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.
Illinois is tied for first in the nation in red zone offense, scoring on all nine of its trips inside the 20 this season (six touchdowns and three field goals).
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.
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. Jenkins leads the Illini with 12 catches for 190 yards and touchdowns so far this season.
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 24 consecutive starts.
Three Fighting Illini notched the first catches of their career against SIU on Sept. 11. Redshirt-freshman Justin Lattimore hauled in a 33-yard TD 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.
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 three 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. Then against NIU he booted six punts for a 48.7 average, including a career-long 67-yarder. Santella currently ranks second in the nation with a 48.9 average on 15 punts.
Santella has vastly improved in each of his four seasons. He's gone from averaging 37.7 yards per punt in 2007 to 39.4 in 2008, 41.3 in 2009 and now 48.9 so far this season. He currently ranks fifth in the Illinois record books in career punting average (40.2), sixth in career yardage (7,831) and sixth in career punts (195).
Junior 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.
Dimke is a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals this season and is 9-for-9 on field goals and 20-for-20 on extra points for his career since taking over place kicking duties last last season. His nine straight field goal makes is the fourth-longest streak in school history. The school record is 13 straight by Mike Bass in 1982.
Dimke also has excelled on kickoffs, booting seven touchbacks in 15 kickoffs this season, including all six kickoffs against Northern Illinois on Sept. 18. This marks Dimke's third year as the Illini kickoff specialist, as he took over duties midway through his freshman season.
The Illini special teams returned a fairly intact group from a year ago as four-year starting punter Anthony Santella and experienced junior kickers Matt Eller and Derek Dimke all returned. The only change to the unit is sophomore long snapper Zak Pedersen, who saw his first action in the season opener against Missouri.
MISCELLANEOUS TEAM NOTES
Illinois is 13-0 all-time against the other public universities in the state. The Illini are 4-0 against Northern Illinois, 3-0 against Southern Illinois and Illinois State, 2-0 against Eastern Illinois and 1-0 against Western Illinois. The combined score of those meetings is 511-190 in favor of the Illini and all but one of those 13 meetings have come since 1985 (Illinois played ISU in 1944). This year marked the first time Illinois played more than one in-state public university in the same season.
Following the 35-3 win over Southern Illinois on Sept. 11, Illinois has won 13 straight home openers and improved to 83-33-5 all-time in the first home game of the season.
In five-plus seasons, Zook-coached teams have defeated nine of the 10 teams in the Big Ten at least once, including wins over No. 1 Ohio State, No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 19 Penn State in 2007. The only opponent that has eluded the Illini in the past five years is Purdue, who was off the schedule in 2007 and 2008.
The Illini defeated Michigan for the second-straight year in 2009, marking the first time Illinois has beaten Michigan in back-to-back seasons since 1957 and 1958. It also marked the first time Illinois defeated the Wolverines at Memorial Stadium since 1983.
WATCH OUT FOR THESE ILLINI
Two Illini players were named to preseason watch lists for national awards:
Mikel Leshoure, running back - Doak Walker Award (RB)
Martez Wilson, linebacker - Butkus Award (LB)
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
Ohio State: OL Jeff Allen, WR Jarred Fayson, DL Corey Liuget, LB Martez Wilson
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Following each Illini victory, the coaching staff names a player of the game for each of the three phases.
GAME OFFENSE DEFENSE SPECIAL TEAMS Southern Illinois Nathan Scheelhaase, QB Ian Thomas, LB Anthony Santella, P Northern Illinois Mikel Leshoure, RB Martez Wilson, LB Derek Dimke, PK