The Illini have not played Michigan State since 2010, which Nathan Scheelhaase was a redshirt Freshman.
|GAME 7: Illinois (3-3, 0-2) vs. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) // HOMECOMING|
|When||Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 | 2:30 pm CT|
|Where||Memorial Stadium (60,670), Champaign, Ill. | Map | Seating Chart | Weather|
|Gameday Information||GAMEDAY CENTRAL | Fan Guide | Parking Map | Concessions Map|
|Tickets||Buy Single-Game Tickets|
|Game Promotions||Street Fest starts at Noon | Promotions Schedule|
|Homecoming||#ILLINOIShomecoming | Homecoming Schedule | History|
|Television||ABC (ESPN2 mirror) | Watch Online WatchESPN.com
Announcers: Bob Wischusen, Rod Gilmore & Quint Kessenich
|Radio||Illini Sports Network | Listen | Sirius 92 / XM 190|
|Live Stats||GameTracker | Mobile Live Stats|
|Illinois Team Info||Game Notes (PDF) | Media Guide | Stats (HTML) | Stats (PDF)|
|MSU Team Info||Game Notes (PDF) | Media Guide | Stats (HTML) | Stats (PDF)|
|Big Ten Info||B1G Notes (PDF) | Media Guide | Conference Stats|
|Social Media||@IlliniFootball | #Illini | @IlliniAthletics | Facebook | YouTube|
Oct. 21, 2013
MICHIGAN STATE GAME PROMOTIONS // HOMECOMING
#ILLINOIShomecoming - 103rd Homecoming celebration on the University of Illinois campus
Illini Walk - Noon starting at First and Kirby through Street Fest area
Illini Street Fest - Noon-2 pm on First St. west of Memorial Stadium (Free admission, food, games & more)
The Brat Pack Concert - Live performance at Street Fest
The Fighting Illini (3-3 overall, 0-2 B1G Leaders) will look to end a two-game skid when Michigan State (6-1 overall, 3-0 B1G Legends) comes Memorial Stadium as part of the University of Illinois' 103rd Homecoming celebration on Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, ABC/ESPN2).
This Saturday's game against the Spartans ends Illinois three-game, conference-opening stretch against the only three teams that have played in Big Ten Championship game. Nebraska (5-1), Wisconsin (5-2) and Michigan State (6-1) are in the mix for the title game once again, with a combined record of 16-4.
Senior LB and Butkus Award candidate Jonathan Brown leads the Big Ten and ranks eighth nationally in tackles per game (11.0). Brown, who was named to Phil Steele's midseason All-America third team, also ranks second in the conference in TFLs per game (1.25).
The revamped Illinois offense, directed by new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, has jumped at least 70 spots in the national rankings from last year to this year in first downs, passing efficiency, long scrimmage plays, scoring offense, passing offense, turnovers lost and total offense, with the biggest turnaround a whopping 96-place improvement in first downs. The results have been astounding:
|ILLINOIS' OFFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT IN 2013|
|Category||2012 (Final Nat'l Rk)||2013 (Current Nat'l Rk)||Difference|
|First Downs (per game)||16.4 (120)||24.7 (24)||+96|
|Passing Efficiency||113.42 (102)||157.16 (14)||+88|
|Scrim. plays of 20+ yd||34 (122)||36 (36)||+86|
|Scoring Offense (ppg)||16.67 (119)||35.3 (35)||+84|
|Passing Offense (ypg)||138.83 (107)||287.7 (24)||+83|
|Turnovers lost||30 (107)||9 (34)||+73|
|Total Offense (ypg)||296.67 (119)||446.2 (48)||+71|
Senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase has thrived in Cubit's system, ranking in the top 20 in the nation in passing efficiency (158.0, 14th) and completion percentage (65.7 percent, 20th), and standing second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (257.7 ypg) and total offense (267.7 ypg).
Scheelhaase enters the weekend ranked third on the Illinois career total offense list with 8,697 yards (1,855 rushing, 6,842 passing) after passing Jack Trudeau's career total yardage of 8,640 on Saturday against Wisconsin. Scheelhaase needs 183 yards to catch Kurt Kittner (1998-2001) for second place. Juice Williams is the Illinois all-time total yardage leader with 10,594.
Scheelhaase has five pass plays of 50+ yards this season, tied for seventh-most in the nation, and wide receivers Steve Hull (21.6 ypr) and Ryan Lankford (20.4 ypr) rank eighth and 13th nationally in yards per reception.
Sophomore V'Angelo Bentley leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth in the nation in kick return average (30.8 ypr), including a 100-yard kickoff return for TD against Southern Illinois.
Sophomore running back Josh Ferguson continues to lead the nation in receiving yards per game by a running back, averaging 57.7 yards per game (346 yards on 23 receptions, 15.0 ypc). He ranks sixth in the Big Ten and 43rd in the nation in yards from scrimmage with 113.5 per game.
ILLINOIS HOMECOMING FACTS
The first homecoming celebrated on Illinois' campus was on Oct. 15, 1910, which the Illini won 3-0 over Chicago. This year's game against Michigan State marks the 103rd #ILLINOIShomecoming.
Illinois has an all-time record of 44-56-2 on Homecoming.
This year marks the eighth time overall and the first time since 2009 that the Illini will host Michigan State on Homecoming. Illinois is 3-4 all-time in Homecoming games against the Spartans.
The University of Illinois boasts being one of the first universities to celebrate Homecoming, a tradition on almost every college campus. It was conceived in 1909 by students C.F. Williams and W. Elmer Ekblaw, members of the Shield and Trident senior society. They joined with another society, Phoenix, to organize the three-day event.
For years, there has been a debate over which university had the first homecoming. Historians from various schools found research that puts Illinois among one of the first five universities to celebrate the Homecoming tradition. Baylor has documented proof of a formally named Homecoming celebration in 1909, but took a six-year hiatus before celebrating the second event at the school in 1915. Northern Illinois had alumni events beginning in 1906, but didn't use the proper noun "Homecoming" until 1911. Indiana University renamed their 1909 Gala Day to Homecoming on Nov. 5, 1910, and Michigan began inviting alumni back to campus in 1897, but the formal name began on the Ann Arbor campus in 1916.
MICHIGAN STATE SERIES NOTES
This week's game marks the 45th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Spartans and the first at Memorial Stadium since 2009. Illinois has only faced Michigan State twice in the last six years: 2009 and 2010, both Spartan victories. MSU holds a 25-17-2 overall series advantage and leads 12-9-1 when playing in Champaign.
Illinois' last win in the series came by a 23-20 score in 2006 in East Lansing when Jason Reda drilled a game-winning 39-yard field goal with six seconds remaining. That victory snapped the Illini's 10-game Big Ten losing streak. Illinois' last win over MSU in Champaign came in 1992, as the Spartans have won the last six meetings at Memorial Stadium.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman has never faced the Spartans, while MSU coach Mark Dantonio is 2-0 against the Illini as a head coach.
Michigan State quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator Brad Salem is the younger brother of Illini running backs coach and special teams coordinator Tim Salem.
Illini head coach Tim Beckman was on staff at Ohio State with MSU co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Jim Bollman in 2005-06, and tight ends/specialists coach/recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh also was on that Buckeye staff in 2005.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE SPARTANS
Because of the two-year layoff in the series, very few current Illini have faced Michigan State. Nathan Scheelhaase completed 15-of-27 passes for 141 yards and rushed for 11 yards in 2010, while Miles Osei rushed for four yards. Jonathan Brown had three tackles and Tim Kynard had one. Ryan Lankford, Spencer Harris and Evan Wilson also played against MSU in 2010.
WHOSE HOUSE? SCHEEL-HOUSE
Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase already has blown past his 2012 season totals for passing yards, touchdown passes, 20-plus-yard pass plays, 30+ pass plays and 50+ pass plays, while improving his passing efficiency by over 50 points. Take a look at his six-game 2013 numbers versus his 10-game 2012 numbers below:
|Scheelhaase Passing 2012 vs. 2013|
Scheelhaase has found great success on first down, completing 65-of-86 (75.6 percent) passes on first down for 987 yards and six touchdowns for a 190.4 passing efficiency rating. He ranks third in the nation in first-down QB rating among QBs with 60 or more first-down attempts behind only Florida State's Jameis Winston (211.7) and Ohio's Tyler Tettleton (209.1).
Scheelhaase has attacked opponents early in games, with nine of his 12 TDs coming in the first half. He has a first-half efficiency rating of 173.2, which ranks eighth in the nation just behind Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel (173.4). He also has 15 first-half plays of 25-plus-yards, tied for seventh in FBS.
Scheelhaase ranks second on the Illinois career passing efficiency list (130.5) and has UI record-holder Tony Eason (133.8) in his sights. Scheelhaase also ranks third at Illinois in total offense (8,697 yards) fourth in career touchdown passes (46), fifth in completions (603), fifth in attempts (976), sixth in passing yardage (6,842) and 17th in rushing yardage (1,855) - second among quarterbacks - at Illinois. See page 13 to track Scheelhaase's ascent up several UI career lists.
Scheelhaase set a school record for TD passes in a quarter with four in the second quarter against Miami (Ohio). He tossed a career-high five TDs against the RedHawks, all in the first half, one more than he had all of last season. Those five TDs in a half tied the Illinois record shared by Dave Wilson and Tom O'Connell.
Scheelhaase has put together streaks of 10 or more consecutive completions in three of Illinois' five games of 2013, accomplishing the feat against Southern Illinois (12), Cincinnati (10) and Miami (Ohio) (10). Prior to this season, the last time Scheelhaase had completed 10 or more passes was a string of 13 consecutive completions against Baylor in the 2010 Texas Bowl. Before the four times Scheelhaase has done it, the last Illini to complete 10 straight passes was Johnny Johnson (12) at Wisconsin on Nov. 19, 1994.
Scheelhaase led Illinois to bowl victories in each his first two seasons (2010 Texas Bowl and 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl), making him one of only two QBs in Big Ten history to start and lead their teams to bowl wins during both his freshman and sophomore seasons (Brooks Bollinger, Wisconsin). After missing a bowl in 2012, Scheelhaase is looking to end his UI career with a third bowl win, something no Illini QB has done previously.
LINEBACKER U: NOT WHERE YOU THINK IT IS
Like many Illini teams over the years, the 2013 Illini defense is led by its linebacking corps. This year, senior Jonathan Brown, a 2012 Butkus Award semifinalist, and sophomore Mason Monheim, a 2012 Freshman All-American key the attack. Brown has piled up 233 tackles, 36.5 TFLs and 10.5 sacks over the last two-plus seasons, while Monheim became the first true-freshman ever to lead the Illini in tackles and led all Big Ten freshmen with 86 stops last season. Not surprisingly, the duo is first and third on the team in tackles so far this season as Brown is averaging a Big Ten-best 11.0 stops per game, eighth-best in FBS, and Monheim ranks 11th in the Big Ten with 7.8 tackles per game.
Illinois' history at the linebacker position is up there with any program in the nation. It begins with football legend Ray Nitschke, who donned the Orange and Blue from 1955-57, and the greatest linebacker in football history, Dick Butkus, who was a two-time All-American and led the Fighting Illini to a 1964 Rose Bowl win over Washington. The Orange and Blue boast two Butkus Award winners, Dana Howard in 1994 and Kevin Hardy in 1995, and several first-team All-Americans like Darrick Brownlow (1990), Simeon Rice (1994 & `95) and J Leman (2007), in addition to Butkus, Howard and Hardy. Illinois linebacker lore also includes multi-year NFL players Scott Studwell, Danny Clark, Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?
Butkus Award candidate Jonathan Brown leads the Big Ten with 66 tackles and ranks eighth in the nation at 11.0 tackles per game. He is trying to become the first Illini to lead the conference in tackles since Brit Miller in 2008.
Brown has a team-high 7.5 TFLs this season, ranking second in the Big Ten, giving him 38 TFLs in his career. That total ties him for sixth on the UI career TFLs list with Kevin Hardy, just a half-TFL behind J Leman for fith place.
Brown had a monster game at Nebraska, racking up a game-high 13 tackles and tying his career-high with 4.0 TFLs, tied for the second-most TFLs in a game by an FBS player this season.
Over the last two years, Brown has put up monster numbers when healthy. He was leading the Illini with 59 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 2012 before having his season cut short by a shoulder injury. That followed a breakout 2011 season, when he earned All-Big Ten honors with 108 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. He ranked sixth in the nation in TFLs per game (1.63) and led the Big Ten in TFLs per game during conference play (2.07) in 2011.
Brown is a member of preseason watch lists for the Butkus Award, Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy. Last season, he was one of 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, which goes annually to the nation's top linebacker and is named after Illinois legend Dick Butkus. Take a look at how Brown stacks up against some of the Big Ten's top linebackers:
|Big Ten Linebacker Comparison (through Week 8)|
FERGUSON A DUAL THREAT
Sophomore running back Josh Ferguson is having a breakout season for the Illini. He leads the nation in average receiving yards by a running back (57.7 ypg) and the Illini in rushing yards (335).
Ferguson ranks 11th in the nation among running backs in yards per touch, averaging 8.6 yards each time he gets his hands on the ball (681 scimmage yards on 79 plays).
Ferguson is averaging 113.5 scrimmage yards per game (55.8 rushing, 57.7 receiving), which ranks 43rd nationally and sixth in the Big Ten behind Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah (158.8 ypg), Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (145.3 ypg) & James White (123.0), Michigan's Jeremy Gallon (120.0) and Penn State's Allen Robinsin (118.2).
Ferguson has three career 100-yard games, two rushing and one receiving. He ran for 114 yards on 19 carries (6.0 ypc) at Nebraska on Oct. 5 and also ran for 101 yards at Arizona State on Sept. 8, 2012. His 100-yard receiving game came in the 2013 season opener against Southern Illinois, when he had four catches for 103 yards.
In 2012, Ferguson led all Big Ten freshmen in all-purpose yards per game (90.7).
FORMER ILLINI IN SPACE
Former Illini defensive back and current NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins is in the middle of his first space flight. Hopkins and crewmates Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, at 3:58 p.m. CT on Sept. 25, and arrived at the International Space Station six hours later. Hopkins will remain on board as a flight engineer on Expedition 37/Expedition 38, which is scheduled to end with the Soyuz landing in March 2014. During its time on the station, the crew will conduct science experiments and maintenance.
Hopkins played for coach John Mackovic at Illinois, helping the Fighting Illini reach four straight bowl games from 1988-91. He started his career as a walk-on and by the time he was a senior, he was a team captain. He graduated from Illinois in 1991 with a degree in aerospace engineering and earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from Stanford in 1992. A colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Hopkins was selected in July 2009 as one of 14 members of the 20th NASA astronaut class. More on Hopkins and his mission can be found at www.nasa.gov/station and on Twitter @AstroIllini.
Corey Lewis: THE COMEBACK KID
Senior OT Corey Lewis is one the feel-good stories in college football. After missing more than two-and-half years (34 games) recovering from three ACL tears and five different knee surgeries, Lewis saw his first game action in over 1,000 days at Ohio State on Nov. 3, 2012, and played in the season's final four games. With a bachelor's degree in communication already in hand and a sixth year of NCAA eligibility granted, Lewis made his first career start in the 2013 season-opener against Southern Illinois, more than five years after first setting foot on campus, and has started every game since, playing a huge role in Illinois' offensive resurgence.
OFFENSIVE TEAM NOTES
Illinois racked up 319 passing yards against Wisconsin last Saturday, eclipsing the 300-yard passing mark for the fourth time in six games this season. It also marked UI's first 300-plus-yard passing game against a Big Ten opponent in 17 conference games, since notching 391 passing yards against Northwestern on Oct. 1, 2011.
Illinois' 32 points against the Badgers equaled the most points scored against Wisconsin this season.
Illinois has scored 30-plus points in all four home games and is averaging 42.3 ppg at Memorial Stadium this season. The Illini have scored 42, 45, 50 and 32 points in this season's four home contests.
Illinois has shown a great ability to sustain drives this season. Through six games, the Illini have 15 drives of 10-plus plays, incluidng four 14-play drives. Eleven of the 15 drives ended with scores and resulted in a total of 61 points. Last year, Illinois managed only 11 scoring drives of 10 or more plays for the entire season.
Conversely, the Illini also have shown quick-strike capability, with five scoring drives of zero, one or two plays. V'Angelo Bentley's 100-yard kickoff return against Southern Illinois doesn't even register in the game's drive chart, and the Illini had a one-play scoring drive against Washington (Lankford 72-yard TD reception from Scheelhaase) and two-play scoring drives against SIU, Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio).
The Orange and Blue's 29 passing plays of 20-plus yards rank 21st nationally and their five passing plays of 50-plus yards lead the Big Ten and rank 10th nationally.
Illini tight ends had a day to remember against Miami (Ohio), as Matt LaCosse, Evan Wilson and Jon Davis combined to catch four touchdowns, an Illinois single-game record by tight ends and one more than Illinois' tight ends caught all of last season (Eddie Viliunas had two and Jon Davis one in 2012).
The Miami (Ohio) game also marked the first time that three different tight ends caught at least one touchdown in a game, as LaCosse had two, and Davis and Wilson each caught one score. Davis also caught a two-point conversion pass from tight end/holder Tim Russell in the game.
Against Cincinnati, Illinois matched its longest drive in school history, covering 99 yards on 12 plays over 5:07. It marked the fifth time since 1971 that the Illini have recorded a 99-yard drive, and the first since Oct. 21, 2009, against Michigan. The Illini also had a 94-yard TD drive (seven plays in 1:15) and an 88-yard TD drive (7 plays in 3:16) in the season-opener against SIU.
OFFENSIVE INDIVIDUAL NOTES
Senior Steve Hull had a career game against Wisconsin, hauling in a career-high six passes for a career-high 105 yards, including his fourth 50-plus-yard reception this season. It marked the first 100-yard receiving game of Hull's career. Hull spent his redshirt season as a receiver before switching to safety prior to the 2010 season and making 15 starts there from 2010-2012. He switched back to WR this season and has 13 catches for 281 yards for a whopping 21.6 ypc average on the season, eighth-best in the nation.
QB Aaron Bailey earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors on 9/30 after rushing for a career-high 56 yards on six carries and a TD against Miami (Ohio). On the season, Bailey has converted 76 percent of his carries into first downs or TDs (10 first downs, three TDs on 17 carries). He threw his first career TD pass against Wisconsin, a one-yard pass to Matt LaCosse in the second quarter.
Senior wide receiver Ryan Lankford ranks 13th in the nation in yards per reception, averaging a healthy 20.4 yards per catch (14 receptions, 286 yards, one TD). Lankford has a pair of 100-yard games already this season (career-high 115 against SIU and an even 100 against Washington), giving him three career 100-yard receiving games.
The starters on the Illini offensive line are massive, as all five are listed at at least 300 pounds and have an average weight of 309 pounds (Simon Cvijanovic - 310, Michael Heitz - 305, Alex Hill - 310, Ted Karras - 300, Corey Lewis - 315).
Junior TE Matt LaCosse caught his first two career touchdowns against Miami (Ohio), with a two-yard TD grab in the first quarter and a career-long 45-yard TD catch in the second quarter. He finished with career highs for receiving yards (68) and receptions (3), and also recovered an on-side kick for the Illini against the RedHawks. He caught his third touchdown of the season against Wisconsin, a one-yard pass from Aaron Bailey.
RB Donovonn Young is a perfect counterpart to Ferguson in the backfield. Young, the power back, has run for 281 yards and a team-high three touchdowns, while Ferguson has 335 yards and two scores. The junior from Texas has 1,303 yards career rushing yards, which ranks 27th in school history.
DEFENSIVE TEAM NOTES
The Illini recorded a safety in the second quarter at Nebraska when LEO Houston Bates tackled Husker RB Imani Cross in the end zone. It marked the team's first safety since blocking a punt in the end zone against Indiana and having the Hoosiers recover on Oct. 23, 2010.
Illinois ranks 15th in FBS and third in the Big Ten in fourth-down conversion defense, allowing just two first downs in seven opponent attempts (.286).
The defense returned only four starters from 2012: DE Tim Kynard, LB Jonathan Brown, LB Mason Monheim and safety Earnest Thomas III.
The entire defensive three-deep includes only two seniors (LB Jonathan Brown and DL Tim Kynard). In fact, the three-deep lists only 10 players with junior or senior eligibility, two less than the number of true- and redshirt-freshmen listed.
DEFENSIVE INDIVIDUAL NOTES
Junior defensive back Zane Petty led the Illini with a career-high 14 tackles against Wisconsin, his first career start.
Junior safety Earnest Thomas III tied his career high with 11 tackles against Wisconsin. He ranks second on the team and third in the Big Ten with 50 tackles (8.3 tpg) in 2013 after a breakout 2012, where he was fourth on the team with 69 stops and ranked fourth in the Big Ten with three forced fumbles.
Junior DT Austin Teitsma had a career-high eight tackles against Wisconsin and has 32 on the season (5.3 per game), which ranks second in the Big Ten among defensive linemen behind only Penn State's DaQuan Jones (6.5 tpg).
Sophomore LB Mason Monheim has 47 tackles on the season - which ranks third on the team and 11th in the Big Ten - 4.5 TFLs and a sack in 2013, a solid start after a stellar freshman season that saw him earn second-team freshman All-America honors by Phil Steele. Monheim started the final 10 games of the season and led all Big Ten freshmen with 86 tackles. He was the first Illini true-freshman ever to lead the team in tackles.
Senior DE Tim Kynard (6.0 TFLs) and junior LEO Houston Bates (5.0 TFLs) have made a habit of getting in the backfield this season. Kynard ranks seventh in the Big Ten (1.0 per game), just behind teammate Jonathan Brown's average of 1.25 per game. Kynard forced his first career fumble against SIU, while Bates forced a fumble against Washington and registered a safety with a TFL in the end zone at Nebraska.
Sophomore Eaton Spence reached double-digit tackles for the first time in his career with 14 stops against Washington, equaling the second-most tackles by an Illinois player in a game this year (behind only Jonathan Brown's 15 tackles against Washington). For the season, Spence ranks fifth on the team in tackles (5.2 tpg).
Redshirt-freshman safety Taylor Barton notched his first career interception in the Cincinnati game in his second career start. It marks the only Illini interception through six games this season.
SPECIAL TEAMS TEAM NOTES
Illinois has streaks of 55 games and 158 attempts without missing a PAT kick, the fourth and fifth longest streaks in the nation, respectively. The last time the Fighting Illini did not convert a PAT kick was on Sept. 5, 2009, against Missouri.
As a team, the Illini rank 33rd in FBS in punt returns (11.71 ypr), up 85 spots from 2012 when they averaged 1.56 ypr to rank 118th. Illinois already has its most punt return yards as a team since 2007, with 164 (27.3 yards per game). The 2007 Illini squad had 177 in 13 games (13.6 ypg).
The Illini have also made a huge improvement in kick return average, ranking 47th in the nation (22.5 ypr) this season after ranking 107th in 2012 (18.83 ypr).
Illinois did not punt against Miami (Ohio), marking the first time since Sept. 14, 2002, a 59-7 win over Arkansas State, that the Fighting Illini did not have at least one punt in a game. In 11 total drives against the RedHawks, the Illini scored seven touchdowns, missed a field goal, had two drives end with interceptions and finished the game, and the final drive, by taking a knee.
Illinois executed its first successful on-side kick since 2010 when it recovered Taylor Zalewski's on-side attempt in the second quarter against Miami (Ohio). On the play, Zalewski popped up the kick, Miles Osei tapped it backward and Matt LaCosse grabbed it out of the air. The last time the Illini had recovered an on-side kick was another surprise attempt against Purdue on Oct. 30, 2010, when Derek Dimke kicked the ball off a player on Purdue's front line and Nate Bussey recovered it.
SPECIAL TEAMS INDIVIDUAL NOTES
V'Angelo Bentley ranks sixth in the nation and leads the Big Ten in average kick return yardage with 30.8 yards per return this season (308 yards on 10 returns).
Bentley's 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown against SIU was the longest by a single player in school history and equaled the longest touchdown in Illinois history. It matched the record set by Travis Williams and Eugene Wilson, who combined for 100 yards on a kick return lateral play, against Purdue on Oct. 12, 2002. It also marked Illinois' first kick return TD since A.J. Jenkins (96 yards) against Indiana on Oct. 18, 2008.
Bentley had a 50-yard punt return against Miami (Ohio), the longest for an Illini since Eugene Wilson's 70-yarder at Southern Miss on Sept. 7, 2002. For the season, Bentley is averaging 15.8 yards per return. His 95 punt return yards this season are the most by an Illini since Arrelious Benn had 114 in 2008.
Junior Justin DuVernois, a 2013 Ray Guy Award candidate, earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors on Sept. 16 following a stellar performance against Washington at Soldier Field. DuVernois punted five times for an average of 45.2 yards, pinning the Huskies inside the 20 three times and inside the 10 twice. He also had a career-high three punts over 50 yards. For the season, he is averaging 40.8 yards per kick.
Sophomore kicker Taylor Zalewski has started off 2013 by hitting 6-of-9 field goals and 22-of-22 extra points. In 2012, he nailed a 54-yard field goal against Purdue, the third-longest field goal in school history and the longest in the Big Ten that season. Zalewski also handles kickoff duties, booting 20 touchbacks in 37 kickoffs this season and averaging 64.1 yards per kickoff as 31 of his 37 kickoffs have reached the end zone.
Senior TE/holder Tim Russell converted his fifth career two-point conversion (fourth passing) with a toss to TE Jon Davis in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin. It was Russell's third two-pointer of the season, as he connected with TE Matt LaCosse in the season opener against SIU and with Davis against Miami (Ohio). His other two conversions came at Ohio State in 2012 (one rush, one pass).
In 2012, V'Angelo Bentley blocked a goal attempt against Penn State, marking the first blocked FG for an Illini since Derek Walker at Michigan on Oct. 4, 2008, and the first blocked kick of any kind for an Illini since Clay Nurse swatted away a PAT at Fresno State on Dec. 3, 2010.
With the loss of three-year long-snapper Zak Pedersen to graduation at the end of 2012, the Illini turned to redshirt-freshman Zach Hirth for long-snapping duties this season. Hirth was ranked the No. 2 long-snapper in the nation by ESPNU coming out of high school. He has handled his duties in the first six games of 2013 without any issues.
Redshirt freshman kicker Ryan Frain made his Illini debut against Miami (Ohio), nailing two second-half extra points in his first collegiate action.