Martez Wilson and the Illini defense held #2 Ohio State to season-lows in points (24) and total yards (290) last week.
Oct. 4, 2010
Oct. 9, 2010 // Noon ET/11 CT kickoff // ESPN2
University Park, Pa. // Beaver Stadium (107,282)
The Illinois/PSU game will be nationally televised on ESPN2 with an air time of 11 a.m. CT. Bob Wischusen (play-by-play) and Brian Griese (color analyst) will call the action with Bryan Ryder producing and Dan McVan directing.
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.
The team will depart for State College on Friday afternoon via charter flight. Coach Zook will meet with members of the media immediately following the team's walkthrough at Beaver Stadium (approx 5:30 pm ET).
The Fighting Illini will be looking to bounce back from Saturday's close loss to #2/2 Ohio State when they head to Beaver Stadium this Saturday to face the Penn State Nittany Lions.
The Illinois defense has made big strides this year under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. Illinois currently ranks 29th nationally in points allowed (18.0 ppg), 37th in total defense (322.3 ypg), 42nd in rushing yards allowed (130.0 ypg) and 65th in pass efficiency defense (125.66). At the end of last season, the Orange and Blue ranked 96th in scoring defense (30.2 ppg), 91st in total defense (403.3 ypg), 76th in rushing defense (154.4 ypg) and 103rd in pass efficiency defense (142.77).
The Illinois defense held Ohio State's high-powered offense, which entered the game ranked third in the nation in scoring (49.3 ppg) and eighth in total offense (506.8 ypg), to season-lows in both points (24) and total yards (290).
The Illini held the Buckeyes to just 77 yards passing, marking the third-straight year they have held OSU, and Heisman candidate Terrelle Pryor, to under 100 yards passing (49 yards in 2008 and 82 yards in 2009).
Illinois' two losses this season (Missouri and Ohio State) have come by a combined 21 points against teams that are both currently ranked in the top-25 and are a combined 9-0 this season. In its other three games, Missouri is averaging 42.7 ppg and in Ohio State's other four games, the Buckeyes are averaging 49.3 ppg. Against the Illini defense, those teams had 23 and 24 points, respectively.
Illinois is one of only five teams in the nation to score on all of its red zone drives this season. In 12 trips inside the 20, the Illini have scored seven touchdowns and five field goals. East Carolina (15-15), Washington (13-13), San Jose State (9-9) and Memphis (8-8) are the only other teams with a perfect red zone scoring percentage.
Doak Walker Award candidate Mikel Leshoure has topped the 100-yard mark in three games this season and in six of Illinois' last 10 games dating back to last season. He had a string of four straight 100-yard games snapped last week against Ohio State, a streak that tied him with J.C. Caroline and Robert Holcombe for the most consecutive 100+ rushing efforts in school history.
Leshoure has run for 1,049 yards on 157 carries (6.7 ypc) since the mid-point of last season (10 games). Among Big Ten players, only Wisconsin's John Clay (1,261 yards on 206 carries, 6.1 ypc) has more rushing yardage since Oct. 24 of last season. So far this season, Leshoure ranks second in the Big Ten and 13th in the nation in rushing with 119.5 ypg.
Ray Guy Award and Campbell Award candidate Anthony Santella ranks second in the nation with an average of 48.3 yards on 21 punts this season, including nine punts of 50+ yards and six 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 third in the nation in net punting (43.33 ypk).
Butkus Award candidate Martez Wilson leads Illinois and ranks in the top-6 in the Big Ten in tackles (8.5 tpg), sacks (2.0 total sacks) and tackles for loss (5.0 total TFLs). Wilson has led the Illini in tackles in each of the last two games, posting 11 stops against Northern Illinois and nine against Ohio State.
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 PSU will be Zook's 102nd career game as a head coach. He has an overall head coaching record of 46-55 in eight-plus seasons at Florida and Illinois combined and is 23-41 in five-plus seasons at Illinois.
PENN STATE SERIES NOTES
This week's game marks the 18th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Nittany Lions. PSU holds a 14-3 series advantage and has won all six previous meetings against the Illini in University Park.
Last year, the 15th-ranked Nittany Lions won 35-17 in Champaign in a game that was 7-3 midway through the third quarter before PSU pulled away down the stretch. Illinois' last trip to Beaver Stadium was a 38-24 PSU win on Sept. 27, 2008, in the Lions' "White Out" game.
Illinois' last win over Penn State came in 2007, when the Illini topped the 21st-ranked Nittany Lions 27-20 at Memorial Stadium on the their way to the 2008 Rose Bowl Game.
PSU coach Joe Paterno is 12-2 vs. the Illini, while Ron Zook is 1-4 vs. Penn State as a head coach.
Illinois has three players from the state of Pennsylvania on its roster - junior offensive lineman Corey Lewis (Cresco/East Stroudsburg), who is out for the season with a knee injury, sophomore offensive lineman Tyler Sands (Boyertown/Area Senior) and backup long snapper Abraham Oliver (Philadelphia/Germantown). Penn State has one player on its roster from the state of Illinois - junior running back Joe Suhey (Deerfield/Loyola Academy), who is the son of former PSU and Chicago Bear star Matt Suhey and was coached by former Illini linebacker John Holecek at Loyola Academy.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE NITTANY LIONS
Junior offensive lineman Jeff Allen made his first career start against PSU in 2008 to become the first Illini true-freshman to start on the offensive line since 1997. Allen has started every game since and enters this weekend's game with 25 consecutive starts.
Wide receiver Jarred Fayson caught his first career touchdown last season against PSU, a 17-yarder from Juice Williams.
Running back Jason Ford scored his first career touchdown against Penn State in 2008 as a true-freshman.
Cornerback Travon Bellamy posted what was then a career-high nine tackles, including eight solos, in the 2008 game against the Nittany Lions.
ILLINI IN THE NCAA RANKINGS
Senior punter Anthony Santella leads the Big Ten and is second nationally in punting with a 48.3 average. As a team, the Illini lead the conference and rank third nationally in net punting at 43.33 yards.
Doak Walker Award candidate Mikel Leshoure is averaging 119.5 rushing yards per game this season, which puts him 13th in the nation and the second in the Big Ten. Overall, the Illinois rushing offense is ranked 29th nationally at 201.5 ypg.
Illinois' defense has been stout so far, holding opponents to just 18.0 points per game and 322.25 total yards per game, totals that rank 29th and 27th in the nation, respectively.
The Illinois defense has racked up 29 tackles for loss (7.25 per game) and 10 sacks (2.50 per game) in the first four games, totals that rank 27th and 36th nationally, respectively, and second in the Big Ten. Already 11 different Illini defenders have at least 1.0 TFL, led by junior LB Martez Wilson's 5.0 TFLs, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten. Wilson also is tied for fourth in the Big Ten with 2.0 sacks.
LESHOURE CRACKS TOP-25, FORD APPROACHING 1,000
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 do so. Leshoure enters this weekend's contest with 1,338 yards, which puts him 24th 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 27 yards on the ground to become the 37th Illini to reach the mark.
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 196.7 yards per game (12,589 yards in 64 games) in the last 5+ seasons tops Wisconsin's 192.7 ypg (13,489 yards in 70 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 201.5 ypg on the ground, which ranks 29th 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.
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. In addition, starting CB Terry Hawthorne (foot) and starting FB/TE Zach Becker (feet) both missed the first four games of the season and are questionable for this Saturday's game at Penn State. FS Steve Hull (ankle) came out of Saturday's game against Ohio State and also is questionable for this week's game.
Senior WR Eddie McGee suffered an ankle sprain in the SIU game and missed the entire NIU game, but returned for a few plays against Ohio State, as did bandit Nate Palmer, who was sidelined with a toe injury for the first three games.
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 34 tackles, 5.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks through four games this season. Thomas saw his first action of the season in the Sept. 18 game vs. NIU.
The Illini defense has been much improved over last season. In the first four games last season, the Illini allowed 1,671 total yards (417.8 ypg) and 119 points (29.8 ppg). In four games this season, the Illini have allowed 1,289 yards (322.3 ypg) and 72 points (18.0 ppg).
The Illini's defensive turnaround this season is even more impressive when field position is taken into account. Opponents have started nine drives in plus territory, but the UI defense has allowed just one touchdown and three field goals on those nine drives. The average starting position for opponents is the 32.6 yard line, compared to the 27.3 yard line for the Illini offense.
The Orange and Blue defense has allowed just six points (2 field goals) off eight turnovers this season.
The defense also has been stout in the red zone. In opponents' 16 trips inside the 20 this season, the Illini have allowed just seven touchdowns and five field goals. Illinois' 75.0 red zone scoring percentage for opponents ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 35th in the nation.
Trulon Henry recorded a pair of interceptions against Ohio State, the first INTs of the season for the Fighting Illini and the first of Henry's career. He intercepted a Terrelle Pryor pass in the second quarter and picked off a Joe Bauserman pass in the third quarter. Henry is the first Illini defender in six years to tally two interceptions in a game, since Kelvin Hayden against Florida A&M in 2004.
The Illini defense held NIU running back Chad Spann to just 15 yards on 13 carries. Spann currently ranks 19th in the nation, averaging 108.4 ypg, and racked up 223 yards on 15 carries against Minnesota on Sept. 25, one week after the Fighting Illini shut him down.
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.
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.
Cornerback Travon Bellamy recorded a career-high 12 tackles vs. Missouri and then had a team-high seven stops against SIU. His 7.0 tackles per game is third on the team and ranks 13th in the conference. Bellamy also has 4.0 tackles for loss, which ties him for ninth in the Big Ten in that category.
Linebacker Ian Thomas tied his career high with 13 tackles against Mizzou. Thomas' 1.5 TFLs in that game also marked a new career high. Thomas is currently second on the team lead in both tackles (31) 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 TFLs in 2009, Liuget dropped 30 pounds in the offseason to get down to 285 in hopes of being more mobile and harder to block. It seems to have paid off, as Liuget has 15 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, one sack, two hurries and one PBU this season.
Illinois is tied for first in the nation in red zone offense, scoring on all 12 of its trips inside the 20 this season (seven touchdowns and five field goals). Only four other teams have scored on 100 percent of their red zone trips.
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.
Redshirt-freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has shown his dual-threat ability in Illinois' first four 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.
When 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.
Senior WR Jarred Fayson had a breakout game for the Illini against Ohio State. He caught eight passes for 83 yards, setting career highs in both categories. Fayson also completed the first pass of his career, throwing a 23-yarder to quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase in the first quarter, and downed a punt on the one yard line on special teams.
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 13 catches for 206 yards and two touchdowns so far this season.
Weak-side tackle Jeff Allen anchors the Illini offensive line once again. The junior has started every game since the fourth game of his freshman season, giving him 25 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 four stellar games to open the season. Santella had 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, and last week against Ohio State he averaged 47.0 yards in six kicks, including a 58-yarders, on a blustery day at Memorial Stadium. Santella currently ranks second in the nation with a 48.3 average on 21 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 fourth in the Illinois record books in career punting average (40.4), fifth in career punts (201) and sixth in career yardage (8,113).
SANTELLA YEAR-BY-YEAR Year No Yds Avg (Nat'l RK) TB FC I20 50+ Long Net (Nat'l RK) 2007 64 2,410 37.7 (100) 5 13 17 5 59 33.08 (92) 2008 53 2,088 39.4 (75) 5 8 13 7 56 31.64 (113) 2009 63 2,600 41.3 (50) 5 19 16 11 65 35.89 (58) 2010 21 1,015 48.3 (2) 3 3 6 9 67 43.33 (3) TOTAL 201 8,113 40.4 18 43 52 32 67 34.65 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.
MISCELLANEOUS TEAM NOTES
Attendance at the Oct. 2 game against Ohio State was 62,870, marking the first sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium this season, the 73rd in school history and the 10th since 2007.
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.
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.
SANTELLA NAMED SEMIFINALIST FOR CAMPBELL AWARD
Illinois senior punter Anthony Santella is on the list of semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy - formerly named the Draddy Trophy - which is given annually to a senior or graduate student in his final year of eligibility who has outstanding football ability and has demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship. It the fourth-straight year that an Illini player has been named a semifinalist, as former Illini J Leman (2007), Ryan McDonald (2008) and Jon Asamoah (2009) all were named to the National Scholar-Athlete Class. Santella graduated with a bachelor's degree in sport management in May 2010 with a 3.54 GPA on a 4.0 scale and currently is pursuing a master's degree in the same field.
So far three Illini players have been named to watch lists for national awards:
Mikel Leshoure, running back - Doak Walker Award preseason candidate (RB)
Anthony Santella, punter - Campbell Award semifinalist (Leadership)
Martez Wilson, linebacker - Butkus Award preseason candidate (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
PENN STATE: OL Randall Hunt, RB Mikel Leshoure, DL Corey Liuget, LB Martez Wilson