Illini coach Ron Zook and legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno will square off once again.
Oct. 24, 2011
The Illinois/PSU game will be nationally televised by ABC (ESPN2 in some markets - coverage map released on Wednesday) with an air time of 2:30 p.m. CDT. Carter Blackburn (play-by-play), Brock Huard (color analyst) and Lisa Salters (sideline) will call the action with Jim Zirolli producing. 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 2 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) XM (198) satellite radio.
The Fighting Illini will try to end a two-game skid when they travel to Penn State this Saturday to face the Nittany Lions (3:30 pm EDT/2:30 CDT, ABC/ESPN2). Illinois will attempt to repeat last season's 33-13 win in Happy Valley, the program's first-ever victory at Beaver Stadium.
After a 6-0 start, the program's best since the 1951 national championship team started 7-0, the Fighting Illini have dropped two straight low-scoring affairs to Ohio State, 17-7, and Purdue, 21-14. Illinois out-gained Purdue 366-304, but 14 fourth-quarter points weren't enough to overcome a 21-point halftime deficit.
While the offense has struggled in the last two games, the defense has continued its stellar play. The Illini are allowing just 289.0 yards per game, which ranks 10th nationally, and also rank in the top-25 nationally in scoring defense (18.1 ppg), 19th in rushing defense (101.9 ypg) and 21st in passing defense (187.1).
Illinois continues to lead the Big Ten and rank in the top-10 nationally in tackles for loss. The Illini rank sixth in the NCAA in TFLs (8.1 per game) and are eighth nationally and second in the Big Ten in sacks (3.4 per game).
All-America and Bednarik Award candidate Whitney Mercilus continues to lead the nation in sacks (10.0) and sacks per game (1.25). The junior DE also ranks second in the nation with five forced fumbles.
All-America and Biletnikoff Award candidate A.J. Jenkins leads the nation with 987 receiving yards this season. He ranks seventh nationally in receiving yards per game (123.4) and 11th in receptions per game (7.8).
Jenkins has 34 catches for 622 yards and five touchdowns in four Big Ten games. His 155.5 yards per game during conference games is more than 40 yards per game better than his closest competitor (Iowa's Marvin McNutt - 114.7 ypg).
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase ranks 23rd in the nation and third in the Big Ten in passing efficiency (150.64). He has thrown 24 TDs against just six INTs over the last 15 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 third most accurate active kicker.
Senior RB Jason Ford has 25 career rushing touchdowns, which ties him for second on the UI career list with Robert Holcombe and Thomas Rooks and behind only career leader Howard Griffith (31).
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 13th in the nation in third-down efficiency, converting 58-of-115 (.504) third downs in 2011.
Illinois is second in the Big Ten and 15th nationally in fewest penalty yards per game (38.8).
The Illini have rushed for 1,584 yards this season while holding opponents to only 815 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 56.6 percent of Illinois' receiving yards this season, the most in the nation by a wide margin. Western Michigan's Jordan White is second at 45.8 percent.
Jenkins leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards during conference games (170.5).
Jenkins is tied for the national lead with four plays of 50+ yards.
RB Troy Pollard is averaging 9.02 yards per carry, the second-highest per carry average in the nation.
QB Nathan Scheelhaase ranks 11th nationally in yards per pass attempt (8.6).
Scheelhaase leads the Big Ten in total offense during conference games (293.8) and is second in passing yards during conference games (246.8).
DE Whitney Mercilus and BAN Michael Buchanan rank 1 and 3 in Big Ten in sacks with 10.0 and 5.0, respectively.
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 14-5 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 seventh nationally in yards per game (123.4). He already ranks seventh on the UI single-season receiving yards list with 987, putting him within striking distance of David Williams' 27-year-old record of 1,278.
Jenkins' 268 yards against Northwestern shattered David Williams' UI single-game record of 208 and was the third-most receiving yards in a Big Ten conference game and the fourth-most in all games in Big Ten history, while his 328 all-purpose yards against NU were the third-most in school history.
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' 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 15 scrimmage plays of 20+ yards rank third nationally.
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).
Nearly 50 percent of Scheelhaase's completions have gone to Jenkins this season (59 of 122 - 48.4 percent), the second-highest percentage in the nation for any QB-WR duo 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 110 times, ahead of Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham (98).
Jenkins has at least one catch in 26 straight games. His 12 catches against Northwestern tied for the third-most in a game in UI history and his 11 catches against Arkansas State tied the most ever in a season-opener by an Illini.
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 (2,143) and eighth in career receptions (139). See pages 11-12 for a complete list of Illini records to watch.
SCHEELHAASE KEEPS IMPROVING
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase has accounted for 10 of Illinois' 14 touchdowns in the last four games (seven passing, three 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 (150.6). The Manning and Maxwell Award candidate has improved his completion percentage from 58.7 in 2010 to 64.6 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 21 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 107-of-203 (52.7 percent) for 1,161 yards, eight TDs and nine INTs for a 104.9 rating in Illinois' six losses.
ILLINOIS VS. RANKED OPPONENTS
Illinois faces its second top-25 opponent of the season on Saturday as Penn State is ranked No. 21 in this week's Associated Press poll and No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Future 2011 opponents in the current AP Top 25 include No. 12 Wisconsin and No. 17 Michigan.
The Illini defeated No. 22/18 Arizona State, 17-14, earlier this season, ending a nine-game losing streak to ranked opponents.
In the Ron Zook era, the Illini are 4-18 against ranked teams, with three wins coming in the 2007 Rose Bowl season - No. 21 Penn State, No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 1 Ohio State - and the other coming earlier this season against No. 22 Arizona State. In his nine-plus years as a head coach, Zook has posted 10 wins over ranked opponents.
PENN STATE SERIES NOTES
This week's game marks the 19th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Nittany Lions. PSU holds a 14-4 overall series advantage and a 6-1 edge in University Park. The Illini picked up their first-ever win at Beaver Stadium last season, 33-13.
The two teams have split the last four meetings, with the Illini winning in Champaign in 2007 and then PSU picking up wins in 2008 and 2009 before last year's Orange and Blue victory.
PSU coach Joe Paterno is 12-3 vs. the Illini, while Ron Zook is 2-4 vs. Penn State as a head coach.
Illinois has three players from the state of Pennsylvania on its roster - junior offensive lineman Corey Lewis (Cresco/East Stroudsburg), who has missed the last season-and-a -half with a knee injury, and junior offensive lineman Tyler Sands (Boyertown/Area Senior). Penn State has two players on its roster from the state of Illinois - junior running back Joe Suhey (Deerfield/Loyola Academy), who is the son of former PSU and Chicago Bear star Matt Suhey and was coached by former Illini linebacker John Holecek at Loyola Academy, and freshman linebacker T.J. Rhattigan (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley), who has yet to play this season.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE NITTANY LIONS
Illinois was dominant in last year's 33-13 victory in Happy Valley. The Illini outgained the Nittany Lions 437-235 and held the hosts to only seven first downs while controlling the ball for over 38 minutes.
Last year's Illini win at Penn State made Ron Zook just the sixth coach ever to defeat both Penn State's Joe Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden on the road. Zook defeated Bowden's Seminoles in 2004 while coaching at Florida. He joins Larry Coker (Miami), Foge Fazio (Pitt), Dennis Erickson (Miami), Tom O'Brien (Boston College) and Howard Schnellenberger (Miami) as the only coaches to defeat the two winningest coaches in college football history on the road. (source Stats, Inc.)
The win at Penn State also made Zook the fourth coach to ever post road victories at Ohio State, at Michigan and at Penn State in a career. Zook joins former Big Ten coaches Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin), Hayden Fry (Iowa) and Glen Mason (Minnesota) on the exclusive list.
Senior OT Jeff Allen made his first career start against PSU in 2008 to become the first Illini true-freshman to start on the offensive line since 1997. Allen has started every game since and enters this weekend's game with 42 consecutive starts.
Senior RB Jason Ford scored his first career touchdown at Penn State in 2008 as a true-freshman. He has scored 24 more since and currently is tied for second on the UI career touchdowns list.
In last year's game at PSU, Ford threw a 4-yard TD pass to TE Evan Wilson. It was Ford's first career pass and Wilson's first career TD reception. It also marked the first time an Illini non-quarterback threw a touchdown pass since Sept. 30, 2006, at Michigan State, when running back E.B. Halsey threw a 16-yard TD to Jacob Willis.
WR A.J. Jenkins had seven catches for 76 yards, including an 18-yard TD reception from QB Nathan Scheelhaase, in the 2010 victory at Penn State.
PK Derek Dimke was 4-for-4 on field goals in last season's game, hitting from 50, 31, 41 and 38 yards to earn Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week.
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 204.2 yards per game (16,540 yards in 81 games) in the last six-plus seasons tops Wisconsin's 203.0 ypg (17,253 yards in 85 games) during that same time span.
Illinois' 199.3 ypg this season ranks 23rd 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 60 percent of Illinois' plays this season have been runs (62.7 percent - 358 rushes in 571 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.
ILLINOIS IN THE NCAA RANKINGS
As a team, Illinois ranks in the top 25 nationally in seven categories: sixth in tackles for loss (8.1 per game), eighth in sacks (3.4 per game), 10th in total defense (289.0 ypg), 15th in scoring defense (18.1 ppg), 19th in rushing defense (101.9 ypg), 21st in passing defense (187.1) and 23rd in rushing offense (199.3 ypg).
DE Whitney Mercilus leads the nation in sacks (10.0) and sacks per game (1.25), is second in forced fumbles (5) and is third in tackles for loss (1.88 per game). He leads the Big Ten in all four categories.
WR A.J. Jenkins leads the nation in total receiving yards (987), ranks seventh nationally in receiving yards per game (123.4) and is 11th in receptions per game (7.8). He leads the Big Ten in all three categories. Jenkins also ranks second in the Big Ten and 40th nationally in all-purpose yards (133.3 yards per game).
QB Nathan Scheelhaase ranks 23rd nationally and third in the Big Ten in passing efficiency (150.6).
Illinois has shown its ball-control ability in 2011, holding the ball an average of 32:08, which ranks 20th nationally and second in the Big Ten in time of possession. Overall, Illinois has had 14 scoring drives last at least 10 plays and 10 last at least five minutes each.
Illinois is 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. The Illini also have one 90 yard TD drive, making them one of just four teams in the nation with at least four 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 strong, 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 350 rushing yards this season and no one has more than 412. Three different Illini have scored at least four TDs on the ground this season.
QB Nathan Scheelhaase leads the team in rushing with 412 yards, while senior RB Jason Ford is the top Illini running back with 392 yards and a team-high six touchdowns. Senior RB Troy Pollard has 388 yards on only 43 carries. His 9.02 yards per carry average is the second-highest 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.
Ford has 25 career rushing TDs, tying him with Robert Holcombe and Thomas Rooks for second on the UI career list. He needs just one more to move into second place alone and is six behind Howard Griffith's UI career record of 31. Ford currently ranks 18th on the UI career rushing list (1,754 yards).
RB Donovonn Young was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after running for 100 yards on 12 carries (8.3 ypc) against Western Michigan on Sept. 24, including a 14-yard TD run. For the season, Young is third on the team with 359 rushing yards on 62 carries (5.8 ypc) and is third 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 42 consecutive starts.
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 eight games.
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. Cvijanovic also played most of the game at Purdue and is currently battling Heitz for time at strong-side tackle.
The Illinois defense made huge improvements in 2010 after the arrival of defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and has continued to improve in 2011.
ILLINOIS' DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT IN 2010 and 2011 Category 2009 (Nat'l Rk) 2010 (Nat'l Rk) 2011 (Nat'l Rk) Rushing Defense (ypg) 154.42 (76) 130.8 (32) 101.9 (19) Total Defense (ypg) 403.3 (91) 351.3 (38) 289.0 (10) Points Allowed (ppg) 30.2 (96) 23.5 (48) 19.1 (15) Pass Efficiency Def. 142.77 (103) 128.6 (61) 121.4 (42) Passing Defense (ypg) 248.83 (100) 220.5 (61) 187.3 (21)
The Illini held Purdue scoreless in the second half of the 21-14 loss on Oct. 22. After giving up three first-half touchdowns, two after long drives and one on a short field after a botched punt, the defense tightened the screws, allowing the Boilers just 75 total yards after halftime.
Illinois had a streak of 21 consecutive games forcing a turnover, which was the longest active streak in the nation, snapped against Ohio State. The Illini got one fumble recovery last week at Purdue to start a new streak.
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 15 turnovers. Since the start of 2010, the Illini have held opponents to 59 points (five TDs, eight FGs) following 31 turnovers.
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. He followed that up with a team-high 11 tackles at Purdue on Oct. 22. For the season, Brown leads the team with 58 tackles and is third on the team with 9.0 TFLs and 3.5 sacks.
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).
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 (1.25) 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. His five forced fumbles are already tied for the UI single-season record and his seven career forced fumbles are third all-time at UI.
Senior DB Tavon Wilson was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and CFPA National Defensive Player of the Week after a big performance at Indiana on Oct. 8. Wilson returned a fumble 66 yards for a TD 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 5 PBUs and has 47 tackles.
Senior linebacker Ian Thomas is back to the familiar role of middle linebacker for the 2011 season, ranking second on the Illini with 48 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, two sacks and three QB hurries. Playing in the middle isn't new for Thomas, as he led the team in tackles as the MLB in 2009 before moving to weak-side linebacker for the 2010 season.
Senior LB Trulon Henry is leading the Illini 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.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Senior PK Derek Dimke remains perfect during 2011, hitting all seven of his FG attempts and all 26 PATs. He has hit 36-of-41 field goals in his career (.878), which ranks third 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 81-of-81 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 48 points in 2011, Dimke has raised his career total to 189, 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 11 touchbacks in 43 kickoffs and has a 63.3-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 34 times for a 37.5-yard average this season, including a long of 66, 12 fair catches and 12 inside the 20, and also had one free kick for 49 yards following a safety. Only six of Duvernois' 34 punts have been returned.
DuVernois is one of just 10 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 12 punts for a total of 38 yards. He is 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.