Sept. 30, 2013
Beckman Press Conference: Video | Quotes
Monday Interviews: OC Cubit | DC Banks | QB Scheelhaase | TE LaCosse | DT Teitsma
The Fighting Illini (3-1) open Big Ten play and will face their first road test of the season when they travel to Nebraska on Saturday to face the Cornhuskers (3-1). Illinois is coming off a dominating 50-14 win over Miami (Ohio) in Champaign this past Saturday and has already surpassed its win total from 2012 (2).
The revamped Illinois offense, directed by new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, has jumped at least 80 spots in the national rankings from last year to this year in long scrimmage plays, scoring offense, passing efficiency, passing offense, total offense and turnovers lost, with the biggest turnaround a whopping 103-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|
|Scrim. plays of 20+ yd||34 (122)||27 (19)||+103
|Scoring Offense (ppg)||16.67 (119)||40.3 (26)||+93|
|Passing Efficiency||113.42 (102)||167.61 (12)||+90|
|Passing Offense (ypg)||138.83 (107)||307.5 (19)||+88|
|Total Offense (ypg)||296.67 (119)||478.5 (35)||+84|
|Turnovers lost||30 (107)||5 (23)||+84|
|Rushing Offense (ypg)||127.86 (97)||171.0 (65)||+32|
Illinois scored a school-record 161 points over its first four games, eclipsing the previous record of 158 points in the first four games of 1914, when the Illini won Big Ten and national titles. The UI record for most points in the first five games of a season is 193 set by the 1903 team.
The Orange and Blue's 22 passing plays of 20-plus yards rank 10th nationally and their four passing plays of 50-plus yards rank sixth nationally.
Senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase has thrived in Cubit's system, leading the Big Ten and ranking in the top 30 in the nation in passing efficiency (174.8, 10th), passing yards per game (290.5, 17th) and total offense (298.3 ypg, 27th) through week five.
Scheelhaase set a school record for TD passes in a quarter with four in the second quarter against Miami (Ohio). He tossed a career-high five TDs against the RedHawks, all in the first half, one more than he had all of last season. Those five TDs in a half tied the Illinois record shared by Dave Wilson and Tom O'Connell.
Sophomore running back Josh Ferguson leads the nation in receiving yards by a running back with 262 on 12 receptions (21.8 ypc).
Ferguson and senior wide receiver Ryan Lankford rank 1-2 in the Big Ten in yards per reception. Ferguson also stands 10th in the nation with a 21.83 yards-per-catch average (12 receptions, 262 yards, three TDs), while Lankford ranks 13th nationally at 21.45 ypc (11 receptions, 236 yards, one TD).
Senior LB and Butkus Award candidate Jonathan Brown leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally in tackles per game (11.8), while sophomore LB Mason Monheim is right behind Brown, ranking second in the conference and 31st in FBS with 9.5 tackles per game.
Sophomore V'Angelo Bentley leads the nation in kick return average (37.5 ypr), including a 100-yard kickoff return for TD against Southern Illinois. As a team, Illinois ranks 19th in the nation in kick return average (25.64 ypr) after ranking 107th in 2012 (18.83 ypr).
In punt returns, Bentley (15.8 ypr, 14th) and senior Miles Osei (11.0 ypr, 30th) both rank in the top 30 nationally. As a team, the Illini rank 36th in FBS (12.17 ypr), up 82 spots from 2012 when they averaged 1.56 ypr to rank 118th. Bentley had a 50-yard punt return against Miami (Ohio), the longest for an Illini since Eugene Wilson on Sept. 7, 2002. Illinois already has its most punt return yards as a team since 2007, with 146 (36.5 yards per game). The 2007 Illini squad had 177 in 13 games (13.6 ypg).
QB Aaron Bailey earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after rushing for a career-high 56 yards on six carries and a TD against Miami (Ohio). On the season, Bailey has converted 83 percent of his carries into first downs or TDs (seven first downs, three TDs on 12 carries).
Illinois is the only team in the nation that is perfect on fourth down conversions (2-of-2) through five weeks. On the flip side, the Illini rank 16th in FBS in fourth-down coversion defense, allowing just one first down in five oppoent attempts (.200).
FORMER ILLINI IN SPACE
Former Illini defensive back and current NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins made his first space flight last week. Hopkins and crewmates Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, at 3:58 p.m. CT on Sept. 25, and arrived at the International Space Station 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 earned a 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. More on Hopkins and his mission can be found at www.nasa.gov/station and on Twitter @AstroIllini.
NEBRASKA SERIES NOTES
Illinois trails the all-time series with Nebraska by a 2-7-1 margin, and the Huskers hold a 5-1 lead in games played in Lincoln. NU also is 3-0-1 in the last four meetings, winning in 1925, 1985 and 1986, and tying with the Illini in 1953. The teams have faced each other only twice in the last 60 years. Illinois' two victories against Nebraska came in 1923 and 1924.
Saturday's game marks the first time this season that Illinois will leave its home state, having played three home games and hosting Washington at Soldier Field in Chicago. Nebraska will one-up that string this week, with the game against the Illini marking the Huskers' fifth-straight home game to start the 2013 campaign. NU will travel to Purdue for its first road game on Oct. 12.
Illini head coach Tim Beckman has never faced Nebraska as a head coach, nor has Husker head coach Bo Pelini faced Illinois.
The Orange and Blue are 47-64-6 all-time in Big Ten openers and 15-31-4 in conference openers on the road. Illinois' last win in a Big Ten opener came by a 38-35 margin over Northwestern on Oct. 1, 2011, while its last victory in a Big Ten opener on the road was at Indiana on Sept. 22, 2007 (27-14).
ILLINOIS VS. RANKED OPPONENTS
Illinois faces its second top-25 opponent of the season on Saturday as Nebraska is ranked No. 25 in this week's USA Today Coaches Poll. The Huskers are receiving votes in the Associated Press poll.
Two future opponents are ranked in this week's polls - No. 4/3 Ohio State and No. 16/15 Northwestern. Washington, which beat the Illini 34-24 at Soldier Field on Sept. 14, is No. 15/18 this week.
The Illini have lost six straight and 15 of their last 16 against ranked foes since beating No. 1 Ohio State 28-21 on Nov. 10, 2007. The lone win during that span came on Sept. 17, 2011, over No. 22/18 Arizona State, 17-14. Illinois has lost seven straight road games against ranked foes since upending the top-ranked Buckeyes in 2007.
Last season, Illinois faced just two opponents ranked in the AP poll at the time of the game, falling to No. 25 Michigan, 45-0, and No. 6 Ohio State, 52-22.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman is 0-7 against ranked opponents in his four-plus years as a head coach.
WHOSE HOUSE? SCHEEL-HOUSE
Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase already has surpassed his 2012 season totals for touchdown passes, 20-plus-yard pass plays, 30+ pass plays and 50+ pass plays. And he is only 200 yards from surpassing his yardage total from 2012. Take a look at his four-game 2013 numbers versus his 10-game 2012 numbers below:
| Scheelhaase Passing 2012 vs. 2013|
Scheelhaase ranks second on the Illinois career passing efficiency list (131.2) and has UI record-holder Tony Eason (133.8) in his sights. Scheelhaase also ranks fourth at Illinois in career touchdown passes (46), fourth in total offense (8,284 yards), fifth in completions (570), fifth in attempts (923), sixth in passing yardage (6,458) and 18th in rushing yardage (1,826) - second among quarterbacks - at Illinois.
Scheelhaase has thrown 12 touchdown passes so far this season, the most in the first four games of a season in school history. Kurt Kittner, the analyst on Fighting Illini Radio Network broadcasts, previously held the record with 10 TDs in the first four games of the 1999 season, a year that ended with a 63-21 win over Virginia in the MicronPC.com Bowl.
Scheelhaase has put together streaks of 10 or more consecutive completions in three of Illinois' four games so far, accomplishing the feat against Southern Illinois (12), Cincinnati (10) and Miami (Ohio) (10). Prior to this season, the last time Scheelhaase had completed 10 or more passes was a string of 13 consecutive completions against Baylor in the 2010 Texas Bowl. Before the four times Scheelhaase has done it, the last Illini to complete 10 straight passes was Johnny Johnson (12) at Wisconsin on Nov. 19, 1994.
Scheelhaase also has found great success on first down, completing 45-of-59 (76.3 percent) passes on first down for 709 yards and six touchdowns. He ranks third in the nation in first-down completion percentage among QBs with 50 or more first-down attempts.
Scheelhaase has attacked opponents early, with nine of his 12 TDs coming in the first half, which is the fourth-most first-half TDs in the nation behind Chuckie Keeton (11, Utah State), Teddy Bridgewater (10, Louisville) and Kenny Guiton (10, Ohio State). He also has 13 first-half plays of 25-plus-yards, tied for second with Maryland's C.J. Brown. Oregon's Marcus Mariota (14) leads the nation in that category.
Scheelhaase threw for a career-high 416 yards in the season-opener against Southern Illinois, the 10th-best single-game passing performance in school history and the fifth-most by an Illinois quarterback at Memorial Stadium.
Scheelhasse racked up 340 of his 416 passing yards against Southern Illinois in the first half, marking the most ever for an Illini in the first half and the most in any half since Juice Williams totaled 347 passing yards in the second half against Minnesota on Oct. 11, 2008.
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 TDs, equaling the school record for most TD passes in the first two games of a season.
After starting the first four games this season, Scheelhaase now has 40 career starts under his belt, tied for the fifth-most in the nation by a quarterback behind only Georgia's Aaron Murray (45) and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez (42), Louisiana-Monroe's Kolton Browning (41) and Troy's Corey Robinson (41).
Scheelhaase started his fourth consecutive season-opener this season, making him one of only seven current quarterbacks in the nation to start four straight openers. Scheelhaase joins Kolton Browning (Louisiana-Monroe), Logan Kilgore (Middle Tennessee), Taylor Martinez (Nebraska), Taylor McHargue (Rice), Aaron Murray (Georgia) and Corey Robinson (Troy) in the select club.
Scheelhaase led Illinois to bowl victories in each his first two seasons (2010 Texas Bowl and 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl), making him one of only two QBs in Big Ten history to start and lead their teams to bowl wins during both his freshman and sophomore seasons (Brooks Bollinger, Wisconsin). After missing a bowl in 2012, Scheelhaase is looking to end his UI career with a third bowl win, something no Illini QB has done previously.
LINEBACKER U: 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 214 tackles, 31.5 TFLs and 10.0 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 11.8 stops per game, sixth-best in the NCAA, and Monheim ranks second in the Big Ten and 31st nationally with 9.5 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.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?
Butkus Award candidate Jonathan Brown leads the Big Ten with 47 tackles and ranks sixth in the nation at 11.8 tackles per game. He has led Illinois in tackles in every game this season.
Brown ranks ninth in career TFLs at Illinois with 33.0. He's two behind Danny Clark and Scott Davis, who are tied for seventh all-time.
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. Last season, he was one of 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, which goes annually to the nation's top linebacker and is named after Illinois legend Dick Butkus.
TIGHT ENDS POST RECORD-SETTING PERFORMANCE
Illini tight ends had a day to remember against Miami (Ohio), as Matt LaCosse, Evan Wilson and Jon Davis combined to catch four touchdowns, an Illinois single-game record by tight ends and one more than Illinois' tight ends caught all of last season (Eddie Viliunas had two and Jon Davis one in 2012).
It also marked the first time that three different tight ends caught at least one touchdown in a game, as LaCosse had two, and Davis and Wilson each caught one score. The trio accounted for six catches and 82 yards, with Davis also catching a two-point conversion pass from tight end/holder Tim Russell.
Through four games this season, Illinois tight ends have combined for 21 catches, 256 yards (12.2 ypc) and six touchdowns. In 12 games last season, UI tight ends combined for 23 catches, 210 yards (9.1 ypc) and three touchdowns.
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, Washington and Miami (Ohio), playing a huge role in Illinois' offensive resurgence.
Complete Illinois-Nebraska Game Notes