Illinois (4-1, 2-0) vs. #5 Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0)

Fifth-year senior safety Kevin Mitchell and the Fighting Illini host fifth-ranked Wisconsin Saturday at Memorial Stadium.  Mitchell recovered a fumble and snared a game-clinching interception last Saturday in Illinois' win over Penn State.
Fifth-year senior safety Kevin Mitchell and the Fighting Illini host fifth-ranked Wisconsin Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Mitchell recovered a fumble and snared a game-clinching interception last Saturday in Illinois' win over Penn State.

Oct. 1, 2007


  • Illinois hosts No. 5 Wisconsin this weekend at Memorial Stadium. It is the first time hosting a top-5 opponent since last season when then-No. 1 Ohio State came to Champaign. The last time an Illinois team defeated a top-5 foe was in 1989 at USC, when the Illini beat the fifth-ranked Trojans, 14-13.

  • After its 4-1 start this season and 2-0 in the Big Ten, the University of Illinois football team is receiving votes in both the Associated Press and USA Today Top-25 polls. The Illini rank 28th in AP and 34th in the coaches poll. The last time an Illinois team was ranked was in the final poll of the 2001 season at 12th, and the last time Illinois received votes was in the preseason of 2002 prior the season opener against Missouri.

  • This week's game vs. Wisconsin features two of the nations best running backs. For Illinois, junior Rashard Mendenhall is averaging 122.4 yards per game, which ranks 11th in the nation and third in the league. He is scoring 10.8 points per game which is ninth nationally and second in the conference. Wisconsin's sophomore back P.J. Hill is putting up 133.4 yards per contest, ranking sixth in the NCAA and second in the Big Ten. Hill is scoring 12 points per game for fourth nationally and first in the conference.

  • With his start vs. Penn State, senior defensive tackle Chris Norwell became the Illinois record holder for most games started by a defensive lineman. He has 38 for his career, beating out All-American Moe Gardner's 37 starts from 1987-1990.

  • After having a pair of Big Ten award winners a week ago, Illini wide receiver Arrelious Benn was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against Penn State. He returned Illinois' first kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. Not only was it his first touchdown of the season, but his first and only career kickoff return attempt. He gave Illinois a 7-3 lead over Penn State, which it never relinquished. It marks the first time a true-freshman earned a Big Ten weekly honor since Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton on Sept. 12, 2005. Illinois has now had an award winner in each of the three phases in just two weeks.

  • It is no surprise to see Illinois linebacker J Leman among the nation's best tacklers. With 59 tackles in five games, he is ranked No. 7 in the nation in tackles per game. As the obvious Big Ten leader, Leman is averaging 11.8 stops per game. He has led the conference in tackles per game for the last 13 weeks, dating back to the 2006 season.

  • Illinois leads the Big Ten in rushing and ranks sixth in the NCAA. The Illini are averaging 255.6 yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry this season.

  • This season, the Illinois schedule continues to be a tough one. Illinois plays seven teams that were in bowl games a year ago and three teams that are ranked in the Top-25, including two in the Top-5: Ohio State is No. 4, Wisconsin is No. 5 and Missouri is No. 17. Penn State, Michigan and Indiana also are receiving votes.

  • Illinois will have at least three sellouts for the 2007 season. The Penn State game sold out before kickoff on Sept. 29 and the athletic department announced sellouts for the Wisconsin and Michigan games during the first few weeks of the season. They are the first sellouts since the 2002 season (Michigan) and the first time for three sellouts in a season since 1986, when Illinois sold out six games.


  • the first time an Illinois team started the Big Ten season 2-0 since 1991

  • the first time Illinois has beaten a ranked opponent in the last 19 games against top-25 foes

  • the first time an Illini team defeated a ranked Big Ten foe at home since 1991

  • the first time Illinois beat Penn State since 2001

  • the first time Illinois has won four games since 2002

  • the first time the Illini have started the season 4-1 since 2001


  • Senior kicker Jason Reda currently stands fifth on the Illinois career scoring list, needing one point to pass Mike Bass for fourth. Reda needs 51 more points this season to become the career scoring leader.

  • Reda also is third on the career field goals list. He would need 12 more field goals to become the career field goal record holder.

  • Mendenhall needs 103 rushing yards to move to 16th on the school's all-time rushing. In three seasons, he has accumulated 1,470 yards on the ground on just 221 carries, for a 6.7 career yard per carry average. The highest yard per carry average among Illinois' all-time rushers belongs to Pierre Thomas, who posted 5.6 ypc from 2003-06.

  • Senior linebacker J Leman needs eight tackles to move into 10th place on the Illini career tackles list. He already ranks ninth with 32.5 career tackles for loss, one more and he jumps into the eighth spot and three get him to sixth.


  • At the time the 2006 Butkus Award Watch list was released, Illini linebacker J Leman was an unknown name to most people outside of the Illinois fan base, but he entered the 2007 season as one of the top returning linebackers in the country.

  • Leman has picked up right where he left off last season posting four double-digit performances in five games. His 20 tackles in the season opener marked his second 20-plus tackle effort (after 22 in the season finale of 2006 vs. Northwestern). Currently he leads the Big Ten in tackles per contest with 11.8 and ranks seventh in the nation. He also recorded his first collegiate interception with a touchdown-saving pick against No. 19 Penn State.

  • Last season, Leman jumped onto the national scene with dominant games against Michigan State, Wisconsin and then-No. 1 Ohio State. He earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after totaling 19 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss against the top-ranked Buckeyes. He followed up that performance with 22 tackles and 2.5 TFL in the season finale at Northwestern.

  • Leman led the Big Ten with 12.7 tackles per game and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. He was also named to the Sports Illustrated All-American team as an honorable mention and is one of only eight returning linebackers in the nation to earn all-star honors.


  • This year the race for the Butkus award seems to wide open with only three of the 10 2006 semifinalists returning this season. Last year, 19 linebackers earned some form of All-America honors and only eight of those players are back in 2007, including Illinois middle linebacker J Leman. Here is how Leman stacks up against those defenders:

    Leman, Illinois 59/11.8 7th 5.0-17 -- 1.5-9 2 1 1-0 1-0
    Laurinaitis, Ohio St.* 43/8.6 T78th 4.5-21 -- 3.0-20 0 0 0-0 2-16
    Highsmith, LSU* 33/6.6 -- 3.5-7 -- 0.5-2 4 4 0-0 0-0
    Maualuga, USC* 26/6.5 -- 2.5-5 -- 0.0-0 0 0 0-0 0-0
    Bowen, Iowa St. 39/7.8 -- 6.0-28 63rd 1.0-12 1 1 1-0 1-0
    Connor, Dan, PSU 49/9.8 T35th 5.5-35 T90th 3.0-31 4 0 0-1 0-0
    Hall, Virginia Tech 50/10.0 T29th 4.0-21 -- 2.0-17 3 2 0-0 0-0
    Wheeler, Georgia Tech 30/5.8 -- 5.0-39 -- 4.5-38 4 0 1-2 0-0

    * 2006 Butkus Award semifinalists


This season, the rushing offense has mainly been in the hands of one running back, junior Rashard Mendenhall. After working behind two other running backs for the first two years of his career, Mendenhall has found himself in the spotlight. This season marks the first time since 2002 that the Illini have used primarily one back. In that year, Antoineo Harris set the school single-season rushing record with 1,330 yards. Through five games, Mendenhall has rushed for 612 yards, averaging 122.4 ypg. He also is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and ranks 11th in the nation in rushing. His eight rushing touchdowns are the most in a season since Pierre Thomas' eight in the 2004 season.


Through five games in the 2007 season the Big Ten boasts 12 career 1,000 yard rushers. Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall ranks eighth among active running backs in the Big Ten. With three 100-yard rushing performances this year, Mendenhall looks to move up that list.

  1. Mike Hart, Sr., Michigan - 4,434 yards
  2. Tyrell Sutton, Jr., Northwestern - 2,596 yards
  3. Albert Young, Sr., Iowa - 2,561 yards
  4. Amir Pinnix, Sr., Minnesota - 2,319 yards
  5. P.J. Hill, So., Wisconsin - 2,235 yards
  6. Jehuu Caulcrick, Sr., Michigan State - 1,966 yards
  7. Javon Ringer, Jr., Michigan State - 1,860 yards
  8. Kory Sheets, Sr., Purdue - 1,829 yards
  9. Rashard Mendenhall, Jr., Illinois - 1,470 yards
  10. Damian Sims, Sr., Iowa - 1,332 yards
  11. Austin Scott, Sr., Penn State - 1,323 yards
  12. Chris Wells, So., Ohio State - 1,117 yards


Illinois' true-freshman safety Bo Flowers turns 24 on Nov. 12, and is the oldest player on the Illini roster. Flowers is beginning his college career this season after four years in professional baseball. He was a fifth-round draft pick in 2003 by the Detroit Tigers. After spending three seasons in the Detroit organization, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs where he played the 2006 season. Currently, Flowers is a walk-on on the Illini team because the Tigers are footing the college bill. He is one of eight active Division I-A football players who have seen action in minor league baseball: Gary Banks (Troy...Cubs); Mike Conroy (UConn...Indians); Dennis Dixon (Oregon ... Braves); Bo Flowers (Illinois...Tigers/Cubs); Marquise Liverpool (Temple...Mariners); Michael Machen (Baylor...Braves/Orioles); Mike Nixon (Arizona State...Dodgers); Jose Perez (SDSU...Yankees)


Illinois defenders Vontae and Will Davis (no relation) are two of the bright spots on this Illini defense which ranks 22nd in rushing and 48th in total defense nationally. Vontae, a two-year starting cornerback, has made an impact on the Illini program in a short time. Last season, he earned unanimous first-team Freshman All-America honors and is one of the best corners in the Big Ten this season. He ranks second on the team and 22nd in the league with 6.2 tackles per game. He has put together back-to-back games with interceptions and has four passes broken up. He also has blocked two punts this year in just five games. Will, a junior defensive end, already has six sacks and eight tackles for loss on the year. He was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after his performance vs. Indiana, which accounted for four sacks and five TFL. He currently ranks seventh and sixth in those two categories in the NCAA.


Junior receiver Kyle Hudson is in his third year of pulling double-duty as a starting wide receiver on the football team and starting centerfielder on the Illini baseball team. Hudson led the Illini in receptions last year with 30 and in receiving yards each of his first two seasons. In three seasons, he has accumulated 861 receiving yards. On the diamond, he has started 87 of 88 games in two seasons. He led the team in hitting as a freshman and was second as a sophomore. He is hitting .360 for his two-season average and has stolen 26 bases in that span. As a freshman, he won the school's Newcomer of the Year award for the impact he made on the two sports.

Arrelious Benn and Rashard Mendenhall get their heads together during Illinois' win last Saturday over Penn State.


  • In the past two weeks, the Illini offense has faced two top-15 rushing defenses in 12th-ranked Indiana (allowing 71.3 ypg) and fifth-ranked Penn State (allowing 54.8 ypg). In each of those two games, the Illini rushed for over 200 yards - 288 at Indiana and 216 vs. the Nittany Lions

  • The Illini has posted four straight 200-yard rushing games this season with 277-yards against WIU, 378 at Syracuse, 288 at Indiana and 216 vs. Penn State. The rushing numbers vs. SU were the best under head coach Ron Zook. For the year, Illinois is averaging 255.6 yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry. So far, the team's per game rushing average is 65 yards better than a year ago when it led the conference.

  • Running back Rashard Mendenhall earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for his performance vs. Indiana on 9/22. He rushed for a career-high 214 yards on a career-most 27 carries (7.9 ypc).

  • Last season, the Illini proved to have big-play ability with 49 plays over 20 yards. Already through five games, the offense is on pace to top that number with 24 big plays, including a season-high 42-yard pass from Eddie McGee to Rashard Mendenhall against Missouri and a 53-yard run by Eddie McGee vs. Penn State.

  • In the first three weeks of the season, the Illini outgained their opponent. Against the vaunted Missouri offense, Illinois edged them by a 435-429 margin, while also posting a better average in yards per play, 5.9-4.9. Against Western Illinois and Syracuse, the offense dominated, more than doubling their opponents, 908-438.

  • For the first time in the Zook era at Illinois, the Illini put together three straight games of over 400 yards total offense. They began the season with 435 yards, posted 400 vs. Western Illinois and topped the 500-yard mark with 508 at Syracuse.

  • Against Missouri, the Illini passed for 316 yards, combining the quarterback numbers of Juice Williams (59) and Eddie McGee (257). It was the first 300-yard passing performance for an Illini team since the squad put up 430 yards on California on Sept. 20, 2003.

Vontae Davis contributed one of Illinois' three interceptions in the Penn State game.


  • After only forcing 20 turnovers last year as a defense, this year's campaign is already halfway to topping that number. Through five games, the Illini have forced 11 turnovers, six fumbles and five interceptions. The squad also has put together back-to-back four-turnover games.

  • Defensive end Will Davis was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for his game against Indiana on 9/22. He recorded four sacks and five tackles for loss (both rank second in Illinois' single-game record books).

  • With its 21-0 win over Western Illinois, the Illini recorded its first shutout since blanking Iowa on Oct. 14, 2000. It was also the fewest total yards allowed during the Zook era at (152), fewest passing yards (71) and fewest first downs (4).

  • Beginning at the 8:32 mark of the fourth quarter vs. Missouri, the Illini defense held its opponents scoreless for 99:21. It ended in the third quarter at Syracuse when the Orange kicked a field goal at 14:11.

  • The defense is extremely experienced, returning nine of 11 starters. All three starting linebackers return, along with three lineman and three defensive backs. Five Illini on defense have recorded 20 or more starts in their career: SS Justin Harrison (30), LB J Leman (33), FS Kevin Mitchell (26), DT Chris Norwell (38), DE Derek Walker (27).


  • Senior placekicker Jason Reda has been perfect on his six field goal attempts of the year. After not attempting a kick in the first two games, he has been 2-of-2 in each of the last three games. He connected on his second longest field goal of his career when he nailed a 50-yarder at Syracuse. He has made two 40-plus field goals (45 vs. Indiana and 47 vs. Penn State).

  • Arrelious Benn returned Illinois' first kickoff of the game vs. Penn State 90 yards for a touchdown. He is the first Illini to score on a kickoff return since Pierre Thomas did it in 2004 against Western Michigan. Even more impressive, he scored on his first-ever kickoff return attempt. It also was the first kickoff return for a touchdown against Penn State since 1994.

  • After an offseason position battle, redshirt-freshman Anthony Santella earned the starting punter job. Santella has punted 30 times for a 36.5 average. But of those 30 punts, only nine have been returned (30 percent) for a total of 60 yards (6.7 yard per return). He has placed 10 punts inside the 20 yard line (33 percent) and five have been fair caught.

  • Sophomore cornerback Vontae Davis has now blocked two punts this year. He got his second of the season against Indiana. When he got a hand on a Missouri punt in the season opener, it was Illinois' first blocked punt since the 2004 season. He recovered the block at the 2 yardline and took it in for the score. The last time an Illini blocked a punt was by Kevin Mitchell against Michigan State on Oct. 9, 2004. That same block was the last time an Illini scored a touchdown, which was by Sharriff Abdullah.

  • Oddly enough, Illinois this year boasts a trio of four-year starters on the field goal and extra point units. Long snapper Kyle Knezetic, holder Frank Lenti Jr. and Reda have worked together extensively throughout their careers as Illini, giving the coaching staff a great deal of confidence in that special teams unit.



  • This year Illinois play in domes for three of its six away games. With its 41-20 win over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Sept. 15 the Illini broke a streak of nine straight losses in Domes, dating back to the 1994 season.

  • The team kicked off the season at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis against Missouri, and fell to 0-3 at the venue after a 34-40 loss to the Tigers. The squad evened its record on the year with a 41-20 win over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome to improve to 3-0 in the arena.

  • In week 10, the squad heads to the Metrodome to play Minnesota in an evening contest. The Illini are 3-5- 1 in the Metrodome since the Gophers began playing there in 1982.


Illinois defensive end Will Davis' family are natives of the Republic of Liberia. He has spent his entire life in the United States, and was able to visit Liberia as a young child before Civil War broke out. Now that the war has ended his mother, Pearine Davis-Parkinson, recently returned home to become the Deputy Minister in the Ministry of State office. The Ministry of State supports the work of the President of the Republic of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The major departments of the Ministry of State are the Office of the President, Administration, and Public Affairs and Communications Technology. Davis' mother played basketball for the Liberian national team and at the University of Liberia. His uncle, John Davis, played soccer for Liberia. She should be in town in the month of October to attend Illinois football games.


It is hard not to pay attention to the 12-letter long last name of freshman tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. The difficulty in its pronunciation has caused coaches and teammates to nickname Michael "Huh-oh" representing the first two syllables of his name. The name is one of Hawaiin decent, which he gets from his father, Isy's, side of the family, who hails from Oahu. The name is not the most common in its native land, but retains the special meaning "patience."


  • Six Illini have already earned their college degrees -- FB Justin Ijei, WR Frank Lenti, Jr., DB Tyler Rouse, LB J Leman, DT Chris Norwell and OL Martin O'Donnell.

  • Illinois junior linebacker J Leman is not only a standout on the field, but his accomplishments in the classroom include a bachelor's degree in just three years. He maintained a 3.7 GPA in communications, graduating in August of 2006. He is currently pursuing a master's degree which he will complete this December.

  • The Illini's starting center Ryan McDonald is pursuing his undergraduate degree in one of the most difficult academic fields at the University of Illinois. Illinois is known for its engineering cirriculum, ranking in the Top-10 in all nine disciplines, including the top-rated civil engineering program. McDonald has recorded a 3.87 in aeronautical engineering, a program which ranks eighth nationally. He had an internship this summer on campus working with NASA.


For the second straight summer the team hosted an event to raise money for the Cunningham Children's Home, located locally in Urbana. The event was a 12-hour supply drive to raise goods and money for the home from their Wish List. The team congregated on the East side of Memorial Stadium and along with the help of local radio stations, solicited the help of community members to give supplies and money to the Home. The team's two-year total of goods and money raised is $20,000. Among the money in 2007 was a $250 donation from tight end Jeff Cumberland. Cumberland won the Slam Dunk contest at the 2007 Gus Macker basketball tournament and gave his winnings to the team's charity.


  • Great excitement has surrounded the 2007 Illinois football season. More than 14,000 Illini fans became new season ticket holders and the school sold out its South Endzone "Horseshoe" section prior to the start of the season. Students also jumped on board, with season ticket sales increased by 2,500.

  • Phase I of the Memorial Stadium project was completed in time for Illinois' home opener against Western Illinois. The students are now housed in the brand-new North Endzone seating as well as the Marching Illini. This was the first part of a $116 million renovation taking place at the historic stadium right now.

  • Illinois have at least three sellouts for the 2007 season. The Penn State game sold out before kickoff on Sept. 29 and the athletic department announced sellouts for the Wisconsin and Michigan games during the first couple weeks of the season. They are the first sellouts since the 2002 season (Michigan) and the first time for three sellouts in a season since 1986, when Illinois sold out six games.


The Marching Illini will reclaim music from the rich history and tradition of University of Illinois football this season. "Fight! Illini!" was written in the early 1920's and sub-titled "The Stadium Song." This piece was recently discovered by Marching Illini director Dr. Peter Griffin. It was written by two Illinois graduates Sampson Raphaelson ('17) and Rose J. Oltusky ('22). "Fight! Illini!" will be played following Illinois point after touchdowns this season. Harold Hill and Howard Green wrote "Cheer Illini," "Hail to the Orange" and "Oskee Wow Wow." "Cheer Illini" was used decades ago by the Marching Illini as a downfield motion piece to float the band off the field at the end of its pre-game show. It was also used at basketball games for many years during player introductions.