Illini Looking To Stop Losing Streak
Oct. 22, 2000
Illinois (4-3, 1-3 Big Ten) look to snap a two-game road losing streak this week when visiting Michigan State (3-4, 0-4). The Illini are coming off a 39-25 loss at Penn State while the Spartans dropped a 14-0 decision to Michigan. The Fighting Illini were hampered by two lost fumbles, two interceptions and two missed field goals in the 39-25 loss at Penn State Saturday. Illini quarterback Kurt Kittner completed 29 of 49 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns, while Rocky Harvey had 82 yards rushing. Sophomore receiver Walter Young caught six passes for 127 yards, while classmate Greg Lewis had six catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Kittner moved to third on the Illini career touchdown pass list (40), while Lewis has six TD receptions this year to rank fifth on the single-season touchdown reception list. Illinois travels to East Lansing where the Illini have not won in their last three visits. After beginning year with three victories in non-conference play against Marshall, Missouri and Notre Dame, the Spartans have dropped four consecutive Big Ten games against Northwestern, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan.
THE COACHES' CORNER
RON TURNER (15-26 in his fourth year at Illinois, 22-30 overall) - In his fourth year at the helm of the Fighting Illini Football program, head coach Ron Turner has Illinois geared toward one of the greatest turnarounds in college football. He enters the Oct. 28 contest at Michigan State with a 22-30 head coaching record, 15-26 at Illinois. The Illini have won nine of their last 13 games stretching back to 1999 and had a seven-game winning streak snapped Sept. 23 against Michigan. Turner is 0-3 against Michigan State as a head coach. Last year, the Spartans took a 27-10 win over the Illini at Champaign. After sub-par seasons in 1997 and '98, Turner led the Illini to an 8-4 record and a 63-21 thumping of Virginia in the Micronpc.com Bowl. For his efforts, Turner finished fourth in the Associated Press's Coach of the Year voting. Turner came to Illinois after a four-year stint as the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears (1993-96). In 1992, he was the head coach for San Jose State where he turned in a 7-4 record and a second-place finish in the Big West Conference. Turner has served as an assistant at Stanford, Texas A&M, Southern California, Pittsburgh, Northwestern and Arizona working mainly with quarterbacks and receivers during his 20-plus years in college coaching.
BOBBY WILLIAMS (4-4 in his 1st full season as head coach at Michigan State and at the college level) ? Bobby Williams took the helm of the Spartans prior to the Citrus Bowl victory over Florida at the end of the 1999 season. After starting the season with a 3-0 mark in 2000, the Spartans have lost four in a row and stand 0-4 in Big Ten play.
Michigan State leads the all-time series, 19-16-2, including a 10-7-1 advantage at East Lansing. The Spartans have won five in a row in the series dating back to a 14-10 Illinois win in Champaign in 1992. The five-game winning streak by MSU is the longest winning streak in the series by the Spartans. The last Illinois win in East Lansing came by a 14-10 score in 1989. In that contest, UI quarterback Jeff George completed a 9-yard TD pass to Mike Bellamy with 1:08 remaining in the game to give the Illini a road victory.
Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Kish and MSU head coach Bobby Williams were on the same Ball State staff in 1983. MSU associate head coach Mark Dantonio was a graduate assistant at Purdue in 1981 when Kish was an assistant for the Boilermakers. Illinois running backs coach Jim Helms was an assistant at Oklahoma State in 1979-80 when MSU defensive coordinator Bill Miller was a graduate assistant for the Cowboys. Illinois assistant head coach Harry Hiestand was an assistant at Cincinnati with MSU linebackers coach Bill Sheridan from1989-91. Illinois assistant Craig Ver Steeg also was an assistant for the Bearcats with Sheridan in 1990-91. Hiestand and MSU tight ends coach Pat Perles were on the same Toledo staff in 1989.
Illinois' 31-0 shutout over Iowa Oct. 14 was its first since a 7-0 victory over East Carolina Sept. 23, 1995 and the first in Big Ten play since a 34-0 win over Purdue on Oct. 13, 1990, a streak of 82 straight games.
The Illini head to East Lansing for the second of two consecutive road games. Illinois has a 1-2 record on the road this year with a 49-13 win over San Diego State and a 44-10 loss to Minnesota. Prior to the trip to Minneapolis, the Illini were sporting a four-game road winning streak dating back to the 1999 season, when the team was 5-1 on the road.
THIS KITT'S FOR REAL
No one can deny the impact quarterback Kurt Kittner made on the Illini in '99 with his 2,702 yards passing, school record 24 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. After his 15-touchdown, 59 percent completion performance in the last seven games, Kittner is on-track to continue his productivity of a year ago. Kittner has passed for 1,435 yards this season following his 326-yard, three-touchdown performance against Penn State. He has connected with five different receivers for TDs (11 different receivers in 1999), including six touchdown passes to sophomore flanker Greg Lewis and four to tight end Josh Whitman. He is impressivley continuing to take care of the ball with an astonishing 3:1 touchdown to interception ratio (15 touchdowns and only five picks). The stellar numbers also have earned him recognition as a All-America, Heisman Trophy and Davey O'Brien Award candidate.
Although the Illini's equal use of two tailbacks the past two years has kept the Illinois running backs from posting individual 1,000-yard seasons (last time 1997 Robert Holcombe, 1,253), the running game is more prosperous than ever. Junior Rocky Harvey and sophomore Antoineo Harris each posted 100-yard rushing games against Middle Tennessee and San Diego State, marking the first time in school history two Illinois tailbacks have had 100+ yards in back-to-back games. The consecutive performances prove that together they are one of the premier running back duos in college football. Combine the numbers of the tandem, 137.6 yards per game, (74.7 yards a game for Harvey and 62.9 ypg for Harris) and they would be ranked eighth in the nation and third in the Big Ten, according to this week's NCAA and conference stats. Harvey also recorded his eighth 100-yard game of his career against Iowa with 104 yards against Iowa, to break into the Top-10 all-time rushing in the Illinois record books. He has posted 1,935 yards in three years and needs only 259 to reach the Top-5. The two-tailback combo of Harvey and Steve Havard rushed for 1,564 yards in 1999 and the 2,082 yards rushing by the Illini team in was the most since 1978 when the squad ran for 2,186 yards.
TIGHT END PRODUCTION
Following his four-yard touchdown catch against Penn State, senior tight end Josh Whitman (7 career TDs) pulled to within two of the Illinois record for career touchdowns by a tight end. Lee Boeke, 1977-80, and Ken Dilger, 1991-94, both caught nine touchdown passes during their Illini career. The 2000 tight end corp is already on pace to be the most productive in the Turner era, having matched the six touchdowns caught in '99. The most touchdowns by a group of tight ends was eight in 1994. The 2000 group of Whitman and Brian Hodges (4 career TDs) account for 18 catches and 140 yards.
LARGE AND IN CHARGE
The starting Fighting Illini offensive line coached by Harry Hiestand is the largest in school history at a total of 1,540 pounds, or an average of 308 per player across the front line from tackle-to-tackle. The average of 308 pounds per player is larger than the starting offensive lines on 11 NFL teams, including last year's Super Bowl teams St. Louis and Tennessee. The five starting offensive line group (from left tackle to right tackle) of Marques Sullivan (6-5, 320), Jay Kulaga (6-5, 306), Luke Butkus (6-4, 287), Ray Redziniak (6-5, 297) and Tony Pashos (6-6, 330) average 6-foot-4.6-inches and 308 pounds per man.
ITS A FAMILY AFFAIR
Eight true-freshmen have played on this Illini team in 2000, four players alone on the defensive line. In a conference where it is uncommon to see so many young faces on the defensive lines, four freshmen, Charles Gilstrap (DT), Clark Collins (DT), Derrick Strong, DE, and Jemari Perry, DE, have lined up and played significant time in key backup roles. The foursome have combined for 13 tackles and one sack in the three-game stretch. During this 2000 season, the Illini lost five d-linemen to a number of different factors (Karleton Thomas, DT, academics, Tim McGill, DE, academics, Shaheed Richardson, DT, transfer, Mike O'Brien, DE, injury, and Jeff Ruffin, DT, injury).
WAKEFIELD TWICE NAMED BIG TEN DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
For his two pass deflection, six solo tackle, two sack performance in the Illini's 17-15 win over California and his eight-tackle, two-sack performance in the Illini's 31-0 blanking of Iowa, defensive end Fred Wakefield was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. The senior from Tuscola, Ill., now has eight sacks on the season and 14 tackles for loss which rank first in the Big Ten.
SULLIVAN NAMED TO PLAYBOY PRESEASON ALL-AMERICAN TEAM
This fall, senior offensive tackle Marques Sullivan became the first Illini player in five years to earn the prestigious honor of preseason All-American by Playboy magazine. Athletes selected to the team traveled to the Playboy ranch in Arizona in May and were honored in the October football preview issue of Playboy. The last time an Illinois player earned these honors were by linebackers Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy in 1995.
YOUNG NAMED BUTKUS AWARD CANDIDATE
Senior linebacker Michael Young has been named to the preliminary list of candidates for the Butkus Award, which honors the nation's top collegiate linebacker. He is making his first appearance on the list and is one of 10 players selected from the Big Ten Conference. The watch list will be trimmed to 10 semi-finalists on Oct. 19 and the three finalists will be announced on a national teleconference on Nov. 9. The winner will be announced Friday, Dec. 8 at the Hard Rock Live in Universal Studios.
ABDULLAH NAMED THORPE AWARD CANDIDATE
Junior safety Muhammad Abdullah was named among 40 players as a candidate for the 2000 Thorpe Award which honors the nation's top collegiate defensive back. Abdullah, the two-year starter, is one of only four Big Ten players selected to the list. Abdullah, who is an All-Big Ten candidate, is making his first appearance on the list. He led the team in interceptions with five picks and 52 return yards in 1999. His defensive efforts, which also included recovering four fumbles, helped lead the Illini to a No. 2 national ranking in turnover margin. With his interception, Abdullah led the Illini in total tackles in the 63-21 win over Virginia in the Micronpc.com Bowl. Finalists will be invited to ESPN's College Football Award Show at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Where the winner will be announced Dec. 7.
RON TURNER RADIO SHOW
The Ron Turner Show will air every Monday during the season at 6:05 p.m. Each week the radio show travels to different locations on campus. The following is a list of locations for the show:
Oct. 23 Nabor House fraternity
RON TURNER TELEVISION SHOW
The Ron Turner Show, taped after each week's game, will air on the following dates and times:
Alton AT&T Cable Tuesday 6:30 p.m.