Oct. 28, 2013
Beckman Press Conference: Video | Quotes
Monday Interviews: OC Cubit | DC Banks | OL Lewis | LEO Bates
Opening Kick: The Fighting Illini (3-4 overall, 0-3 B1G Leaders) will look to end a three-game skid when they travel to Penn State (4-3 overall, 1-2 B1G Legends) on Saturday (Noon ET/11 a.m. CT, ESPN). Both teams are looking to bounce back from tough defeats, as the Illini fell to Michigan State 42-3 and the Nittany Lions lost to No. 4 Ohio State 63-14 last week.
Brown an All-America Candidate: Senior LB and Butkus Award candidate Jonathan Brown leads the Big Ten and ranks 10th nationally in tackles per game (10.9). Brown, who was named to Phil Steele's midseason All-America third team, also ranks second in the conference in TFLs per game (1.14). He is the only player in the nation averaging over 10.0 tackles per game with at least 8.0 TFLs.
Offensive Improvement: Even with last Saturday's offensive struggles against Michigan State's top-ranked defense, the revamped Illinois offense, directed by new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, has still made huge improvements from 2012. The Illini have jumped at least 60 spots in the national rankings from last year to this year in passing efficiency, long scrimmage plays, first downs, passing offense, turnovers lost and scoring offense, with the biggest turnaround a whopping 81-place jump in team passing efficiency.
| ILLINOIS' OFFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT IN 2013
|Category||2012 (Final Nat'l Rk)||2013 (Current Nat'l Rk)||Difference|
|Passing Efficiency||113.42 (102)||151.07 (21)||+81|
|Scrim. plays of 20+ yd||34 (122)||39 (42)||+80
|First Downs (per game)||16.4 (120)||22.3 (53)||+67
|Passing Offense (ypg)||138.83 (107)||261.3 (43)||+64
|Turnovers lost||30 (107)||11 (45)||+62|
|Scoring Offense (ppg)||16.67 (119)||30.7 (58)||+61|
|Total Offense (ypg)||296.67 (119)||400.7 (73)||+46|
Scheelhaase Having Big Year: Senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase has thrived in Cubit's system, ranking in the top 30 in the nation in passing efficiency (151.08, 26th) and completion percentage (65.3 percent, 27th), and standing fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards (235.6 ypg) and total offense (245.7 ypg).
Big Play Illini: Scheelhaase has five pass plays of 50+ yards this season, tied for eighth-most in the nation, and wide receivers Steve Hull (21.6 ypr) and Ryan Lankford (20.5 ypr) rank eighth and 13th nationally in yards per reception, respectively.
Return Man: Sophomore V'Angelo Bentley leads the Big Ten and ranks fourth in the nation in kick return average (30.8 ypr), including a 100-yard kickoff return for TD against Southern Illinois.
Ferguson an All-Purpose Threat: Sophomore running back Josh Ferguson ranks second in the nation in receiving yards per game by a running back, averaging 51.6 yards per game (361 yards on 25 receptions, 14.4 ypc). He leads the Illini in both rushing (361) and receiving (361) yards, and ranks ninth in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards.
Tough Slate: Illinois' first three conference games this season came against the only three teams that have played in the Big Ten Championship game. Nebraska (5-2, 2-1), Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1) and Michigan State (7-1, 4-0) are in the mix for the title game once again, with combined records of 17-5 overall and 9-2 in conference play. Illinois' five remaining opponents have combined records of 20-17 overall, 6-11 in B1G play, and that includes Ohio State (8-0, 4-0).
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
QB Nathan Scheelhaase needs 70 total yards to pass Kurt Kittner and move into second place on the Illinois career total offense list. Juice Williams is the UI record holder with 10,594 total yards.
Scheelhaase needs 87 passing yards to pass Tony Eason and move into fifth place on the Illinois career passing yardage list.
With three pass attempts on Saturday, Scheelhaase will become the fifth player in school history with 1,000 attempts, joining Kurt Kittner, Jack Trudeau, Juice Williams and Jason Verduzco.
LB Jonathan Brown needs two tackles for loss to pass Don Thorp for fourth place on the UI career TFLs list.
PENN STATE SERIES NOTES
The Last Meeting
September 29, 2012
This week's game marks the 21st meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Nittany Lions. PSU holds a 16-4 overall series advantage and a 7-1 edge in State College. In the teams' most recent meeting in Happy Valley, the Illini dropped a heartbreaking 10-7 game in the snow when Derek Dimke's
last-second field goal attempt bounced off the right upright with snowballs sailing onto the field from the stands. That was the final game for longtime PSU head coach Joe Paterno and also featured the first measurable snowfall at an October Penn State home game. Illinois' lone victory at Penn State came by a 33-13 score in 2010.
Illinois has won two of the last six meetings (2007 and 2010), which is an improvement compared to the rest of the all-time series. Prior to 2007, PSU had won 11 of 13 meetings, including seven in a row from 1972-2000.
Sixth-year senior offensive lineman Corey Lewis
(Cresco/East Stroudsburg South) is Illinois' lone Pennsylvania native on the roster. Lewis has started all seven games at right tackle in 2013 after missing two-and-a-half years following five knee surgeries. For more information on Lewis' feel-good story, see page 5. Penn State has two players on its roster from the state of Illinois: sophomore linebacker T.J. Rhattigan (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley) and freshman long snapper Sean Corcoran (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bishop McNamara).
PLAYER HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE NITTANY LIONS
LB Jonathan Brown had a huge game against the Nittany Lions in 2011, recording a team-high 11 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, one sack, two PBUs, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He had three tackles in the 2012 contest and didn't record any statistics in 2010.
Last year, QB Nathan Scheelhaase was 28-for-46 for 270 yards in the 35-7 loss to the Nittany Lions. In 2011, he rushed for 89 yards on 14 carries while completing 9-of-16 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. In the 2010 Illini win at PSU, Scheelhaase was 15-for-19 passing for 151 yards and one touchdown while running eight times for 61 yards. For his career, Scheelhaase is 52-for-81 (64.2 percent) for 484 yards and two TDs, and has rushed for 157 yards on 33 carries (4.8 ypc).
CB V'Angelo Bentley blocked a Penn State field goal just before halftime of the 2012 game, keeping the Lions off the board after Miles Osei made a touchdown-saving tackle with one second left in the second quarter on Michael Mauti's 99-yard interception return.
WR Ryan Lankford has a strong game against PSU in 2012, catching seven passes for 104 yards.
WR Spencer Harris caught three passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in 2012, and two passes for 24 yards and a TD in 2011.
RB Donovonn Young posted 10.5 yards per carry against PSU in 2012 (6 carries, 63 yards).
RB Josh Ferguson threw his first career TD pass in the 2012 game against the Lions, a 22-yard strike to Harris.
LB Mason Monheim had 11 tackles and forced a fumble against PSU in 2012.
In the 2010 game at PSU, TE Evan Wilson caught a four-yard touchdown pass from running back Jason Ford, Wilson's first career TD reception.
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 nearly 50 points. Take a look at his seven-game 2013 numbers versus his 10-game 2012 numbers below:
| Scheelhaase Passing 2012 vs. 2013|
Scheelhaase has attacked opponents early in games, with nine of his 12 TDs coming in the first half. He has a first-half effeciency rating of 166.71, which ranks 14th in the nation right in front of Oregon's Marcus Mariota (165.75). He also has 16 first-half plays of 25-plus-yards, tied for seventh in FBS.
Scheelhaase has the second-best second quarter efficiency rating in all of FBS. He has completed 45-of-60 passes (75.0 percent) for 644 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception in the second quarter this season for a 200.33 rating, which ranks second nationally behind only Florida State's Jameis Winston.
Scheelhaase has found great success on first down, completing 71-of-96 (74.0 percent) passes on first down for 1,025 yards and six touchdowns for a 178.03 passing efficiency rating. He ranks seventh in the nation in first-down QB rating among QBs with 70 or more first-down attempts.
Scheelhaase enters the weekend ranked third on the Illinois career total offense list with 8,811 yards (1,866 rushing, 6,945 passing). He needs 71 yards to pass Kurt Kittner (1998-2001) for second place. Juice Williams is the Illinois all-time total yardage leader with 10,594.
Scheelhaase ranks fourth on the Illinois career passing efficiency list (129.7) and also ranks fourth in career touchdown passes (46), fourth in completions (616), fifth in attempts (997), sixth in passing yardage (6,945) and 17th in rushing yardage (1,866) - 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 different games this season, 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 threw for a career-high 416 yards in the season-opener against Southern Illinois, the 10th-best single-game passing performance in school history and the fifth-most by an Illinois quarterback at Memorial Stadium. He had 340 of his 416 yards in the first half, marking the most ever for an Illini in the first half and the most in any half since Juice Williams totaled 347 passing yards in the second half against Minnesota on Oct. 11, 2008.
After starting the first seven games this season, Scheelhaase now has 43 career starts under his belt, tied with Nebraska's Taylor Martinez for the third-most in the nation by a quarterback behind only Georgia's Aaron Murray (48) and Troy's Corey Robinson (44).
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.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?
Butkus Award candidate Jonathan Brown leads the Big Ten with 76 tackles and ranks 10th in the nation at 10.9 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 8.0 TFLs this season, ranking second in the Big Ten, giving him 38.5 TFLs in his career. That total ties him for fifth on the UI career TFLs list with J Leman, just 1.5 TFLs behind Don Thorp for fourth place.
Brown forced his first fumble of the season against Michigan State, saving a touchdown by jarring the ball loose as MSU QB Connor Cook reached for the end zone.
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 third-most TFLs in a game by an FBS player this season.
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 9)
|Name, School||G||Tackles||TPG (NR)||TFL||TFL/G (NR)||Sacks||QBH||PD||FF|
|Brown, ILL||7||76||10.9 (10)|| 8.0||1.14 (51)|| 2.5||2||1||1
|Hitchens, Iowa||8|| 79||9.9 (19)|| 7.5||0.94 (-)|| 2.0||1|| 1||1|
|Shazier, OSU||8||66||8.3 (72)||9.0||1.12 (62)||2.0||5||1||2|
|Borland, WIS||7||57||8.1 (75)||3.0||0.43 (-)||2.0||1||2||0
|Morris, Iowa||8||64||7.9 (89)||6.5||0.81 (-)||3.0||0||4||1
|Allen, MSU||8||48||6.0 (-)||8.0||1.00 (88)||3.0||6||1||0
|Bullough, MSU||8||47||5.9 (-)||6.5||0.81 (-)||1.0||7||2||1
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.
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 243 tackles, 37.0 TFLs and 11 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 1-2 on the team in tackles so far this season as Brown is averaging a Big Ten-best 10.9 stops per game, 10th-best in FBS, and Monheim ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 54th nationally with 8.7 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.
FERGUSON A DUAL THREAT
Sophomore running back Josh Ferguson is having a breakout season for the Illini. He ranks second in the nation in average receiving yards by a running back (51.6 ypg) and also leads the Illini in rushing yards (361).
Ferguson is averaging 103.1 scrimmage yards per game (51.6 rushing, 51.6 receiving), which ranks 43rd nationally and eighth in the Big Ten (fiftth among running backs behind only Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and James White, and Indiana's Tevin Coleman).
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.
Complete Illinois-Penn State Game Notes