The Illini defense held Purdue to just 205 total yards in last year's 44-10 victory.
Oct. 17, 2011
The Illinois/Purdue game will be nationally televised by ESPN2 with an air time of Noon EDT / 11 am CDT. Beth Mowins (play-by-play) and Mike Belloti (color analyst will call the action with Bart Fox producing and Kelly Atkinson directing. The game also will be streamed live at ESPN3.com.
The 41-station Illini Sports Network will carry the radio broadcast with the pregame show beginning at 10:30 a.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 (128) XM (190) satellite radio.
STRIPE THE STADIUM A SUCCESS
Fighting Illini fans Striped Memorial Stadium Orange and Blue during last week's game against Ohio State. The stunning visual was captured by the Stripe the Stadium FanCam, an ultra-high-resolution, 360-degree image where fans can zoom in, tag themselves and share with friends via social media.
The 23rd-ranked Fighting Illini hit the road for the second time this season when they travel to Purdue this Saturday to battle for the Cannon rivalry trophy (Noon EDT/11 am CDT, ESPN2). Illinois is looking to bounce back from its first loss of the season last week, a 17-7 home defeat to Ohio State.
The loss to the Buckeyes snapped Illinois' seven-game winning streak, the third-longest in the nation at the time and the longest by an Illini team since 2001. Illinois' 6-0 start was the program's best since the 1951 national championship team started 7-0.
Saturday's game at Purdue will mark Illinois' third and final rivalry trophy game this season. The Illini won the Land of Lincoln Trophy against Northwestern on Oct. 1, while Ohio State claimed the Illibuck with last week's win at Memorial Stadium.
The Fighting Illini are ranked 23rd in the first Bowl Championship Series (BCS) standings of the season, released Oct. 16. Illinois dropped seven spots to No. 23 in this week's Associated Press poll and fell six spots to No. 21 in the USA Today coaches' poll. It's the Illini's fifth-straight week in the AP poll and their first 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.
Illinois continues to lead the Big Ten and rank in the top-10 nationally in both sacks and tackles for loss. The Illini rank fifth in the NCAA in sacks (3.7 per game) and eighth in TFLs (8.3 per game).
All-America and Bednarik Award candidate Whitney Mercilus continues to lead the nation in sacks (10.0) and sacks per game (1.86). The junior DE also is tied for the national lead with five forced fumbles.
All-America and Biletnikoff Award candidate A.J. Jenkins leads the nation with 895 receiving yards this season. He ranks fifth nationally in receiving yards per game (127.9) and has 26 catches for 530 yards and five touchdowns in the last three games. His 268 yards against Northwestern shattered David Williams' UI single-game record and his 328 all-purpose yards in that game were the third-most in school history.
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase ranks 15th in the nation and second in the Big Ten in passing efficiency (158.76). He has thrown 24 TDs against just six INTs over the last 14 games. He threw for a career-high 391 yards and three touchdowns to lead Illinois back from an 18-point deficit against Northwestern on Oct. 1.
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. Dimke is a perfect 7-of-7 this season and is 36-of-41 for his career (.878), which makes him the nation's most accurate active kicker.
Six Fighting Illini were recognized on Phil Steele's Midseason All-America Teams, including first-team DE Whitney Mercilus. WR A.J. Jenkins was named to Steele's second team, OT Jeff Allen to the third team and DB Tavon Wilson to the fourth team. QB Nathan Scheelhaase and C Graham Pocic were both named honorable mention All-Americans by Steele.
With six wins, Illinois is bowl-eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time since a streak of five-straight seasons from 1988-92.
Illinois ranks seventh in the nation in third-down efficiency, converting 52-of-98 (.531) third downs in 2011.
Illinois leads the Big Ten and ranks 10th nationally in fewest penalties committed per game (4.14).
The Fighting Illini have rushed for 1,473 this season while holding opponents to only 689 yards on the ground.
Illinois is averaging 4.5 yards per rush while holding opponents to only 2.7 yards per rush.
WR A.J. Jenkins has 59.7 percent of Illinois' receiving yards this season, the most in the nation by a wide margin. Western Michigan's Jordan White is second at 46.8 percent.
Jenkins is tied for the national lead with 14 plays of 20+ yards and four plays of 50+ yards.
RB Troy Pollard is averaging 9.2 yards per carry, second-most in the nation for anyone with at least 40 carries.
RB Donovonn Young's 6.0 yards per carry is most in the nation for any freshman with more than 50 carries.
QB Nathan Scheelhaase ranks seventh nationally in yards per pass attempt (9.1).
DE Whitney Mercilus and BAN Michael Buchanan rank 1-2 in Big Ten in sacks with 10.0 and 5.0, respectively. LB Jonathan Brown is fourth (3.5).
Against Ohio State, the Illini defense had as many sacks (4.0) as the Buckeyes had pass attempts (4).
Illinois' non-conference FBS foes have a combined record of 13-4 outside of their losses to the Illini.
JENKINS MAKING MOST OF SENIOR SEASON
Senior WR A.J. Jenkins is saving his best season for his last. The Biletnikoff Award candidate leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth nationally in yards per game (127.9), and is seventh in the nation with seven receiving TDs. He already ranks ninth on the UI single-season receiving yards list with 895, putting him within striking distance of David Williams' 27-year-old record of 1,278.
Jenkins' 450 combined yards against Northwestern (268) and Indiana (182) in back-to-back games marked the most receiving yards in a two-game span in Big Ten history.
Jenkins' school-record 268-yard performance against Northwestern ranked as the third-most receiving yards in a Big Ten conference game and as the fourth-best mark in all games in Big Ten history.
Jenkins' has four scoring plays of 50+ yards this season, which is tied for the most in the nation. He's had TD receptions of 77, 72, 67 and 50 yards this season. His 14 receptions of 20+ yards also are tied for the national lead.
Jenkins' three 65-plus yard TD catches this season also is a UI record, eclipsing the previous mark of two by Rich Kreitling in 1958. All three of Jenkins' long TDs have come from QB Nathan Scheelhaase, marking the first time in school history that a QB and receiver have combined for multiple TD passes of 65-plus yards in their careers.
Jenkins' three-touchdown performance against NU matched the single-game receiving touchdown record at Illinois and marked the first time an Illini has accomplished the feat since Greg Lewis in 2000. He currently is third on Illinois' all-time list with 18 career TD receptions behind Brandon Lloyd (21) and David Williams (24).
Fifty-two percent of Scheelhaase's completions have gone to Jenkins this season (52 of 100), the second-highest percentage in the nation between any QB-WR duo just behind Rutgers' Chas Dodd and Mohamed Sanu (53.6).
Jenkins and Scheelhaase are the most prolific QB-WR combo in the Big Ten over the last two seasons. The Illini duo has connected 103 times, ahead of Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham (92).
Jenkins has at least one catch in 25 straight games. His 12 catches against Northwestern tied 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 (18), fifth in career 100-yard receiving games (7), seventh in career receiving yardage (2,051) and eighth in career receptions (131). See pages 11-12 for a complete list of Illini records to watch.
SCHEELHAASE KEEPS IMPROVING
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase has accounted for nine of Illinois' 13 touchdowns in the last three games (seven passing, two rushing).
Scheelhaase has three TD passes of 65-plus yards this season, all to WR A.J. Jenkins, which equals Juice Williams' single-season school-record total from 2006.
Scheelhaase ranks 15th nationally in passing efficiency (158.8). The Davey O'Brien and Maxwell Award candidate has improved his completion percentage from 58.7 in 2010 to 64.9 this season.
Scheelhaase had a career game against Northwestern, throwing for 391 yards and three touchdowns in the comeback victory to easily eclipse his previous high of 267 yards against Arkansas State earlier this season. His one-yard TD plunge with 13 seconds left provided the winning points against the Wildcats.
Scheelhaase has made drastic improvement during his 20 games on the field. After tossing four touchdowns and seven interceptions in Illinois' first six games of 2010, Scheelhaase now has thrown 24 touchdowns and only six interceptions since the midpoint of 2010.
Scheelhaase has been outstanding in Illinois' 13 wins since the beginning of the 2010 season, completing 170-of-250 passes (68.0 percent) for 2,288 yards, 20 TDs and four INTs for a 168.1 efficiency rating. He also has rushed for 849 yards on 181 carries and six TDs in those 13 games. For comparison, Scheelhaase is 85-of-168 (50.6 percent) for 944 yards, eight TDs and nine INTs for a 102.8 rating in Illinois' six losses.
PURDUE SERIES NOTES
Saturday's game marks the 87th meeting between the Illini and Boilers, dating back to 1890. The series with Purdue is the oldest in Illinois' 121-year history. Purdue was one of two teams played in Illinois' inaugural year of college football (the other was Illinois Wesleyan).
Illinois leads the overall series 42-38-6, but trails by a slim 20-19-4 margin in West Lafayette. Last year's 44-10 Illini victory in Champaign snapped a five-game losing streak to the Boilers.
Illinois has dropped three straight road games to the Boilers, with the last Illini win in West Lafayette coming in 2001, 38-13. The most recent meeting at Ross-Ade Stadium was a 24-14 Purdue win in 2009.
Illinois coach Ron Zook has a 1-3 record versus the Boilers. Last year's win over Purdue gave Zook at least one victory over each Big Ten opponent since he came to Illinois in 2005 (excluding Nebraska, who Zook has yet to face). PU coach Danny Hope is in his third season with the Boilermakers and is 1-1 against the Illini.
BATTLE FOR THE CANNON
This week Illinois and Purdue will play for the coveted "Cannon." Purdue leads the traditional trophy series by a 30-26-2 mark.
The "Cannon," more accurately known as the Purdue Cannon, made its first trip to Champaign-Urbana in 1905 when a group of Purdue students brought it to fire after a Boilermaker victory. Purdue won the game, 29-0, but the Cannon was never fired. Illinois student Quincy Hall found the Cannon hidden near the old Illinois Field. Hall and a group of Delta Upsilon brothers confiscated the Cannon and held it until 1943 when they donated it as a symbol of the UI-Purdue rivalry. Tomahawk Service and Leadership honorary at Purdue and Illini Pride of Illinois maintain the trophy when the respective school has won it. The Cannon was last fired Nov. 4, 2001, at the Illinois football complex following the victory.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE BOILERMAKERS
In last year's 44-10 win, the Illini held Purdue to 205 yards total offense and just 52 yards passing. Illinois held the ball for over 38 minutes of the game.
QB Nathan Scheelhaase racked up 313 total yards (195 passing, 118 rushing) and had a career-high four touchdown passes in last year's win over Purdue. His 80 percent completion percentage (16-of-20) and 227.9 QB rating for the game both remain career highs.
Wide receivers A.J. Jenkins and Darius Millines both caught TD passes in last year's win over Purdue. Jenkins had a 17-yard TD grab from Scheelhaase and Millines had a 10-yard TD catch, the first of his career.
DT Akeem Spence, who was a redshirt-freshman, and LB Jonathan Brown, a true-freshman at the time, led the Illini with eight tackles each in last year's game.
Junior PK Derek Dimke scored his first career point in the 2009 game at Purdue when he nailed an extra point in the third quarter. Since that game, Dimke has connected on 36-of-41 field goals and all 79 of his extra points.
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 206.4 yards per game (16,419 yards in 80 games) in the last six-plus seasons tops Wisconsin's 202.8 ypg (17,033 yards in 84 games) during that same time span.
Illinois' 210.4 ypg this season ranks 20th 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.
Nearly two-thirds of Illinois' plays this season have been runs (65.4 percent - 325 rushes in 497 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.
Illinois has had three wins come down to the wire this season. The wins over Arizona State, Western Michigan and Northwestern in consecutive weeks marked the first time in school history that the Illini won three straight games by three points or less.
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 remaining 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 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 with a 69-yard TD drive, capped by one-yard Nathan Scheelhaase QB sneak with 13 seconds left, to give the Illini the win.
Fresh off a record-breaking 2010 season, the Illini offense has not let up this year. Even after last week's seven-point performance against Ohio State, the Illini are averaging 30.7 ppg, 424.3 ypg and 210.4 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 14 games since, the Illini are averaging 36.4 ppg and 436.4 ypg.
Illinois has shown its ball-control ability early in 2011, holding the ball an average of 32:11, which ranks 20th nationally and second in the Big Ten in time of possession. Overall, Illinois has had 12 scoring drives last at least 10 plays and 10 last at least five minutes each.
The Illini are one just two teams in the nation with at least three scoring drives of 95+ yards. Illinois has had scoring drives of 95 (vs. Arkansas State), 95 (vs. Northwestern) and 97 (at Indiana) this season. Only Georgia Tech (95, 95 and 98) has had as many. Illinois is one of just nine teams in the nation with at least three 90+ scoring drives.
The Illini also have shown quick-strike capabilities, with 11 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).
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.
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 in 2007 (Rashard Mendenhall) and 2010 (Mikel Leshoure). Four different Illini have at least 300 rushing yards this season and no one has more than 400. Three different Illini have scored at least four TDs on the ground this season.
QB Nathan Scheelhaase leads the team in rushing with 391 yards, while senior RB Troy Pollard is the top Illini running back with 385 yards on only 42 carries. His 9.2 yards per carry marks the third-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 Sept. 24, his second 100-yard effort in a three-game span (101 vs. South Dakota State on Sept. 10).
Senior RB Jason Ford has 24 career rushing TDs, tying him with Chubby Phillips, Jim Grabowski and Johnny Karras for fourth on the UI career list. He needs just one more to move up to second place and is seven behind Howard Griffith's UI career record of 31. Ford currently ranks 19th on the UI career rushing list (1,671 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 Sept. 24. For the season, Young is third on the team with 327 rushing yards on 55 carries (5.95 ypc) and is tied for second on the team lead with four rushing TDs.
Weak-side tackle Jeff Allen anchors the Illini offensive line once again, earning third-team Midseason All-America honors from Phil Steele. The Lombardi and Outland trophy candidate has started every game since the fourth game of his freshman season, giving him a team-high 41 consecutive starts.
The Illinois defense made huge improvements in 2010 after the arrival of defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and has continued to improve in 2011. The Illini have improved 39 spots in passing defense, 31 spots in points allowed, 26 spots in total defense and pass efficiency defense and 14 spots in rushing defense from 2010 to 2011.
Illinois' streak of 21 consecutive games forcing a turnover, which was the longest active streak in the nation, was snapped against Ohio State.
Illinois' defense held Ohio State to only 228 total yards in the Oct. 15 defeat. Both Buckeye touchdowns came on a short field after Illini turnovers. Their two TD drives totaled 34 yards.
This season, Illinois has given up only 34 points after 14 turnovers. Since the start of 2010, the Illini have held opponents to 59 points (five TDs, eight FGs) following 30 turnovers.
Illinois' opponents have started nine drives inside Illinois territory this season, but have scored on just five on those nine for a total of 31 points (four touchdowns, one field goal). In 2010, opponents started 23 regulation drives in plus territory, but the lllini defense allowed just three touchdowns and 11 field goals on those 23 drives.
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 37.5 ppg in its other six games this season.
Illinois held South Dakota State to just three points, 96 total yards and 25 rushing yards on Sept. 10. 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).
Linebacker Jonathan Brown notched a career-high 17 tackles, including 2.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks, against Ohio State on Oct. 15, marking the most tackles by an Illini in a game since Brit Miller tallied 17 on Nov. 8, 2008, vs. Western Michigan. Brown was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 19 after a dominant performance in the upset win over Arizona State (7 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, one INT and one PBU). For the season, Brown is tied for the team lead with 47 tackles and has 8.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks.
Junior DE Whitney Mercilus has become a force on the defensive line this season. He leads the nation in sacks (10.0), sacks per game (1.43) and forced fumbles (5). His 10 sacks already rank fourth on the UI single-season sacks list and put him on pace to break Simeon Rice's school-record of 16 sacks in 1994.
Senior DB Tavon Wilson was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and CFPA National Defensive Player of the Week after a big performance at Indiana. Wilson returned a fumble 66 yards for a touchdown against the Hoosiers and also had a team-high 11 tackles, including nine solos, a career-high 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one pass break-up in the game. For the season Wilson is tied for the team lead with 47 tackles and 5 PBUs.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Senior PK Derek Dimke remains perfect during 2011, hitting all seven of his FG attempts and all 24 PATs. He has hit 36-of-41 field goals in his career (.878), which ranks first nationally among active kickers.
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 79-of-79 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 46 points in 2011, Dimke has raised his career total to 187, which ranks eighth in UI history just ahead of college football legend Red Grange (186). Dimke's 36 career field goals rank seventh in Illinois history.
Dimke earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors for the third 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 nine touchbacks in 41 kickoffs and has a 63.0-yard average this season. Last year, he booted 22 touchbacks and had a 62.0 average on 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 26 times for a 38.2-yard average this season, including a long of 66, 10 fair catches and eight inside the 20, and also had one free kick for 49 yards following a safety. Only five of Duvernois' 26 punts have been returned.
DuVernois is one of just nine true-freshman starting punters in the nation.
MISCELLANEOUS TEAM NOTES
Illinois started the 2011 season with five straight home games and 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. Following last Saturday's Ohio State game, the Illini have an all-time record of 252-210-14 at Memorial Stadium.
With only 29 penalties for 260 yards on the season, the Illini rank 10th nationally and first in the Big Ten in fewest penalties committed (4.14 per game) and 12th in fewest penalty yards per game (37.14). The Illini were penalty-free against Arkansas State, the first time in 18 years that the Illini played a game with being flagged.
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.