DE Whitney Mercilus leads the Big Ten in sacks with 5.5.
Oct. 4, 2011
Oct. 8, 2011 // 2:31 EDT/1:31 CDT kick // BTN
Bloomington, Ind. // Memorial Stadium (52,929)
The Illinois/Indiana game will be nationally televised on the Big Ten Network with an air time of 1:30 p.m. CDT. Eric Collins (play-by-play), Chris Martin (color analyst) and Dionne Miller (sideline) will call the action with Jim Ressler producing and Dennis Lanius directing. The game also will be streamed live at BTN2go.com.
The 41-station Illini Sports Network will carry the radio broadcast with the pregame show beginning at 1 p.m. CDT. Calling the action will be Brian Barnhart (play-by-play), Kurt Kittner (color analyst) and Steve Kelly (pregame, halftime and postgame). The broadcast also can be heard on SIRIUS (135) satellite radio.
Illinois will travel to Indianapolis on Friday afternoon via charter bus and will not conduct a walkthrough at IU's Memorial Stadium.
The 19th-ranked Fighting Illini hit the road for the first time this season when they head to Bloomington, Ind., to face Indiana on Saturday. Illinois is coming off a thrilling 38-35 Big Ten-opening victory over Northwestern on Saturday after trailing by as many as 18 in the third quarter.
The 18-point come-from-behind victory over NU was the was the biggest comeback win for the Illini since 2005, when they came from down 20 to beat Rutgers in overtime in Ron Zook's first game as Illinois head coach.
At 5-0, Illinois is off to its best start since the 1951 team opened the season 7-0 en route to a 9-0-1 record and a share of the national championship (Boand Poll). The Illini are one of 15 remaining unbeaten teams in the nation and one of just eight that are 5-0.
The Illini have won six in a row dating back to last season, the longest UI winning streak since the 2001 Big Ten Championship team won seven straight. It also marks the fourth-longest current streak in the nation.
Illinois moved up five spots to No. 19 in this week's Associated Press poll and jumped six spots to No. 16 in the USA Today coaches' poll. It marks the Illini's third-straight week in the AP poll and their second in the coaches' poll. When the Illini entered the AP Top 25 on Sept. 18, it marked the program's first appearance in the AP rankings since Sept. 21, 2008.
The Orange and Blue have faced the 15th-toughest schedule in the nation based on opponent winning percentage. Illinois' 2011 FBS foes have a combined record of 12-3 when you take out their losses to the Illini - Arizona State is 4-0, Western Michigan is 3-1, Arkansas State is 3-1 and Northwestern is 2-1.
Illinois ranks fifth in the nation in third-down efficiency, converting 41-of-73 (.562) third downs in 2011.
The Illinois defense has forced at least one turnover in 20 consecutive games, dating back to the Nov. 14, 2009, game against Northwestern. The streak was extended on the final play of last week's Northwestern game when DE Whitney Mercilus fell on the Wildcats' last-ditch lateral attempt.
Biletnikoff Award candidate A.J. Jenkins had a game for the ages against Northwestern, shattering the Illinois school-record with 268 receiving yards. He also tied a school record with three receiving touchdowns and posted 328 all-purpose yards, the third-most in school history. He earned Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Week and National WR of the Week (CFPA) honors for his week five effort.
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase threw for a career-high 391 yards and three touchdowns to lead Illinois back from an 18-point deficit against Northwestern, with his one-yard TD plunge with 13 seconds left providing the game-winning points against the Wildcats. Scheelhaase ranks eighth in the nation and second in the Big Ten in passing efficiency (174.95). He has thrown 20 TDs against just four INTs over the last 12 games.
Illinois leads the Big Ten and is sixth nationally in sacks per game (3.4). Junior DE Whitney Mercilus (5.5 sacks) and bandit Michael Buchanan (4.5 sacks) lead the way, ranking 1-2 in Big Ten in sacks.v Senior PK Derek Dimke has made 10 straight field goals dating back to last year's Texas Bowl, which is tied for the third-longest streak in school history. The school record is 13 straight by Mike Bass in 1982. Dimke is a perfect 7-of-7 this season and is 36-of-41 for his career (.878), which makes him Illinois' career field goal percentage leader and ranks second nationally among active kickers.
Illinois' last three wins have come down to the wire. It marks the first time in school history that the Illini have won three straight games by three points or less and is only the third time in school history that three straight games have been decided by a total of nine points or less. In 1934, Illinois had three consecutive wins by a margin of seven total points (5,1,1) and also had another three-game streak decided by a total of nine points (7,1,1).
The Illini overcame a 14-10 fourth-quarter deficit in the Sept. 17 win over No. 22 Arizona State. A 16-yard TD reception by A.J. Jenkins with 9:59 left gave Illinois the lead and then the defense took over, forcing four straight Brock Osweiler incompletions to give the Illini a 17-14 win.
Against Western Michigan, a Derek Dimke field goal with 5:44 left broke a 20-20 tie. Then the defense did the job once again, holding the Broncos scoreless on two final drives to give Illinois a 23-20 win.
Illinois had to come from behind twice against Northwestern on Oct. 1. The Illini trailed 28-10 late in the third quarter before scoring 21 points in less than 12 minutes to take a 31-28 lead. After an Illinois defensive stop, the offense fumbled and NU scored to go up 35-31 with 1:15 remaining. This time, the offense stepped up, going on a 69-yard scoring drive, capped by one-yard Scheelhaase TD run with 13 seconds left, to give the Illini the win.
INDIANA SERIES NOTES
This week's game marks the 69th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Indiana Hoosiers. The Illini have won three of the last four against the Hoosiers and hold a 44-21-3 overall series advantage against IU. Illinois holds a slim 14-13-1 series edge against Indiana in Bloomington. The Illini won last year's meeting in Champaign, 43-13, but dropped the most recent meeting at IU, 27-14 in 2009.
Illinois coach Ron Zook is 3-3 in his career against the Hoosiers, while Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is in his first season with the Hoosiers.
Indiana assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator Doug Mallory is the brother of former Illini assistants Curt and Mike Mallory. Curt, who was on Zook's staff from 2005-09, Mike, who was at Illinois from 2001-05 under both Ron Turner and Zook, and Doug are the sons of former Indiana coach Bill Mallory, who was the head coach at Miami (Ohio) when Zook played there in the mid-70s.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE HOOSIERS
The Illinois defense forced five turnovers in last year's win over the Hoosiers. Jonathan Brown and Patrick Nixon-Youman both had pick-sixes and Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne also added interceptions in last year's 43-13 win.
The Illini blocked two punts in last year's game, including one in the end zone for a safety.
TE Evan Wilson had a 29-yard TD reception from Nathan Scheelhaase in last year's game.
Scheelhaase threw for 123 yards and 2 TDs and also ran for 45 yards last season vs. IU.
WR A.J. Jenkins had big games against Indiana in 2008 and '09. He returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown in the 2008 game and had four catches for 77 yards and a TD in 2009.
RB Jason Ford ran for a career-high 172 yards and three TDs as a true-freshman in the Illini's win 2008 over the Hoosiers.
OG Hugh Thornton saw the first playing time of his career when he got the start at right tackle vs. IU as a true-freshman in 2009.
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 205.1 yards per game (15,995 yards in 78 games) in the last six-plus seasons tops Wisconsin's 201.2 ypg (16,701 yards in 83 games) during that same time span.
Illinois' 209.8 ypg this season ranks 22nd in the nation. The Illini have finished the season ranked in the top-20 nationally in rushing yards per game in four of the last five years.
Over two-thirds of Illinois' plays this season have been runs (67 percent - 235 rushes in 351 total plays).
The Illini have led the conference in rushing in three of the last five years (2006, '07 and '10).
Illinois has produced three NFL running backs in the last five years. Pierre Thomas (Saints) and Rashard Mendenhall (Steelers) have both led their respective teams to the Super Bowl. Mikel Leshoure (Lions), a 2011 second round draft pick, will miss his entire rookie season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon during training camp.
Saturday's win over Northwestern wrapped up a string of five straight home games to start the 2011 season. Illinois has eight total home games this season for the first time in the Memorial Stadium era and first time since 1903, when the Illini played nine home games. After last Saturday's victory, the Illini have an all-time record of 252-209-14 at Memorial Stadium.
JENKINS MAKING MOST OF SENIOR SEASON
WR A.J. Jenkins is saving his best season for his last. The Biletnikoff Award candidate leads the Big Ten and ranks in the top-11 nationally in both receptions (8.0 per game) and yards per game (126.6) after his school-record 268-yard performance against Northwestern, which ranks as the third-most receiving yards in a Big Ten game and the fourth-best mark in all games in Big Ten history.
Jenkins' three-touchdown performance against NU matched the single-game receiving touchdown record at Illinois and marks the first time an Illini has accomplished the feat since Greg Lewis in 2000. He moved into third on Illinois' all-time list with 16 career TD receptions behind Brandon Lloyd (21) and David Williams (24). Jenkins and QB Nathan Scheelhaase are the most prolific active QB-WR combo in the Big Ten over the last two seasons. The Illini duo has connected 89 times, just ahead of Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham (88). Michigan's Denard Robinson and Roy Roundtree are a distant third, connecting 63 times since the start of last season.
Jenkins has at least one catch in 23 straight games. His 12 catches against NU tie for the third-most in a game in school history and his 11 catches against Arkansas State on 9/3 tied the most ever in a season-opener by an Illini (David Williams had 11 against Northwestern on Sept. 1, 1984).
Jenkins' fast start to 2011 has propelled him onto several UI career record lists. He currently ranks third in career TD receptions (16), sixth in career 100-yard receiving games (6), eighth in career receiving yardage (1,789) and ninth in career receptions (117). See page 11 for a complete list of Illini records to watch.
SCHEELHAASE PICKS UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase shattered his career high against Northwestern, throwing for 391 yards and three touchdowns in the comeback victory. His previous high was 267 yards against Arkansas State earlier this season, but it was his one-yard TD plunge with 13 seconds left that provided the winning points. His 32 pass attempts against NU marked a career high and the most by an Illini quarterback since Juice Williams attempted 34 passes at Cincinnati on Nov. 27, 2009.
Scheelhaase is off to a fast start in 2011. He is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and ranks eighth nationally in passing efficiency (174.95). The Davey O'Brien and Maxwell Award candidate also has rushed for 259 yards and three TDs, giving him 1,127 career rushing yards.
Scheelhaase has made drastic improvement during his 18 games on the field. After tossing four touchdowns and seven interceptions in Illinois' first six games of 2010, Scheelhaase rebounded to throw 13 TD strikes against just one pick during the final seven games. When you factor in his 2011 numbers, he now has thrown 20 touchdowns and only four interceptions since the midpoint of 2010.
Scheelhaase has been outstanding in Illinois' 12 wins since the beginning of the 2010 season, completing 158-of-228 passes (69.3 percent) for 2,078 yards, 17 TDs and four INTs for a 168.95 efficiency rating. He also has rushed for 761 yards on 163 carries and five TDs in those 12 games. For comparison, Scheelhaase is 65-of-134 (48.5 percent) for 775 yards, seven TDs and seven INTs for a 103.9 rating in Illinois' six losses.
For the second year in a row, an Illini broke an individual program record against Northwestern. In 2010, RB Mikel Leshoure ran for an Illinois record 330 yards in the Illini win at Wrigley Field. This season, WR A.J. Jenkins had a school-record 268 receiving yards in Illinois' win over the 'Cats.
Fresh off a record-breaking 2010 season, the Illini offense has not let up this year. In 2011, the Illini are averaging 33.4 ppg, 433.6 ypg and 209.8 rushing ypg. Last season, the Illini broke school records for both total points scored (423) and points per game (32.53), and led the Big Ten in rushing (246.1 ypg).
The offense has exploded since the midpoint of 2010. During the first six games last year, the Illini averaged 21.3 points and 320.0 yards per game. In the 12 games since, the Illini are averaging 38.5 ppg and 442.5 ypg.
Illinois has converted 21-of-23 red-zone chances into points this season (91 percent), scoring 15 TDs and six FGs on trips inside the 20, which ranks 23rd nationally. In 2010, Illinois ranked third in the nation in red-zone scoring percentage, picking up points on 49 of its 52 trips inside the 20 (94 percent).
Illinois has shown its ball-control ability early in 2011, holding the ball an average of 32:42, which ranks 20th nationally and second in the Big Ten in time of possession. The Illini dominated possession in the second half against Western Michigan, holding the ball for 22:13 after the break. Overall, Illinois has had 10 scoring drives last at least 10 plays and nine last at least five minutes each.
The Illini also have shown quick-strike capabilities, with 10 scoring drives lasting less than two minutes, including the game-winning final drive against Northwestern (6 plays, 69 yards for a TD in 1:02).
Illinois' 53-point margin of victory against South Dakota State on Sept. 10 is its largest since 1944, when the Illini defeated Illinois-Normal (Illinois State), 79-6. Illinois' 56 points were its most at home since 2002, when the Illini scored 59 against Arkansas State.
While Illinois' rushing offense has remained dominant, the Illini are doing it by committee this year rather then relaying on one dominant runner like they did in 2007 (Rashard Mendenhall) and 2010 (Mikel Leshoure). Four different Illini have over 200 rushing yards on the season, and all four have scored at least one rushing TD.
Senior RB Troy Pollard leads the Illini ground attack with a team-high 269 yards on only 28 carries. His 9.6 yards per carry marks the fourth-highest rushing average in the nation. A fifth-year senior, Pollard ran for a career-high 133 yards on 14 attempts (9.5 ypc) against Western Michigan on 9/24, marking his second 100-yard effort in a three-game span (101 vs. South Dakota State on 9/10).
Senior RB Jason Ford has 23 career rushing TDs, tying him with Mikel Leshoure, Ty Douthard and Red Grange for seventh on the UI career list. He needs just two more to move up to second place and is eight behind Howard Griffith's UI career record of 31. Ford currently ranks 19th on the UI career rushing list (1,586 yards).
RB Donovonn Young was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after running for 100 yards on 12 carries (8.3 ypc), including a 14-yard TD run in the win over Western Michigan on 9/24. For the season, Young is third on the team with 241 rushing yards on 35 carries (6.9 ypc) and is tied for the team lead with four rushing TDs.
Weak-side tackle Jeff Allen anchors the Illini offensive line once again. The senior has started every game since the fourth game of his freshman season, giving him a team-high 39 consecutive starts. Allen earned second team All-Big Ten honors while helping pave the way for the Big Ten's top rushing offense in 2010.
With Allen as the anchor, most of the offensive line is loaded with experience. Junior weak-side guard Hugh Thornton, junior center Graham Pocic and senior strong-side guard Jack Cornell all are returning starters from a team that led the Big Ten in rushing. The only new part is the strong-side tackle spot, where RS freshman Michael Heitz has started the first five games and played nearly every snap so far in 2011.
Redshirt-freshman Simon Cvijanovic came up big for the Illini in the win over Western Michigan, playing the entire second half at weak-side tackle and helping the Illini to 184 second-half rushing yards. Cvijanovic, who had played just 17 snaps in his career prior to the game, filled in after starter Jeff Allen was disqualified from the game on the final play of the first half.
Illinois' three quarterbacks (Nathan Scheelhaase, Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei) combined to complete 16-of-18 (.889) passes against South Dakota State, breaking the school record for single-game completion percentage. The previous record was 20-of-24 (.833) against Arkansas State on Sept. 14, 2002.
The Illinois defense came up big in the upset of No. 22 Arizona State with 12 TFLs, six sacks and three takeaways, while allowing just 14 points. A week after the Illini held them to 14 points, the Sun Devils put up 43 points on USC. ASU is averaging 40.8 ppg in its other four games this season.
Illinois held South Dakota State to just three points, 96 total yards and 25 rushing yards. It marked the first time since 1998 that the Illini kept an opponent under 100 total yards, when the Illini limited Middle Tennessee State to 69 yards. It also marked the first time in the last 13 games that the Illini held an opponent without a TD, dating back to Sept. 11, 2010, against Southern Illinois (35-3).
Junior DB Terry Hawthorne collected nine tackles, including a career-high eight solos, three PBUs and one interception against Western Michigan. Hawthorne tied his previous best for PBUs, set at Cincinnati Nov. 27, 2009. The interception was his first of the season and third of his career. Hawthorne leads the Illini and is second in the Big Ten with six passes defended (five PBUs, one INT) on the season.
Junior DE Whitney Mercilus has become a force on the defensive line this season. He leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth nationally in sacks (1.1 per game) and also has racked up 6.5 TFLs, five QB hurries, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one PBU.
Sophomore LB Jonathan Brown was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after a dominant performance in the upset win over Arizona State. Brown had a hand in two of the three Illini takeaways against ASU, intercepting a Brock Osweiler pass in the third quarter and forcing an errant throw by Osweiler on Glenn Foster's first-quarter interception. Brown had career highs with 3.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks, and also added seven tackles as the Illini held the high-powered ASU offense to just 14 points.
Senior LB Trulon Henry is leading the Illini and tied for third in the Big Ten with two interceptions on the season, including a 27-yard pick-six against South Dakota State. Henry moved to the sam linebacker this season after starting 12 games at safety last season. He is the older brother of former Illini standout and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Arrelious Benn.
Junior DT Glenn Foster's interception in the Arizona State game was the first of his career. It also was the first interception by an Illini lineman since Doug Pilcher on Sept. 12, 2009, against Illinois State.
Senior linebacker Ian Thomas is back to the familiar role of middle linebacker for the 2011 season, registering a team-high 32 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, one sack and three QB hurries. Last year, Thomas played weak-side linebacker while current New Orleans Saint Martez Wilson held down the mike position. Playing in the middle isn't new for Thomas, as he led the team in tackles as the MLB in 2009 after Wilson suffered a season-ending neck injury.
Junior safety Supo Sanni returned to the field this season after missing all of last season with a ruptured Achilles. Sanni recorded a career-high six tackles, including a half-TFL, and forced a fumble in the season opener against Arkansas State and picked up his first career interception against South Dakota State.
Redshirt freshman LB Houston Bates was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Sept. 5 after posting five tackles, TFLs, one sack and one fumble recovery against Arkansas State in his Illini debut.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Senior PK Derek Dimke remains perfect during 2011, hitting all seven of his FG attempts and all 18 PATs. He has hit 36-of-41 field goals in his career (.878), which ranks second nationally among active kickers (minimum 15 games played and 20 made field goals).
A Lou Groza Award candidate, Dimke has made 10 straight field goals dating back to the 2010 Texas Bowl. That ties him for the third-longest streak in school history and is three short of Mike Bass' UI record of 13.
Dimke is a perfect 73-of-73 on extra points in his career, making him one of only two players in Illinois history to be perfect with at least 65 PAT attempts.
With 39 points in 2011, Dimke has raised his career total to 181, which ranks him 10th in UI history. He needs five points to match Red Grange's ninth-place total of 186 career points. Dimke's 36 career field goals rank seventh in Illinois history, two behind Dan Beaver's sixth-place total of 38.
Dimke earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors for the second time in his career after hitting all three of his field goals attempts (39, 35 and 21) against Western Michigan.
Dimke also handles kickoff duties for the Illini. He's had seven touchbacks in 32 kickoffs and has a 63.4-yard average this season. Last year, he booted 22 touchbacks and had a 62.0 average in 79 kickoffs.
True-freshman Justin DuVernois has taken over punting duties after the loss of 2010 first-team All-Big Ten punter Anthony Santella to graduation. He has punted 14 times for a 38.4-yard average this season, including a long of 48, seven fair catches and two inside the 20, and also had one free kick for 49 yards following a safety.
DuVernois is one of just eight true-freshman starting punters in the nation.
Sophomore WR Ryan Lankford serves as both the back-up punter and primary punt returner. A rugby-style punter, Lankford has kicked four times with a long of 50 yards and has returned eight punts for a total of 19 yards. He the first Illinois player since Bob Bess in 1969 to both punt and return a punt in the same season.
Sophomore Tim Russell has taken over holding duties for 2011 with the graduation of Santella.
Junior Zak Pedersen is in his second year handling long snapping duties for the Fighting Illini. He earned a scholarship prior to this season after serving three years as a walk-on.