Game 9: Illinois at Ohio State

Illinois and Ohio State will be playing for the Illibuck trophy Saturday in Columbus.  Although the Buckeyes lead the all-time series, 58-29-4, the Illini have won eight of the last 15 games between the two schools.
Illinois and Ohio State will be playing for the Illibuck trophy Saturday in Columbus. Although the Buckeyes lead the all-time series, 58-29-4, the Illini have won eight of the last 15 games between the two schools.

Oct. 31, 2005

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AUDIO - Post-practice with Coach Ron Zook

For Starters

  • The Illini posted 538 yards of total offense against Wisconsin, the most this season and the most since Illinois' season opening win over Florida A&M in 2004. The team outrushed and outpassed the 15th-ranked Badgers in the 24-41 loss.

  • Illinois quarterback Tim Brasic rushed for 116 yards against Wisconsin, which was enough to break two school records. He set a new single-game rushing record for an Illinois quarterback, while also bringing his season rushing total to 358, which is the most rushing yards by an Illini signal-caller in a single season. He is 158 yards away from the career record in just his first season as a starter.

  • As just a sophomore, kicker Jason Reda has 21 career field goals, which ranks eighth on the all-time list.

  • Ohio State marks the fifth ranked opponent for the Illini this season. The last time Illinois defeated a Top-25 foe was in 2001 at No. 25 Ohio State. The Illini are 0-4 vs. ranked teams this season (California, Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin).

  • ive opponents on Illinois' schedule are now bowl eligible, including Rutgers who Illinois defeated, 33-30, in the season opener. The others are Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and California.

The Illibuck

  • This week Illinois and Ohio State will play for the coveted Illibuck Trophy. Ohio State leads the "Illibuck" series with a 54-22-2 mark.

  • "Illibuck" is--or was--a turtle, destined for long life, it was hoped. But the wear and tear of traveling between Champaign-Urbana and Columbus was too much, even for a hardy marine reptile. "Illibuck" died in the spring of 1927 and his successor is now a wooden replica. Members of two junior honorary societies, Bucket and Dipper of Ohio State and Sachem of Illinois, annually meet at halftime of the Fighting Illini-Buckeye game to present the "Illibuck" trophy to last year's winning school. In the past the ritual also included the smoking of a peace pipe.

  • The Illini gave up the "Illibuck" trophy in 2002, but not without a fight as Illinois dropped a close 23-16 loss to the No. 2 Buckeyes in overtime in Champaign. The win for Ohio State sent the team to the national title game the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, which they won over Miami. Ohio State and Illinois have not met the last two seasons.

Ohio State Series History

  • Saturday's game marks 92nd meeting between these two teams, dating back to 1902. Ohio State holds the series lead 58-29-4. OSU also holds the series lead in Columbus, 25-17-4. The squads have not met since the 2002 season, where the then No. 2-ranked Buckeyes won in overtime, 23-16. Two Illinois endzone receptions, one to Aaron Moorehead and one to Walter Young, were ruled out of bounds to save Ohio State's national championship hopes. Ohio State led 16-13, but the Illini drove down the field to set up John Gockman's tying 48-yard field goal with no time left on the clock. Young had 144 yards receiving and quarterback Jon Beujter passed for 308. But it was a game of field goals as Ohio State's Mike Nugent and Gockman each had three on the day.

  • This will be Ron Zook's first head-to-head meeting with Ohio State. Buckeye coach Jim Tressel is 1-1 vs. the Illini.

  • Illinois head coach Ron Zook was the defensive backs coach on the Ohio State coaching staff from 1988-90 under John Cooper. The Illini were 3-0 vs. Ohio State during that time, including two wins in Columbus.

  • Zook is a native of Loudonville, Ohio and is a 1976 graduate of Miami of Ohio. He was a three-year letter winning defensive back from 1973-75 and a captain of the 1975 team. During his time, Miami was 32-1-1 during that period.

  • Illini offensive line coach Ed Warinner is an Ohio native from Dover, Ohio and was a standout football and baseball player at Mount Union College from 1980-84.

  • In the last four meetings between these two teams, the Illini have won twice in Columbus (1999, 2001), lost in overtime (2002) and and on a last-second field goal (2000) in Champaign. 4 The Illini have faced a ranked Ohio State team on 32 occasions in the series history and are 10-22 vs. the Buckeyes in those contests (dating back to 1942 when rankings were recorded in Illinois archives).

  • Illinois has four players on its roster from the state of Ohio, including starting defensive linemen freshman Sirod Williams (Garfield Heights) and sophomore Chris Norwell (Cincinnati/Anderson).

Records to Watch

  • Junior Pierre Thomas needs just 124 kickoff return yards to break the school career record.

  • Wide receiver Kyle Hudson needs 138 yards to break the freshman receiving record, held currently by former Illini and San Francisco 49er Brandon Lloyd.

  • Brasic is 158 yards away from the career record for quarterback rushing yards at Illinois in just his first season as a starter.

  • Thomas ranks 15th on the all-time rushing list with 1,597 yards and needs 99 yards to move to 14th.

Youthful Illini

  • With 12 freshmen (3) and sophomores (10) in the starting lineup, the Illini are the youngest team in the country (tied with Cincinnati). Illini have only three senior starters listed on the 2005 depth chart, which is the lowest in college football (tied with Rice's three). Illinois' four senior starters are: fullback Jason Davis, wide receiver Kendrick Jones and defensive tackle Ryan Matha.

  • The Illini have started four true freshmen this season in WR Kyle Hudson, WR Derrick McPhearson, LB Brit Miller and DE Sirod Williams. Only seven teams across the country have had four or more true-freshmen. They are Cincinnati and Duke with six, Oklahoma and Northwestern with five and Illinois, Arkansas and Virginia have four.

  • Only 14 teams in the nation have played 11 or more true-freshmen this season and the Illini are among those with 11 true-freshman getting valuable playing time. They are OL Eric Block, WR Will Davis, WR Kyle Hudson, TE Greg McClendon, WR Derrick McPhearson, RB Rashard Mendenhall, LB Brit Miller, TE Michael Nabolotny, LB Rodney Pittman, DT Tremayne Walker, DE Sirod Williams.
        Team           True-Freshmen                     Team           True-Freshmen
        Arkansas            16	                     Illinois            11
        Kent State          15	                     Oklahoma State      11
        Duke                14	                     Nebraska            11
        Kentucky            14	                     Northwestern        11
        Oklahoma            12	                     Pittsburgh          11
        Rutgers             12	                     Temple              11
        USC                 11	                     Virginia            11

  • In addition to starters, nearly 60 percent of Illinois participation is coming from the freshman and sophomore classes. At key positions the youth of the team is being asked to take on most of the work, especially in the offensive and defensive lines. Sixty percent of the offensive line play comes from underclassmen, while the defensive line is 68 percent. There are no junior or senior linebackers and seven of Illinois' 10 wide receivers are youngsters. See the chart below:
    Position    Fr.-Plays    So.-Plays   Jr.-Plays    Sr.-Plays    Pct. Under    Pct. Upper
    Overall      22-3044      19-4696     17-3763      11-2184     59.4-56.6     40.6-43.4
    QB          ---------    ---------     2-535      ---------     0.0-0.0     100.0-100.0
    RB            1-89         1-106       2-602        1-278      40.0-18.1     60.0-81.9
    WR            5-782        2-523       2-156        1-305      70.0-73.9     30.0-26.1
    TE            3-38       ---------     1-379      ---------    75.0-9.1      25.0-90.9
    OL            2-562        4-1140      5-1115       1-29       50.0-59.8     50.0-40.2
    DL            5-606        3-786       3-238        2-528      68.7-64.6     31.3-35.4
    LB            6-967        3-863     ---------    ---------   100.0-100.0     0.0-0.0
    DB          ---------      4-1165       2-738       5-974      36.4-40.5     63.6-59.5
    KPS         ---------      2-113      ---------      1-70       67.0-61.7    33.0-38.3
  • Twelve players on Illinois' roster are first-year starters -- RG James Ryan (So.), RT Ryan McDonald (r-Fr.), QB Tim Brasic (Jr.), WR Jody Ellis (r-Fr.), DE Derek Walker (r-Fr.), LB Remond Willis (r-Fr.), SS Kevin Mitchell (So.), WR Kyle Hudson (Fr.), WR Derrick McPhearson (Fr.), DE Sirod Williams (Fr.), LB Brit Miller (Fr.) and LB Sam Carson (r-Fr.).

  • The Illini have started more underclassmen of any Big Ten team this season.
        Illinois      15        Michigan State   4
        Northwestern   8        Ohio State       4
        Minnesota      6        Michigan         3
        Iowa           6        Purdue           3
        Wisconsin      5        Penn State       2
        Indiana        5

Illini Pose Triple Tailback Threat

  • The strength of the 2005 Illinois football team is in its running back corps. Not only do the Illini have a pair of three-year co-starters in E.B. Halsey and Pierre Thomas, but a true-freshman in Rashard Mendenhall. Halsey was the team's leading rusher in 2003 when he posted 525 yards, but spent most of the 2004 season nursing a nagging groin injury. With Halsey not at 100 percent, Thomas stepped up and had a breakout season with 893 yards and eight touchdowns in 2004. Mendenhall came to Illinois as the No. 1 recruit in the state, averaging 9.1 yards a carry as a senior at Niles West.

  • For years, the Illinois running game has consisted of the two-headed monster tailback philosophy. Dating back to 1998 (and with the exception of the 2002 season), two running backs have split time in the backfield, but this season the two heads have turned to three with Halsey, Thomas and Mendenhall. The following is a list of Illinois' tailback tandems:
    1998    Rocky Harvey (634) & Steve Havard (584)                             1,218 (110.7 ypg)
    1999    Rocky Harvey (774) & Steve Havard (806)                             1,580 (131.7 ypg)
    2000    Rocky Harvey (683) & Antoineo Harris (772)                          1,455 (132.3 ypg)
    2001    Rocky Harvey (620) & Antoineo Harris (629)                          1,249 (104.1 ypg)
    2002*   Antoineo Harris (1,330)                                             1,330 (110.8 ypg)
    2003    E.B. Halsey (525) & Pierre Thomas (233)                               758 (62.2 ypg)
    2004    E.B. Halsey (461) & Pierre Thomas (893)                             1,354 (123.1 ypg)
    2005    E.B. Halsey (250), Pierre Thomas (471) & Rashard Mendenhall(150)      871 (108.9 ypg)
    * only season since 1998 Illinois has had one featured back

  • In addition to the three tailbacks, Illinois has two other potent running threats in fullback Jason Davis and quarterback Tim Brasic. Davis has the ability to block, run and catch passes has 327 career rushing yards (and 602 yards receiving), while Brasic has 358 rushing yards in eight games this season.

1,000-Yard Rushing Duos

Illinois is one of just three teams in the Big Ten to have a pair of career 1,000-yard rushers on its current roster in juniors Pierre Thomas (1,597 career yards) and E.B. Halsey (1,236 career yards). The other two teams in the league making the same claim are Purdue, with senior Jerod Void (2,139 career yards) and senior Brandon Jones (1,613 career yards), and Wisconsin with junior Brian Calhoun (2,348) and junior Booker Stanley (1,129). In all, there are 13 1,000-yard career rushers currently listed on Big Ten rosters.

Weatherford, One of the Nation's Best Punters

  • In the first eight games, Weatherford has punted 48 times for a 43.3 average. Thirteen have been for plus-50 yards, three for over 60 yards and 11 have been downed inside the 20 yardline.

  • He ranks second in the Big Ten in punting and 19th nationally.

  • 2004 Ray Guy semifinalist and has earned preseason All-America honors from nearly every publication.

  • Only seven of Weatherford's 26 kickoffs have been returned this season, with 18 being booted into the endzone.

  • Rated by Mel Kiper as the No. 1 NFL-rated punter.

  • Last season, he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the conferences coaches.

  • In 2004, Weatherford ranked fourth in the nation in punting average (45.4) and team ranked 12th in the NCAA in net punting (39.0) in 2004. He also booted 20 punts over 50 yards and five over 60 yards.

  • He also broke the Illinois single-season punting average record in 2004 (which he set in 2003) with a 45.4 average and is also set to top the school's career average with 43.8.

  • Is a member of the Illinois track team, scoring at the 2003, 2004 and 2005 Big Ten Indoor Track Championships in the heptathlon. He recorded his highest finish of third-place last season after placing 6th in 2003 and 5th in 2004. He holds the school record for the heptathlon.

Team Notes

  • Ron Zook began his tenure at Illinois with a 33-30 come-from-behind, overtime victory over Rutgers, marking the first win for a first-year Illinois coach since Mike White, who guided the Illini to a 35-9 win over Northwestern on Sept. 6, 1980. Among current Big Ten coaches, Zook is one of only six to win the first game of their head coaching careers at their respective schools. He was also the first Illinois coach since White to win their first two games.

  • The Illini won the turnover battle against Iowa 2-1, forcing a fumble and an interception, and had the most turnovers forced on the season with three against Indiana.

  • The Illini outgained the San Jose State Spartans 492-231 in total offense, the most dominant performance since posting 600 yards to Arkansas State's 313 in 2002.

  • Illinois' 20-point comeback against Rutgers tied the mark for the biggest come-from-behind win in school history. Illinois came back from the same score (27-7) at Michigan in 1999, defeating the Wolverines 35-29.

  • Following Illinois' 33-30 overtime win over Rutgers, E.B. Halsey's 13-yard touchdown catch was nominated as a Pontiac/ESPN Game-Changing Moment.

  • Illinois has been named among the Top-50 college football programs of all time, by Street and Smith Magazine. In the recent publication, the Illini rank 37th.

  • Illinois' Memorial Stadium is one of 40 college football venues featured in the latest Sporting News' Book "Saturday's Shrines," which celebrates the pagentry of college football.

Offensive Notes

  • Three times this season, quarterback Tim Brasic has led the team in rushing (MSU, Rutgers, Wisconsin). For the year, Brasic has compiled 358 net rushing yards, which is the most for an Illinois quarterback in a single season. With Brasic's quarterback sack numbers removed from the equation, he would have 85 rushes for 498 yards, 5.9 yards per carry. He has also rushed for 29 first downs.

  • Brasic and freshman receiver Kyle Hudson have developed a good relationship on the field. Brasic has gone to Hudson eight different times on third down, all of which he has converted for first downs. In all, Hudson has 17 first-down catches in 26 receptions.

  • Pierre Thomas rushed for a season-high 100 yards vs. Iowa on 15 carries, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. This marks the fifth 100-yard rushing game of his career. Thomas is averaging 5.3 yards per carry on the season, and has had only three rushes for negative yardage out of 89 carries on the year.

  • Hudson had a career-high 114 yards receiving vs. Wisconsin, catching 10 passes. That is also the highest single-game receiving yardage total by an Illini player this season. Hudson has five 30+-yard catchs this season. He leads the team in receiving yards with 373.

  • Fourteen different players have caught passes for the Illini this season.

  • The Illini set a record for the longest drive in school history vs. Iowa with an impressive 20-play drive in the second quarter. That drive covered 90 yards and took 7:59. On the year, Illinois has had 20 drives that have lasted 10 or more plays.

  • Twice this season, Illini players have posted 10 or more receptions in a game. E.B. Halsey had 11 catches vs. Iowa and freshman Kyle Hudson had a career day with 10 catches for 114 yards.

  • With Illinois trailing Rutgers 27-7, quarterback Tim Brasic led the Illini to four scores in the final 25:49 of the game, completing 19-of-25 passes (76%) for 195 yards and two touchdowns during that time. Brasic also completed his first eight passes against San Jose State and finished the game connecting on 77 percent of his passes (17-for-22).

  • Illinois has rushed for over 200 yards in three games this season (204 vs. RU, 243 vs. SJSU, 261 vs. Wisconsin).

Defensive Notes

  • In the third quarter of play vs. Indiana, Illinois held the Hoosiers scoreless with only 51 yards gained. Indiana punted in each of its three drives that quarter.

  • Illinois forced a season-high three turnovers against Indiana. Junior cornerback Alan Ball gt his first career interception and linebackers J Leman and Remond Willis each forced fumbles. The Illinois offense scored on two of the three drives following the turnovers.

  • During Illinois' first half run against No. 15 California, the defense forced three three-and-outs, held quarterback Joe Ayoob to only one completion in nine attempts and just seven points. The defense only spent 3:12 on the field in the first quarter and 8:25 for the half.

  • After California scored a touchdown on its opening possession, Illinois held the Bears scoreless over the next 36:05, to midway through the third quarter. Cal had four consecutive scoreless drives in between its first two touchdowns, in which the Illini defense limited Cal to 44 yards and just one first down during that time.

  • Illinois' defense held Rutgers to no points in the final 25:49 of regulation. From the time Rutgers went ahead 27-7 with 10:49 left in the 3rd quarter, Illinois' defense held Rutgers to just 143 total yards (37 rushing and 106 passing) and one overtime field goal for the remainder of the game.

  • In the first half of play against San Jose State, the Illini held the Spartans to just two first downs and negative three yards rushing. SJSU went into the locker room at the half with only 62 total yards, averaging 2.5 yards a play.

Special Teams Notes

  • Sophomore kicker Jason Reda nailed a career-long 52-yard field goal against Indiana, marking the longest since the season finale of the 2001 season when John Gockman made a 52-yarder vs. Northwestern. It also was the seventh-longest field goal in school history.

  • Steve Weatherford had the sixth best single-game punting performance in school history vs. Penn State, averaging 50.2 yards per punt. Five of his nine punts went for over 50 yards, and all nine were over 40 yards.

  • Weatherford has kicked off 28 times (two have been on-sides kicks), 19 of which reached the endzone. Eighteen have resulted in touchbacks, while only nine have been returned..

  • Weatherford has punted 48 times for a 43.3 average, which ranks second in the Big Ten.

  • Reda is a perfect 17-for-17 in extra point attempts this season, making him 42-for-43 (.977) for his career.

  • The Illini have blocked three kicks this season through eight games. Defensive tackle Ryan Matha blocked a field goal against Rutgers, defensive tackle Chris Norwell got the field goal block against Cal and Xavier Fulton knocked down an extra point attempt vs. Indiana. The most blocked kicks for an Illini team in recent years was six by the 2001 and 1997 squads.

  • Against SJSU, sophomore kicker Jason Reda hit a career-best four field goals including a 45-yarder. It was the most field goals by an Illini kicker since Neil Rackers hit four against Ohio State in 1999.