Oct. 1, 2012
The Fighting Illini (2-3, 0-1) hit the road for the first time during Big Ten play when they head to Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) on Saturday (2:30 pm CT, ABC/ESPN2 mirror). Illinois is looking to end a two-game skid and is seeking its first win in Madison since 2002.
Illinois has controlled time of possession this season, owning a margin of nearly six minutes per game over its opponents. The Illini are ranked 14th nationally and third in the Big Ten in time of possession after week five (32:51).
Illinois is holding opponents to a third-down conversion rate of just 29.7 percent (19-of-64), which ranks 19th in the nation and second in the Big Ten (Michigan State, 27.9 percent). In the last three games, the Illini have allowed just nine first downs on 39 attempts (23.1 percent). In the Sept. 15 win over Charleston Southern, the Illini did not allow a third down conversion in 13 attempts.
Illinois ranks 14th nationally in fourth-down defense, allowing just one first down on five fourth-down attempts (20.0 percent).
The Illini have held the opposition scoreless six times in the red zone this year (out of 21 chances), ranking 25th in the nation in red-zone defense (71.4 percent).
True-freshman LB Mason Monheim earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after posting a game and career-high 11 tackles and forcing a fumble against Penn State on Saturday. He has 28 tackles this season, which leads all Big Ten freshmen and ranks third on the team, while also adding 2.5 TFLs, one sack and one interception. His two forced fumbles are tied for the most in the Big Ten through week five.
Junior Ryan Lankford has emerged as Illinois' top receiver and big-play threat. He notched the first 100-yard game of his career against Penn State, catching a game-high seven passes for 104 yards, including three 22-yard catches, giving him six "big plays" (20+ yards) this season. Lankford leads the Illini with 23 receptions for 347 yards and four TDs in 2012.
After missing the first four games due to injury, senior safety Supo Sanni made his 2012 debut against Penn State and had a big impact, collecting a career-high 10 tackles and breaking up one pass. The fifth-year senior, who has already earned a bachelor's degree, made 11 starts in 2011.
As expected, junior LB Jonathan Brown has been a force to start the season, leading the team with 29 tackles, 5.0 TFLs and 1.5 sacks through the first five games. He's coming off a breakout 2011 season, leading Illinois in tackles with 108, leading the Big Ten in tackles for loss (14.5) and ranking sixth nationally in TFLs per game (1.63). Brown was named to five national award watch lists heading into 2012.
True-freshman DB V'Angelo Bentley blocked a Penn State field goal attempt on the last of the first half on Saturday. It marked the first blocked FG for an Illini since Derek Walker at Michigan on 10/4/08 and the first blocked kick of any kind for an Illinois player since Clay Nurse swatted away a PAT at Fresno State on 12/3/10.
WISCONSIN SERIES NOTES
The Last Meeting
November 19, 2011
This week's game marks the 79th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Badgers. Illinois leads the all-time series 36-35-7 but Wisconsin has won six of the last seven meetings, with Illinois' lone victory coming by a 31-26 score over the fifth-ranked Badgers in Champaign in 2007. Last season, the Illini led the 15th-ranked Badgers 17-7 at halftime, but Wisconsin scored 21-straight points in the second half to pull away for a 28-17 win in Champaign.
Wisconsin has a 19-16-4 advantage in games played in Madison, including a three-game winning streak at Camp Randall. The Illini's last win in Madison came in 2002, a 37-20 victory. Because of a two-year hiatus in the series in 2009-10, the last meeting in Madison was a 27-17 Badger victory in 2008.
The last 10 games in Madison between the two teams are nearly split evenly, with Wisconsin holding a slim 5-4-1 advantage dating back to 1988.
Illini head coach Tim Beckman
has never faced Wisconsin, while Badger head coach Bret Bielema is 3-1 against the Illini.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE BADGERS
Illinois held a 301-285 total yardage advantage in last year's game and limited Badger QB Russell Wilson to just 90 yards through the air.
CB Terry Hawthorne had a career-high 15 tackles in the 2011 contest, also forcing a fumble and notching a QB hurry.
LB Jonathan Brown was a man possessed against Wisconsin in 2011, posting 10 tackles, four TFLs, one sack, a QB hurry and a 28-yard fumble return.
RB Donovonn Young scored two touchdowns in last year's game, rushing for 43 yards on eight carries.
TE Jon Davis had a break-out game against the Badgers in 2011, catching five passes for 53 yards.
STAR Ashante Williams had six tackles against Wisconsin last year in his first start for an injured Trulon Henry. DT Akeem Spence and CB Justin Green each had five tackles, while DE Michael Buchanan had four tackles and one TFL in the 2011 game.
Way back in 2008, true-freshman tight end Zach Becker caught a two-yard TD pass from Juice Williams in Illinois' last trip to Camp Randall.
Over the past several years, Illinois has faced one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation. This year is no exception, as the Illini face three FBS teams that made bowls last season in Western Michigan (Little Caesars Bowl), Arizona State (Las Vegas Bowl) and Louisiana Tech (Poinsettia Bowl). Through week 5, those three teams are a combined 10-4 this season (La Tech 4-0, ASU 4-1, WMU 2-3).
Over the last decade, Illinois has faced the toughest non-conference schedule in the Big Ten. Entering the season, Illinois' non-conference foes since 2002 had a 56.1 winning percentage. The next closest was Minnesota at 52.2 percent, followed by Ohio State (51.6) and Michigan (50.4).
Every FBS non-conference opponent that Illinois has faced in the last three years has made a bowl game that season. The Illini played Arkansas State, Arizona State and Western Michigan in 2011; Missouri, Northern Illinois and Fresno State in 2010; and Missouri, Cincinnati and Fresno State in 2009.
ILLINI HAVE HUGE NFL PRESENCE
There were 22 former Fighting Illini on 2012 opening day NFL rosters.
Illinois had four players drafted in the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft, including two first-rounders in Whitney Mercilus (26th pick, Houston Texans) and A.J. Jenkins (30th pick, San Francisco 49ers).
Illinois has had five first-round picks since 2008, the most of any Big Ten team during that span. The 2012 duo of Mercilus and Jenkins joins running back Rashard Mendenhall (23rd overall by the Steelers in 2008), defensive back Vontae Davis (25th overall by Miami in 2009) and defensive tackle Corey Liuget (18th overall by San Diego in 2011) as Illini first-round draft picks in the last five years.
Of the five recent Illini first-rounders, all but Jenkins were underclassmen who left Illinois with eligibility remaining. Illinois' four underclassmen chosen in the first round since 2008 is tied for the second-most by any team in the nation. Alabama leads the way with nine underclassman first-rounders in the last five years, while Florida and USC both match Illinois' four.
Mercilus was the seventh Illini in the last five years to enter the draft with eligibility remaining. All seven were taken in the first three rounds, including four first-rounders.
ILLINI EXCEL IN THE CLASSROOM
One area that head coach Tim Beckman has stressed since his arrival has been academics and Illinois is already starting to show results. The Illini posted a 3.09 team GPA during the 2012 summer session, 19 players had a perfect 4.0 GPA and 54 of 91 (59 percent) players enrolled in summer classes had a 3.0 GPA or higher. Below are more notes on Illinois' recent academic success:
QB Nathan Scheelhaase and DT Akeem Spence, both redshirt-juniors athletically, are on pace to complete their bachelor's degrees in December 2012, a span of only three-and-a-half years on campus.
Ten current Illini seniors have already completed their bachelor's degrees, with five pursuing a master's and five pursuing a second bachelor's degree. Tommy Davis, James Hallendorff, Corey Lewis, Tyler Sands and Zak Pedersen are currently in graduate school, while Glenn Foster, Graham Pocic, Supo Sanni, Justin Staples and Ashante Williams are working toward a second bachelor's degree.
Seniors Zach Becker, Jack Ramsey and Eddie Viliunas are on track to finish their bachelor's degrees in December 2012.
Sophomore linebacker Houston Bates and senior offensive lineman Tyler Sands both have posted consecutive semesters with perfect 4.0 GPAs (Spring 2012, Summer 2012).
Four freshmen entered Illinois with impressive academic credentials, with DB V'Angelo Bentley, WR Justin Hardee and LB Mason Monheim all transferring in more than 20 hours of college credit that they took in high school, giving them a leg up on a degree. Freshman LS Michael Martin also enters UI as a member of the James Scholar honors program in mechanical engineering.
Senior DB Supo Sanni participated in the NCAA Career in Sports Forum in Indianapolis during the summer, while junior DB Kaeman Mitchell served an internship with Northwestern Mutual. Sophomore LB Ralph Cooper transferred into the College of Media and will pursue a degree in broadcast journalism.
For complete Illinois-Wisconsin Game Notes, click HERE.