Illinois (6-3, 3-2) at Minnesota (1-8, 0-5)


Oct. 29, 2007


  • With its 28-17 win over Ball State last weekend, Illinois is bowl eligible for the first time since the 2001 season, when the Orange and Blue took home the Big Ten Championship.
  • Illinois coach Ron Zook is in his sixth year as a head coach and has produced four bowl-eligible teams during that time.
  • Beginning with Illinois' win over Penn State on Sept. 29, the Illini have been either ranked or receiving votes in the both the Associated Press and USA Today/Coaches' Poll. This week, the Illini are receiving 21 votes by the coaches and four by the AP.
  • Rashard Mendenhall has 1,113 rushing yards in 2007 and needs 218 to break the Illinois single-season rushing record, held by Antoineo Harris when he rushed for 1,330 in 2002. With 189 yards against Ball State, Rashard Mendenhall surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
  • Juice Williams rushed for 99 yards vs. Ball State to push him over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for his career.
  • Illinois leads the Big Ten in rushing and ranks eighth in the NCAA. The Illini are averaging 240.6 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry this season.
  • With his 97 yards vs. Ball State, Benn set a new Illinois freshman receiving record. That game brought his season total to 556, besting Brandon Lloyd's 511 yards in 1999. With 42 catches, he needs just one more to tie Ty Douthard's 43 catches during his freshman year in 1993.
  • Three Illini earned midseason All-America honors from,, and Phil Steele's Football Magazine. Senior linebacker J Leman was named one of three first-teamers for three of the lists. Junior running back Rashard Mendenhall was a first-team selection by CBS and Steele, and second-team by Senior offensive guard Martin O'Donnell took second-team honors on Steele's list.
  • It is no surprise to see Leman among the nation's best tacklers. With 100 tackles in nine games, he is ranked 11th in the nation in tackles per game. The Big Ten leader, Leman is averaging 11.1 stops per game. He has led the conference in tackles per game for the last 17 weeks, dating back to the 2006 season.
  • The Illinois defense has recorded 30 sacks this season, which ranks 10th in the nation. With 11 more quarterback sacks in the final three games, the squad could break the school record of 40, which was posted by the 2001 squad.
  • This season, the Illinois schedule continues to be a tough one. Illinois plays seven teams that were in bowl games a year ago and four teams that are ranked in the Top-25: Ohio State is the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation, Missouri is No. 9, Michigan is No. 15/14 and Wisconsin is 19th in the USA?Today/Coaches poll. Penn State is receiving votes.
  • Illinois sold out four of its first five home games this season. It is the first time for four sellouts in a season since 1986, when Illinois sold out all six of its home contests.
  • Illinois has taken a lead into the locker room at halftime in six of their nine games this season. In each of those six games, the Illini have finished the game victorious.
  • The Illini are 4-1 at Memorial Stadium this season.
  • The Illini have had three players named Big Ten Players of the Week this season. Running back Rashard Mendenhall and defensive end Will Davis earned honors after their performances against Indiana, and receiver Arrelious Benn was the special teams honoree for his kickoff return for a touchdown vs. Penn State.


  • Minnesota leads the all-time series, 31-26-3, and holds the advantage in Minneapolis, 19-10-2. It will be the first meetings between head coaches Ron Zook of Illinois and Tim Brewster of Minnesota and against the other's schools.
  • The Golden Gophers have been winners in the last three meetings between the two schools, but have been off the Illinois schedule for the last two years. The last Illini win over UM was in 2001 with a 25-14 victory in Champaign en route to the Big Ten Championship.
  • The Illini only have one player from the State of Minnesota on its roster, Minneapolis native Phil Haig (freshman, quarterback). Minnesota has six players from Illinois, including starting tight end Jack Simmons (Libertyville/Carmel) and running back Duane Bennett (Fairview Heights/O'Fallon Township).
  • Illinois has two coaches on its staff who have been coaches for Minnesota -- Running back coach Reggie Mitchell was a Gopher in 1997-98 and defensive line coach Tom Sims was with UM from 2001-04.
  • First-year Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster is a former letterwinning tight end from Illinois (1982-83). He helped lead the Illini a Big Ten Championship (1983) and to two bowl games (1982 Liberty Bowl and 1984 Rose Bowl). He started 22 games as an Illini, was named team captain in 1983 and was a second-team All-Big Ten selection that same year.
  • Minnesota wide receivers coach George McDonald is also an alum of Illinois. He played receiver from 1995-98. His wife, Sara (Sorrell), played volleyball for the Illini from (1996-99).

Rashard Mendenhall is coming off a strong performance against Ball State during which he rushed for 189 yards.

  • Rashard Mendenhall has recorded five 100-yard rushing game this season. The school record is six, held by Jim Grabowski (1965) and J.C. Caroline (1953).
  • With one more touchdown scored, Mendenhall would tie Howard Griffith's 15-touchdown season in 1990 for the school record. With three more rushing touchdowns he would tie that same record by Griffith for scores on the ground.
  • Senior kicker Jason Reda currently stands third on the Illinois career scoring list, needing one point to pass Doug Higgins for third. Reda needs 29 more points this season to become the career scoring leader.
  • Reda also is third on the career field goals list. He would need eight more field goals to become the career field goal record holder.
  • Mendenhall needs 132 rushing yards to move to into the top 10 on the school's all-time rushing list. In three seasons, he has accumulated 1,971 yards on the ground on just 301 carries, for a 6.5 career yard per carry average. The highest yard per carry average among Illinois' all-time rushers belongs to Pierre Thomas, who posted 5.6 ypc from 2003-06.
  • Wide receiver Arrelious Benn broke the school's freshman receiving record for yards when he recorded 97 yards vs. Ball State. He has 556 in 2007, which surpassed the 511 yards by Brandon Lloyd in 1999. Benn needs just two more catches to set the new mark for catches in a season, besting the 43 receptions by Ty Douthard in 1993.
  • Senior linebacker J Leman needs six tackles to move into sixth place on the Illini career tackles list. He ranks eighth on the career tackles for loss list with 34.5, one more and he jumps into the sixth spot.
  • Kyle Hudson needs 27 receiving yards to reach 1,000 in his career.


    • This week, the squad heads to the Metrodome to play Minnesota in an evening contest. The Illini are 3-5-1 in the Metrodome since the Gophers began playing there in 1982.
    • This year Illinois play in domes in three of its six away games. With its 41-20 win over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Sept. 15, the Illini broke a streak of nine straight losses in Domes, dating back to the 1994 season.
    • The team kicked off the season at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis against Missouri, and fell to 0-3 at the venue after a 34-40 loss to the Tigers. The squad evened its record on the year with a 41-20 win over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome to improve to 3-0 in the arena.


    With this season being his first as the primary back, Mendenhall may not be the household name of the some of the frontrunners for major running back and offensive awards. However, looking at the impact he has had on Illinois' success this year and his numbers in comparison to the best backs in the country, Mendenhall should be in the heart of this race.

    Mendenhall, ILL 6-3 123.7 12th 6.4 5th 14 148.8 30th
    McFadden, ARK 5-3 124.1 11th 5.3 30th 11 153.4 26th
    Hart, Mich. 7-2 154.0 3rd 5.4 T22nd 12 160.1 21th
    Hill, WIS 7-2 118.4 15th 5.0 T36th 15 128.3 56th
    Rice, RUT 5-3 142.6 4th 4.9 41st 14 165.3 16th
    Slaton, WVU 7-1 103.1 31st 5.5 17th 14 142.3 34th
    *min. 125 carries


    • True-freshman wide receiver Arrelious Benn is making waves on an Illini football team, which is bowl eligible for the first time in six years. Benn has already caught 42 passes this season, the most for an Illini receiver since Kendrick Jones' 47 receptions in 2004. He has recorded 556 yards this season, 13.2 yards per catch and a long reception of 56 yards.
    • With his 97 yards vs. Ball State, Benn set a new Illinois freshman receiving record. That game brought his season total to 556, besting Brandon Lloyd's 511 yards in 1999. With 42 catches, he needs just one more to tie Ty Douthard's 43 catches during his freshman year in 1993.
    • Despite his 4.6 reception per game average, Benn is integral to the Illini offense in may other ways. Including catches, rushes and kickoff returns, Benn touches the ball an average of 8.1 times per game. With 122 rushing yards this season, he gives the lllini a 4.9 per carry boost in the running game. He also averages 30.1 yards per his six kickoff returns this season. He scored on a 90-yard return against Penn State.
    • At midseason of 2007, Benn was named to the All-Freshman team by


    The goal of the Illini defense is to hold all opposing running backs and skill players to under 100 yards rushing. So far through nine games, only one player has topped the 100-yard rushing mark vs. Illinois (Carlos Brown of Michigan with 113 yards). Here are some of the highlights:

  • Kellen Lewis, Indiana: Lewis entered the Big Ten opener vs. Illinois averaging 105 rushing yards per game and was a big reason that the Hoosiers' running game was ranked seventh in the nation. When he met the Illini defense, he was held to just 35 yards on the ground and the team to only 134.
  • P.J. Hill, Wisconsin: Hill entered the game with five consecutive 100-yard rushing games and averaged 133 yards per game. Against the Illini, Hill was held to 83.


    • J Leman has been named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award and the Rotary Lombardi Award. The Lombardi Award, which features players who line up five yards or less off the ball, has four linebackers on the semifinal list. And of those four, only Leman, PSU's Dan Connor and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis are on the Butkus semfinal list as well.
    • Midseason award were released by many media sources including, Sports Illustrated, and Phil Steele. Leman earned first-team honors by three and second-team by the fourth.
    • Leman has picked up right where he left off last season, posting seven double-digit performances in nine games. Currently, he leads the Big Ten in tackles per contest with 11.1 and ranks 11th in the nation. He also recorded his first collegiate interception with a touchdown-saving pick against No. 19 Penn State.
    • Illinois' 1994 Butkus Award winner Dana Howard says, "Leman should be Illinois' next Butkus Award winner."
    • Last season, Leman jumped onto the national scene with dominant games against Michigan State, Wisconsin and then-No. 1 Ohio State. He earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after totaling 19 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss against the top-ranked Buckeyes. He followed up that performance with 22 tackles and 2.5 TFL in the season finale at Northwestern.
    • Leman led the Big Ten with 12.7 tackles per game and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. He was also named to the Sports Illustrated All-American team as an honorable mention and is one of only eight returning linebackers in the nation to earn all-star honors.


    This season, the rushing offense has mainly been in the hands of one running back, junior Rashard Mendenhall. After working behind two other running backs for the first two years of his career, Mendenhall has found himself in the spotlight. This season marks the first time since 2002 that the Illini have used primarily one back. In that year, Antoineo Harris set the school single-season rushing record with 1,330 yards. Through nine games, Mendenhall has rushed for 1,113 yards, averaging 123.7 ypg. He also is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and ranks 12th in the nation in rushing. His 12 rushing touchdowns are the most in a season since Robert Holcombe recorded 12 in 1996.


    Through eight games in the 2007 season, the Big Ten boasts 13 career 1,000 yard rushers. Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall ranks ninth among active running backs in the Big Ten.

    1. Mike Hart, Sr., Michigan - 4,751 yards
    2. Albert Young, Sr., Iowa - 2,927 yards
    3. Tyrell Sutton, Jr., Northwestern - 2,668 yards
    4. P.J. Hill, So., Wisconsin - 2,635 yards
    5. Amir Pinnix, Sr., Minnesota - 2,438 yards
    6. Javon Ringer, Jr., Michigan State - 2,400 yards
    7. Jehuu Caulcrick, Sr., Michigan State - 2,157 yards
    8. Kory Sheets, Sr., Purdue - 1,977 yards
    9. Rashard Mendenhall, Jr., Illinois - 1,971 yards
    10. Chris Wells, So., Ohio State - 1,453 yards
    11. Damian Sims, Sr., Iowa - 1,453 yards
    12. Austin Scott, Sr., Penn State - 1,323 yards
    13. Rodney Kinlaw, Sr., Penn State - 1,135 yards
    14. Juice Williams, So., Illinois 1,014 yards
    -- Marcus Thigpen, Jr., Indiana 981 yards
    -- Kellen Lewis, So., Indiana 976 yards


    Illinois' true-freshman safety Bo Flowers turns 24 on Nov. 12, and is the oldest player on the Illini roster. Flowers is beginning his college career this season after four years in professional baseball. He was a fifth-round draft pick in 2003 by the Detroit Tigers. After spending three seasons in the Detroit organization, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs where he played the 2006 season. Currently, Flowers is a walk-on on the Illini team because the Tigers are footing the college bill. He is one of eight active Division I-A football players who have seen action in minor league baseball: Gary Banks (Troy...Cubs); Mike Conroy (UConn...Indians); Dennis Dixon (Oregon ... Braves); Bo Flowers (Illinois...Tigers/Cubs); Marquise Liverpool (Temple...Mariners); Michael Machen (Baylor...Braves/Orioles); Mike Nixon (Arizona State...Dodgers); Jose Perez (SDSU...Yankees)


    Will Davis, Kevin Mitchell and the rest of the Illini defense intend to keep the heat on opposing quarterbacks down the stretch of this 2007 season. Davis has aready registered 7.5 sacks so far this year.

    Illinois defenders Vontae and Will Davis (no relation) are two of the bright spots on this Illini defense which ranks 25th in rushing and 47th in total defense nationally. Vontae, a two-year starting cornerback, has made an impact on the Illini program in a short time. Last season, he earned unanimous first-team Freshman All-America honors and is one of the best corners in the Big Ten this season. He put together three-straight games with interceptions (Indiana, Penn State, Wisconsin) and has six passes broken up. He also has blocked two punts this year. Will, a junior defensive end, already has 7.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss on the year. He was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after his performance vs. Indiana, which accounted for four sacks and five TFL. He currently ranks 15th in the NCAA in quarterback sacks.


    Junior receiver Kyle Hudson is in his third year of pulling double-duty as a starting wide receiver on the football team and starting centerfielder on the Illini baseball team. Hudson led the Illini in receptions last year with 30 and in receiving yards each of his first two seasons. In three years, he has accumulated 973 receiving yards. On the diamond, he has started 87 of 88 games in two seasons. He led the team in hitting as a freshman and was second as a sophomore. He is hitting .360 for his two-season average and has stolen 26 bases in that span. As a freshman, he won the school's Newcomer of the Year award for the impact he made on the two sports.


    • The Illini offense has faced two top-15 rushing defenses in 12th-ranked Indiana (allowing 71.3 ypg) and fifth-ranked Penn State (allowing 54.8 ypg). In each of those two games, the Illini rushed for over 200 yards - 288 at Indiana and 216 vs. the Nittany Lions
    • The Illini have posted six 200-yard rushing games this season with 277-yards against WIU, 378 at Syracuse, 288 at Indiana, 216 vs. Penn State, 289 vs. Wisconsin and 324 vs. Ball State. The 378 rushing yards vs. SU were the best under head coach Ron Zook. For the year, Illinois is averaging 240.6 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry. So far, the team's per game rushing average is 51 yards better than a year ago when it won the Big Ten rushing title.
    • The Illini offense put together an 8:41 drive to end the game against Ball State. It was the longest offensive drive of the season and of the Zook era.
    • Running back Rashard Mendenhall earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for his performance vs. Indiana on 9/22. He rushed for a career-high 214 yards on a career-most 27 carries (7.9 ypc).
    • Last season, the Illini proved to have big-play ability with 49 plays over 20 yards. Already through nine games, the offense is on pace to top that number with 46 big plays.
    • The Illini have recorded five games of over 400 yards total offense. They began the season with 435 yards against Missouri, posted 400 vs. Western Illinois, topped the 500-yard mark with 508 at Syracuse, recorded 410 yards in its upset of No. 5 Wisconsin and had 469 vs. Ball State.
    • Against Missouri, the Illini passed for 316 yards, combining the quarterback numbers of Juice Williams (59) and Eddie McGee (257). It was the first 300-yard passing performance for an Illini team since the squad put up 430 yards on California on Sept. 20, 2003.


    • After forcing only 20 turnovers last year as a defense, this year's campaign already is on pace to top that number. Through nine games, the Illini have forced 19 turnovers -- nine fumbles and 10 interceptions. The squad also put together back-to-back four-turnover games against Indiana and Penn State.
    • With his start vs. Penn State, senior defensive tackle Chris Norwell became the Illinois record holder for most games started by a defensive lineman. He now has 42 for his career, topping All-American Moe Gardner's 37 starts from 1987-1990.
    • Defensive end Will Davis was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for his game against Indiana on 9/22. He recorded four sacks and five tackles for loss (both rank second in Illinois' single-game record books).
    • With its 21-0 win over Western Illinois, the Illini recorded its first shutout since blanking Iowa on Oct. 14, 2000. It was also the fewest total yards allowed during the Zook era at (152), fewest passing yards (71) and fewest first downs (4).
    • Beginning at the 8:32 mark of the fourth quarter vs. Missouri, the Illini defense held its opponents scoreless for 99:21. It ended in the third quarter at Syracuse when the Orange kicked a field goal at 14:11.
    • The vaunted offense of the ninth-ranked Missouri Tigers has only been held to 11 three-and-outs all season. The Illinois defense was responsible for five of those 11.
    • The defense is extremely experienced, returning nine of 11 starters. All three starting linebackers return, along with three lineman and three defensive backs. Seven Illini on defense have recorded 20 or more starts in their career: DT Chris Norwell (42), LB J Leman (37), SS Justin Harrison (32), FS Kevin Mitchell (29), DE Derek Walker (31), Brit Miller (22) and Antonio Steele (21).


    • Senior placekicker Jason Reda has made 10-of-11 field goal attempts of the year. After not attempting a kick in the first two games of the season, he has made 10 field goals in the last seven contests. He has connected on two 50-yard field goals this season, the second-longest of his career (50 vs. Wisconsin and Syracuse). He also has made three 40-plus field goals (45 vs. Indiana, 46 at Iowa and 47 vs. Penn State).
    • Arrelious Benn returned Illinois' first kickoff of the game vs. Penn State 90 yards for a touchdown. He was the first Illini to score on a kickoff return since Pierre Thomas did it in 2004 against Western Michigan. Even more impressive, he scored on his first-ever kickoff return attempt. It also was the first kickoff return for a touchdown against a Penn State team since 1994. He gave Illinois a 7-3 lead over Penn State, which it never relinquished.
    • For his performance against Penn State, Benn was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week. It marks the first time a true-freshman earned a Big Ten weekly honor since Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton on Sept. 12, 2005.
    • After an offseason position battle, redshirt-freshman Anthony Santella earned the starting punter job. Santella has punted 48 times for a 36.6 average. But of those 48 punts, only 11 have been returned (23 percent) for a total of 52 yards (4.7 yard per return). He has placed 13 punts inside the 20 yard line (27 percent) and 11 have been fair caught.
    • Sophomore cornerback Vontae Davis has blocked two punts this year. He got his second of the season against Indiana. When he got a hand on a Missouri punt in the season opener, it was Illinois' first blocked punt since the 2004 season. He recovered the block at the 2 yardline and took it in for the score.
    • Oddly enough, Illinois this year boasts a trio of four-year starters on the field goal and extra point units. Long snapper Kyle Knezetic, holder Frank Lenti Jr. and Reda have worked together extensively throughout their careers as Illini, giving the coaching staff a great deal of confidence in that special teams unit.



    Illinois defensive end Will Davis' family are natives of the Republic of Liberia. He has spent his entire life in the United States, and was able to visit Liberia as a young child before Civil War broke out. Now that the war has ended his mother, Pearine Davis-Parkinson, recently returned home to become the Deputy Minister in the Ministry of State office. The Ministry of State supports the work of the President of the Republic of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The major departments of the Ministry of State are the Office of the President, Administration, and Public Affairs and Communications Technology. Davis' mother played basketball for the Liberian national team and at the University of Liberia. His uncle, John Davis, played soccer for Liberia. She should be in town in the month of October to attend Illinois football games.


    It is hard not to pay attention to the 12-letter long last name of sophomore tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. The difficulty in its pronunciation has caused coaches and teammates to nickname Michael "Huh-oh" representing the first two syllables of his name. The name is one of Hawaiian descent, which he gets from his father, Isy's, side of the family, who hails from Oahu. The name is not the most common in its nativeland, but retains the special meaning "patience."


    • Total ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 appearances have increased from 21 to 24
    • ABC appearances have increased from 8 to 11
    • ABC games reach a larger audience in 2007 because of the "reverse mirror" arrangement
    • Total national appearances have increased from 20 to 55
    • Total appearances on narrowly distributed platforms such as ESPNU and ESPN360 have decreased from 12 to 6
    • Every Big Ten game has been televised in 2007, compared to seven untelevised games in 2006


    • Six Illini already have earned their college degrees -- FB Justin Ijei, WR Frank Lenti, Jr., DB Tyler Rouse, LB J Leman, DT Chris Norwell and OL Martin O'Donnell.
    • Illinois junior linebacker J Leman is not only a standout on the field, but his accomplishments in the classroom include a bachelor's degree in just three years. He maintained a 3.7 GPA in communications, graduating in August of 2006. He is currently pursuing a master's degree which he will complete this December.
    • The Illini's starting center Ryan McDonald is pursuing his undergraduate degree in one of the most difficult academic fields at the University of Illinois. Illinois is known for its engineering cirriculum, ranking in the Top-10 in all nine disciplines, including the top-rated civil engineering program. McDonald has recorded a 3.87 in aeronautical engineering, a program which ranks eighth nationally. He had an internship this summer on campus working with NASA.


    For the second straight summer the team hosted an event to raise money for the Cunningham Children's Home, located locally in Urbana. The event was a 12-hour supply drive to raise goods and money for the home from their Wish List. The team congregated on the East side of Memorial Stadium and along with the help of local radio stations, solicited the help of community members to give supplies and money to the Home. The team's two-year total of goods and money raised is $20,000. Among the money in 2007 was a $250 donation from tight end Jeff Cumberland. Cumberland won the Slam Dunk contest at the 2007 Gus Macker basketball tournament and gave his winnings to the team's charity.


    • Great excitement has surrounded the 2007 Illinois football season. More than 14,000 Illini fans became new season ticket holders and the school sold out its South Endzone "Horseshoe" section prior to the start of the season. Students also jumped on board, with season ticket sales increased by 2,500.
    • Phase I of the Memorial Stadium project was completed in time for Illinois' home opener against Western Illinois. The students are now housed in the brand-new North Endzone seating as well as the Marching Illini. This was the first part of a $116 million renovation taking place at the historic stadium right now.
    • Illinois sold out four of its first five home games this season. It is the first time for four sellouts in a season since 1986, when Illinois sold out all six of its home contests.


    The Marching Illini will reclaim music from the rich history and tradition of University of Illinois football this season. "Fight! Illini!" was written in the early 1920's and sub-titled "The Stadium Song." This piece was recently discovered by Marching Illini director Dr. Peter Griffin. It was written by two Illinois graduates Sampson Raphaelson ('17) and Rose J. Oltusky ('22). "Fight! Illini!" will be played following Illinois point after touchdowns this season. Harold Hill and Howard Green wrote "Cheer Illini," "Hail to the Orange" and "Oskee Wow Wow." "Cheer Illini" was used decades ago by the Marching Illini as a downfield motion piece to float the band off the field at the end of its pre-game show. It was also used at basketball games for many years during player introductions.


    • Sat., Nov. 3, is National College Football Day, celebrating the anniversary of the birth of an American institution.
    • On the first Saturday in November of 1869, Rutgers and Princeton staged college football's first game. Ever since, the sport has become ingrained in our culture. To honor the great spectacle that is college football, the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic created this annual holiday.
    • As we celebrate the fourth annual National College Football Day, members of the American Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers Association of America and the National Association of Division I-A Football Officials are wearing commemorative lapel pins.