Oct. 8, 2012
The Fighting Illini (2-4, 0-2) head to Ann Arbor for a cross-division matchup with 25th-ranked Michigan (3-2, 1-0) this Saturday in the Big House (2:30 p.m. CT, ABC/ESPN). Illinois is seeking its second win at the Big House in its last three tries.
Illinois has faced the 21st-toughest schedule so far this season, as Illini oppponents have a 13-7 record against FBS competition (not including their game against Illinois). Non-conference FBS foes Louisiana Tech (5-0), Arizona State (4-1) and Western Michigan (3-3) are a combined 12-4 overall this season. It doesn't get any easier for the Illini, as they face the 10th-toughest schedule the rest of the way. Future opponents are a combined 19-9 against FBS teams this season.
Illinois is holding opponents to a third-down conversion rate of just 27.4 percent (20-of-73), which leads the Big Ten and ranks seventh in the nation. In the last four games, the Illini have allowed just 11 first downs on 49 attempts (22.4 percent).
Illinois ranks 10th nationally in fourth-down defense, allowing just one first down on five fourth-down attempts (20.0 percent).
Illinois has controlled time of possession this season, owning a margin of over five minutes per game over its opponents. The Illini are ranked 16th nationally and third in the Big Ten in time of possession (32:40).
The Illini have held the opposition scoreless seven times in the red zone this year (out of 24 chances), ranking 24th in the nation in red-zone defense (70.8 percent).
After batting down two passes against the Badgers, senior DE Michael Buchanan has six passes defended on the season (5 PBUs and 1 INT), which is the most in the nation for a defensive lineman. Overall, he ranks ninth in the Big Ten and 49th nationally, but everyone in front of him is a DB or LB. The Bednarik, Hendricks and Nagurski Award candidate also has 24 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, a team-high 2.5 sacks, four QB hurries and one forced fumble on the season.
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 on Sept. 29, 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 25 receptions for 362 yards and five TDs (second-most in the Big Ten) in 2012.
After being slowed by injuries in the first five games, junior QB Nathan Scheelhaase was back to his dual-threat ways at Wisconsin on Saturday, rushing for a team-high 84 yards on 22 carries - including big plays of 29 and 24 yards as well as a 5-yard TD run - while also throwing for 178 yards and a TD against the Badgers. Scheelhaase jumped four spots to No. 20 on the UI all-time rushing list, bringing his career total to 1,587.
As expected, junior LB Jonathan Brown has been a force in 2012, racking up 38 tackles, a team-high 6.5 TFLs (fifth-most in the Big Ten), 1.5 sacks and one PBU. He's coming off a breakout 2011 season, leading Illinois in tackles (108), leading the Big Ten in TFLs (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 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 Sept. 29. He has 34 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 six.
The Last Meeting
November 12, 2011
MICHIGAN SERIES NOTES
Michigan leads the series by a 68-23-2 advantage overall and holds a 32-11-1 lead in games played in Ann Arbor.
The two teams have split the last four meetings, with Illinois winning 45-20 in the Big House in 2008 and 38-13 in Champaign in 2009.
The series has been nearly even in the last eight meetings in Ann Arbor, with Michigan holding a slight 4-3-1 advantage dating back to 1992. The Illini were victorious in the Big House in 1993 (24-21), 1999 (35-29) and 2008 (45-20).
The 2010 meeting in Ann Arbor was an instant classic, with the Wolverines winning a triple-overtime thriller 67-65. The two teams combined for 132 points and 1,237 yards of total offense, both Big Ten records.
In Illinois' last two trips to the Big House, the Illini have scored 110 points, by far the most that Illinois has ever scored in consecutive games in Ann Arbor. The previous high point total in consecutive games at the Big House was 59 in 2003 and 2008.
Illini head coach Tim Beckman has never faced Michigan or UM head coach Brady Hoke. Hoke is 1-1 against the Illini. Beckman is looking to become only the fourth Illinois head coach to win his first game at Michigan. Bob Zuppke, Ron Turner and Ron Zook are the other three Illini leader to be victorious in their Big House debuts.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE WOLVERINES
Illinois' 65 points in 2010 are the most any team has ever scored against Michigan. The previous high was 58 points by Cornell in 1891, while the previous high by a Big Ten team was 55 by Northwestern in 1958.
In Illinois' last two visits to the Big House, the Illini are averaging 55 points and 531 yards per game.
Illini have turned in huge performances in the last two trips to the Big House. In 2008, QB Juice Williams broke the Michigan Stadium record for total yards in a game (431 yards), which has since been broken by UM's Denard Robinson. In 2010, RB Mikel Leshoure scored five touchdowns, equaling the second-most in a single game in UI history, behind only Howard Griffith's NCAA-record eight TDs in 1990.
CB Terry Hawthorne got his first career start against Michigan in 2009 as a true-freshman and made a game-changing tackle on the first drive of the third quarter, when he ran down Michigan WR Roy Roundtree to save a touchdown. The Illini eventually forced a turnover on downs at their own 1 yard line, then marched 99 yards to take control of the game en route to a 38-13 victory. . Watch the Hawthorne play and the ensuing goal-line stand here: http://bit.ly/BlackCat09. In his career against the Wolverines, Hawthorne has 11 tackles, three PBUs and one TFL.
QB Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 211 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 101 yards and another score in the 2010 Michigan game. He also ran for a touchdown in the 2011 game against Michigan. He accounted for 312 yards of total offense in 2010 and 184 in 2011, giving him an average of 248 yards of total offense against the Wolverines in his career.
WR Ryan Lankford had his first career TD reception in the 2010 game at Michigan, hauling in a 33-yard TD from Scheelhaase in the second quarter.
LB Jonathan Brown recorded nine tackles, 3.0 TFLs and a QB hurry in the 2011 meeting.
DT Akeem Spence equaled a career high with nine tackles against against the Wolverines in 2011.
SS Steve Hull had seven tackles and a forced fumble in 2011.
DB Patrick Nixon-Youman had an interception in the 2010 Michigan game, one of five turnovers that Illinois forced in the game. He also had three tackles and a PBU in 2010, and six tackles in the 2011 game.
DE Michael Buchanan had five tackles and a half-TFL in each of the 2011 and 2010 matchups.
TE Jon Davis caught four passes for 28 yards against Michigan in 2011.
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 6, those three teams are a combined 12-4 this season (La Tech 5-0, ASU 4-1, WMU 3-3).
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-Michigan Game Notes, click HERE.