Freshman Matt Eller's 46-yard field goal with 24 seconds remaining put the Fighting Illini over the top in last week's 27-24 win over Iowa.
Nov. 4, 2008
This week's game marks the third meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Western Michigan Broncos. Illinois won both previous match-ups, 60-14 way back in 1947 and 30-27 in 2004. Both of those games were in Champaign.
The game features two of the country's top passing offenses with WMU averaging 320.2 yards per game, which ranks sixth in the nation, and the Illini posting 272.3 yards per contest, which is 16th. Bronco quarterback Tim Hiller ranks ninth in the NCAA in total offense, while Illinois' Juice Williams is eighth.
Illinois quarterback Juice Williams leads the Big Ten in total offense and has since the first week of the season. This week, he is averaging 327.8 yards per game - 56.6 on the ground and 271.2 in the air - which ranks eighth nationally. For the past three weeks, he has led the league in passing and is 12th nationally. Williams also is 19th in the NCAA?in passing efficiency and second in the league.
Illini receiver Arrelious Benn is averaging 5.9 catches per game, which is the most for an Illini receiver since Brandon Lloyd averaged 6.2 catches per contest in 2002. That number also ranks third in the Big Ten. In six Big Ten games, Benn has posted 114.0 yards receiving per game, 26 yards more than his next competitor (Minnesota's Eric Decker with 88.0 per game).
The Illini offense ranks in the top-2 in the Big Ten in three offensive categories - first in passing (272.3) and second in total offense (448.1) and scoring offense (33.0). Nationally, Illinois ranks in the top-30 in all three categories - total (16), passing (17) and scoring (28).
Illinois' offense has put up some staggering numbers thus far, ranking second in the Big Ten and 16th in the nation in total yards (448.1 ypg). The Illini have posted over 500 yards five times already this season and accomplished the feat in three straight games (Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana) for the first time since 2002.
Illinois middle linebacker Brit Miller leads the Big Ten in tackles for the ninth time in 10 weeks with 10.3 per game, which also ranks eighth in the NCAA. He also is averaging 1.6 tackles for loss per game, which ranks ninth in the nation.
As a defense, the Illini are leading the Big Ten in both tackles for loss and sacks with 8.1 and 3.3 per game. Those numbers rank eighth and fifth in the NCAA. 4 Illinois' Ron Zook has defeated Michigan in "The Big House" (2008) and Ohio State in "The Horseshoe" (2007). He is one of two active Big Ten coaches (Joe Paterno is the other, beating Michigan in 1994 and 1996, and Ohio State in 1978) and is one of 13 coaches in Big Ten history to accomplished the feat.
Illinois had a season-high six sacks against Iowa, as part of 10 tackles for loss. The six sacks are the most by the Orange and Blue since recording seven at Indiana on Sept. 22, 2007. The Illini defense has now recorded 30 sacks and 73 TFLs on the season.
Freshman Matt Eller kicked a 46-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining to seal the victory against Iowa. It marked Illinois' first game-winning field goal in the final minute since Jason Reda hit a 39-yarder with six seconds left at Michigan State on Sept. 30, 2006, for a 23-20 win. Eller is 7-of-8 on field goals over 40 yards.
Despite trailing in turnover margin this season (17 takeaways, 20 giveaways), the Illini offense is taking full advantage of its opportunities, scoring 12 times in 17 tries after turnovers for 72 points, which is 71 percent of the time.
With its 4-1 record at home this year, Illinois has won nine of its last 11 games at Memorial Stadium after posting a 5-1 record in 2007.
Illinois has scored touchdowns in less than two minutes on 16 of its 35 scoring drives, which ranks seventh nationally. The fastest drive has been a one-play, eight-second drive that culminated in a 13-yard touchdown run by Arrelious Benn vs. Eastern Illinois.
The Illinois offense ranks second nationally with six touchdowns over 50 yards. The Illini are tied with Tulsa and Oklahoma State and are behind Louisiana-Lafayette's 11.
Juice Williams has completed eight passes over 50 yards this season, second-most in the country (David Johnson of Tulsa has nine). Six of those have gone for touchdowns, which is third behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Johnson's seven. 4 The Illini also have 16 touchdown-scoring drives of five plays or less, which ranks seventh nationally.
KING OF THE HOUSE
Juice Williams has accomplished a feat unprecedented in history. In three games this season (Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota), he has set Stadium records in total offense numbers.
Williams passed for 451 yards and rushed for 10 against Missouri on Aug. 30 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo., eclipsing the 456 yards posted by Rams quarterback Marc Bulger against the New York Jets in 2004. Others that Williams surpassed include Kansas State's Michael Bishop, who had 442 total yards in the 1998 Big 12 championship game, and Tommy Corwin, who had 453 for DeSmet in a high school state title game in 2005. Williams managed to surpass Bulger's best day despite being sacked five times by Missouri for a loss of 42 yards. In college, sacks count against a quarterback's rushing yards but in the NFL they don't.
Williams compiled 431 yards of total offense at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 4, which is a Michigan Stadium record. One week later on Oct. 11 against Minnesota, Williams threw for 462 yards and rushed for another 41, making his 503 total yards an Illinois Memorial Stadium record.
Based on research collected by Division I SIDs, there are no other current players who own stadium records in more than one venue, much less three.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Illinois' four losses have come to teams with a combined record of 27-9 (Missouri 7-2, Penn State 9-0, Minnesota 7-2, Wisconsin 4-5).
Four of Illinois' 11 FBS opponents are ranked in the top-25 - Penn State (2), Ohio State (12), Missouri (13), Northwestern (25).
Illinois' three FBS non-conference opponents have a combined record of 18-7. Missouri is ranked 13th at 7-2, Louisiana-Lafayette is 5-3 and Western Michigan is 6-2.
Against third-ranked and undefeated Penn State, the Illini offense posted over 350 total yards, the only team to do so this year. Illinois also put up 24 points, the most scored against PSU this season.
Illinois has played the 26th-toughest schedule in the NCAA, according to the latest Sagarin ratings.
WESTERN MICHIGAN SERIES NOTES
This week's game marks the third meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Western Michigan Broncos. Illinois won both previous match-ups, 60-14 in 1947 and 30-27 in 2004. Both of those games were in Champaign.
Western Michigan defensive line coach Peter McCarty was the defensive tackles coach at Illinois from 1997-2000 under former Illini coach Ron Turner.
Illinois sophomore safety Garrett Edwards and WMU junior defensive tackle Cody Cielenski both attended Downers Grove North High School.
ILLINOIS VS. THE MAC
Illinois is 6-1 all-time against the Mid-American Conference. The most recent meeting with a MAC opponent was last season, when the Illini beat Ball State, 28-17, in Champaign. Illinois also has MAC victories over Akron (1996), Northern Illinois (2001), Ohio (1950) and Western Michgian (1947, 2004), with the lone loss coming to Ohio in 2006. All previous meetings with MAC opponents have been in Champaign.
RECORDS TO WATCH
Juice Williams needs 11 yards to move into the top-14 on the all-time rushing list in the Illinois record books.
Williams needs 160 rushing yards to break the 2,000-yard mark. He would be the 14th player in school history to top 2,000 and the first non-running back.
Williams already holds the Illinois season record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 775 last year, but needs 247 yards in his final three regular season games to beat that mark.
Williams needs 1,127 yards to move to second on the career total offense list.
Williams needs 722 yards to break the Illinois season total offense record.
Receiver Arrelious Benn needs three receptions to move to ninth on the Illinois top-10 career catches list. 4 Benn needs 443 yards to break the Illinois single-season receiving yards record.
Running back Daniel Dufrene needs 167 rushing yards to break the career 1,000-yard mark.
Linebacker Brit Miller needs a half tackle for loss to move into the career top-10.
Center Ryan McDonald is three starts away from tying the school record for most starts in a career and four away from breaking the mark.
ILLINOIS ON A "JOURNEY"
The Big Ten Network original series Illinois Football: The Journey airs each Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. CT/9:30 p.m. ET. The 10th show of the season, which airs on Nov. 4, shows Illinois behind the scenes in its game against Wisconsin. The episode will give viewers a look at Ryan McDonald and his family as well as a trip to Dance 101 class with Troy Pollard and Mikel LeShoure.
New episodes will air at 8:30 p.m. CT/9:30 p.m. ET every Tuesday during the football season, with the previous week's show preceding the new episode. Viewers can follow The Journey online with a producer's diary, bonus video clips, photos, archived segments and a five-minute video preview of the season premiere by visiting www.BigTenNetwork.com/Journey.
BIG TEN 1,000-YARD RUSHERS
The Big Ten boasts 11 career 1,000-yard rushers. Illinois quarterback Juice Williams ranks sixth among active players and is tops among the two quarterbacks in the rankings. Indiana's Kellen Lewis is the only other signal-caller on the list.
Juice Williams ranks first in the Big Ten in passing and total offense, second in passing efficiency, 12th in rushing and is the only quarterback in the country to hold three stadium records (total offense in the Edward Jones Dome, Michigan Stadium and Illinois' Memorial Stadium).
Williams has twice been named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week this season. He earned the honor for his performance at Michigan after posting 431 yards of total offense against the Wolverines, breaking a Michigan Stadium record, and against Missouri after throwing for a career-high five TDs and 451 yards on a career-high 26 completions. His 451 passing yards rank fourth all-time at Illinois. He out-passed Chase Daniel 451 yards to 323 and threw two more TDs than the Missouri Heisman candidate.
With 310 yards passing and 121 yards rushing vs. Michigan on Oct. 4, Williams became just the third player in Big Ten history to rack up over 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in single game. He joins Northwestern's Zak Kustok (421 passing, 111 rushing vs. Bowling Green on 11/17/2001) and Michigan State's Drew Stanton (308 passing, 102 rushing vs. Minnesota on 10/16/2004) in the Big Ten record books. Williams accomplished the feat for the 24th time in NCAA history and is the only player in the nation to do it this year. It was also the first time in school history.
Williams now owns two of the top-5 spots in the Illinois record books for passing yardage in a game with his 462 yards vs. Minnesota and 451 vs. Missouri. He is third and fourth behind Dave Wilson's 621 yards (11/8/80) and Tony Eason's 479 (10/23/82). He also holds three of the top-10 in total offense - 2nd, 503 vs. Minnesota; 4th, 461 vs. Minnesota; 7th, 431 at Michigan.
Williams has four career TD passes of 69 or more yards, the most by any quarterback in school history. Jack Trudeau and Tony Eason are the only other two Illini QBs to throw two TD passes of 69 or more yards and there have only been 15 such plays in school history.
Williams' 272 passing yards against Iowa marks his ninth game over 200 yards. His 462 yards vs. Minnesota was his third over 300 and second over 400.
Williams is averaging 15.1 yards per completion this season, with a high of 23.8 vs. Michigan. That average ranks fourth in the nation behind David Johnson of Tulsa (17.3), Robinson of Oklahoma State's (16.14) and Sam Bradford of Oklahoma's (15.2).
Williams has rushed for over 100 yards six times in his career and twice this season.
Williams' leads the Big Ten and ranks 19th in the NCAA in passing efficiency with 148.1 for the season, which is on pace to break the Illinois single-season record in the category. His quarterback efficiency against Indiana was 221.20, the sixth-best single-game rating in school history.
Williams' 77-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland against Michigan was the longest play from scrimmage this season for the Illini and the longest Illinois reception since 1985, when Cap Boso caught an 83-yarder from Jack Trudeau.
Williams has put together three perfect passing quarters this season, the latest being a 5-for-5 third-quarter outing for 47 yards against Indiana. He was 4-of-4 through the air for 68 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter at Penn State and completed 5-of-5 passes for 67 yards in the third quarter against Eastern Illinois on Sept. 6.
Williams became just the fourth quarterback in Illinois history to throw for five or more touchdowns in a game, joining Dave Wilson (6), Tom O'Connell (5) and Jeff George (5) with his five-touchdown performance against Missouri.
Williams has accounted for 72.4 percent of Illinois' first downs for the season, 131-of-181, rushing for 28 and passing for 103. He engineered 92.9 percent of the Illinos' first downs vs. Iowa, 92.0 percent vs. Minnesota and 91.7 percent vs. Missouri.
15th - career rushing yards (1,840) - needs 11 for 14th
3rd - career total offense (7,513) - 1,127 for 2nd
7th - season total offense (2,950) - 10 for 6th / 33 for 5th / 292 for 4th
5th - career passing yardage (5,673) - 1,358 for 4th
8th - career pass completions (418) - needs 14 for 7th
6th - career pass attempts (802) - needs 17 for 5th
4th - career passing touchdowns (41) - needs 1 for 3rd
6th - season passing touchdowns (19) - needs 1 for 5th / 2 for 4th / 3 for 3rd
1st - career rushing yards by a quarterback (1,840)
1st - season rushing yards by a quarterback, 2007 (755) - already holds record
2nd - season rushing yards by a quarterback, 2006 (576) - record was broken in 2007
3rd - season rushing yards by a quarterback, 2008 (509) - needs 67 yards for 2nd
Sophomore wide receiver Arrelious Benn has caught at least one pass in all 22 games of his Illini career thus far.
Illini receiver Arrelious Benn is a candidate for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's best receiver.
Benn is averaging 5.9 catches per game, which is the most for an Illini receiver since Brandon Lloyd averaged
6.2 catches per contest in 2002. He also is averaging 92.9 receiving yards per game, which ranks second in the Big Ten.
Benn recorded four straight 100-yard receiving games earlier this year, (4-110 at Penn State, 6-122 at Michigan, 12-181 vs. Minnesota, 7-130 vs. Indiana). It was the first time an Illinois player has put together four consecutive 100-yard receiving games in school history. He also has recorded 90 yards or more on six occasions this year.
With two catches vs. Wisconsin, Benn reached the 100-reception mark for his career, the first time an Illini has reached the milestone since the trio of receivers in 2002 (Greg Lewis, Walter Young and Brandon Lloyd).
Benn had a career day against Minnesota, compiling a career-high 12 catches for 181 yards, which marked the fifth-most receiving yards in a game in Illinois history. His 181 yards were the most by an Illini since David Williams racked up a school-record 208 yards on Sept. 1, 1984.
Benn's 12 catches against Minnesota marked the the third-most in school history and were the most by an Illini since Brandon Lloyd caught 13 passes against Northwestern on Nov. 22, 2001.
He is averaging 92.9 receiving yards per game, which ranks second in the Big Ten and his 114 yards per conference game leads the league. He has scored five touchdowns - two rushing and three receiving.
Benn has converted first downs on 41 of his 53 catches (77.4 percent) and is a near-perfect 12-for-13 converting on third downs (93.7).
Benn was the 2007 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and earned honorable mention Freshman All-America honors after he broke Illinois' freshman receiving and receptions record.
Senior Brit Miller, a four-year starter at linebacker, leads the Big Ten in tackles through nine games with 10.4 per game, which is eighth nationally.
Miller also is averaging 1.6 tackles for loss per game, which ranks ninth in the NCAA.?
Miller earned his first Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honor after his performance at Michigan. He recorded nine tackles, four for loss and two sacks. The four tackles for loss ranked 10th in the Illinois record book.
Miller scored his first defensive touchdown when he stripped Louisiana-Lafayette's quarterback and returned it 27 yards for the score.
Miller recorded his fifth sack of the season and had one additional half tackle-for-loss against Wisconsin, which brings his career tackles-for-loss total to 31.5, making him just a half-TFL shy of the Illinois top-10 list. Miller set a career high in tackles with 16 vs. the Badgers, besting his previous high of 13 vs. Louisiana earlier in 2008.
Miller is nominated for the Ronnie Lott award, which combines athletic excellence with off-the-field character. He also was named to the American Football Coaches Association's Good Works team. Miller is a staple in the Champaign and Decatur communities, volunteering every week with elementary and middle schools, military veterans and children's hospitals.
Sophomore receiver Arrelious Benn has caught a pass in every game of his career, 21, since he was a true-freshman in 2007. He leads a group of receivers that is averaging of 17.6 catches per game. Here is a list of the receivers and their current reception streaks (2 or more games):
Vontae Davis - Thorpe, Nagurski, Bednarik: Davis intercepted a pass in the final seconds to seal a 27-24 victory over Iowa last week. For the season, he is tied for the conference lead in forced fumbles with three and leads the Illini in passes defended with eight. He is averaging 6.4 tackles per game, which ranks 17th in the Big Ten, and has 5.5 TFLs, one interception, one QB hurry and one fumble recovery in nine games this season. Last year, Davis was the only sophomore on the semifinal list for the Jim Thorpe Award. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2007 and earlier this year was named to the Playboy All-America team.
Will Davis - Hendricks: Davis has 26 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, three sacks, two QB hurries, two pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a blocked field goal this year. He is now tied for ninth on the Illinois career sacks list with 14.5. He was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2007 after leading the team in tackles for loss with 12.5 and sacks with 9.5.
Ryan McDonald - Rimington, Draddy: McDonald is in his fourth year as a starter on the offensive line. He has helped pave the way for Illinois' powerful offensive attack, which ranks first in the Big Ten in passing yards (272.3 ypg) and second in total offense (448.1 ypg) and scoring (33.0 ppg). The Illini offense has piled up over 500 yards in five games this season, including a season-high 563 total yards against Indiana on Oct 18. Last season, he started every game for an offensive line that posted the best rushing and total offensive numbers in school history and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. The line also set a school mark for fewest sacks allowed in a year with 1.23 per game. In his first two years as starting center for the Illini, the offense led the Big Ten in rushing.
Xavier Fulton: Fulton is in his second year as a starter on the offensive line. He has helped pave the way for Illinois' powerful offensive attack, which ranks first in the Big Ten in passing yards (272.3 ypg) and second in total offense (448.1 ypg) and scoring (33.0 ppg). The Illini offense has piled up over 500 yards in five games this season, including a season-high 563 total yards against Indiana on Oct 18. In 2007, he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in his first year on the offensive line. He played a team-high 997 offensive snaps last year and led the team with 109 knockdowns. He also was instrumental in protecting QB Juice Williams and allowing only 1.23 sacks per game.
Martez Wilson - Butkus: Wilson is averaging 7.3 tackles per game, which ranks second on the team and 13th in the Big Ten so far this season. He also has 5.5 TFLs, 3.0 sacks, two pass break-ups, five QB hurries, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in nine games this year. Prior to the season, Wilson was added to the Butkus Watch List before even starting a game at Illinois. His athleticism has earned him the nickname of "Freak 2" and he runs a 4.4 40.
KEEPING UP WITH THE DAVISES
Illinois defenders Vontae and Will Davis (no relation) are two of the leaders on the Illinois defense.
Vontae, a two-year starting cornerback earned unanimous first-team Freshman All-America honors in 2006 and emerged as one of the best corners in the Big Ten last season, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. He is a 2008 Playboy All-American, ranks 17th in the Big Ten in tackles, has totaled six interceptions and 21 passes broken up in his career, while also blocking two punts.
Will, a senior defensive end, exploded last season with 9.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He was named second-team All-Big Ten and was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after his four-sack, five-TFL performance vs. Indiana. This season, he broke into the Illinois all-time quarterback sack list and ranks ninth with 14.5 career sacks. He has totaled 26 tackles, 5.5 for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble this year.
ILLINI ON THE RUN
The Illini offense rushed for 292 yards against Indiana, marking the second time this season they have surpassed the 200-yard mark in a game (399 vs. Eastern Illinois, 292 vs. Indiana).
QB Juice Williams and RB Daniel Dufrene combine for 123.9 rushing yards per game with 1,048 total yards this year. Dufrene ranks seventh in the Big Ten with 67.4 yards and Williams is rushing for 56.6 ypg, which is 12th in the conference.
With 121 yards against Michigan, Williams rushed for over 100 yards for the sixth time in his career and second time this season. He ranks 15th on the Illinois all-time rushing list with 1,840 yards.
True-freshman running back Jason Ford broke out against Indiana, rushing for 172 yards and three touchdowns. His yards are the second-most by a freshman at Illinois behind Rocky Harvey's 215 against Middle Tennessee in 1998. They are the most by an Illini freshman against a Big Ten team.
Five of Illinois' 2008 starters came to Illinois on a different path than the one they currently find themselves.
Wide receiver Chris Duvalt spent his first two seasons as an Illini at cornerback. He played a key role on special teams, but was spending too much time behind other players. This spring, he gave offense a try and the rest is history. He made an impact with three touchdown catches in eight games. He is averaging 14.9 yards a catch.
Junior Rahkeem Smith played a season as a linebacker before seeing a straight shot to a starting role at fullback.
Senior Will Davis came to Illinois as a 235-pound tight end, but quickly saw a chance at success on the defensive side of the ball with his addition of 40 pounds and a move to defensive end. In four seasons, he has totaled 22 tackles for loss, 14.5 quarterback sacks and 19 hurries.
One of the most immediately effective moves came before the 2007 season when former defensive end Xavier Fulton switched to offensive tackle and earned All-Big Ten honors that same season. In his only year as a starter, the offensive line set new school records for total offense and rushing yards. This season, the Illini are curently ranked No. 1 in the conference in passing and second in total offense in scoring.
Jeff Cumberland moved from tight end to receiver in the middle of last season. As a receiver in his final four games of 2007, he caught 11 passes for 221 yards, including 131 yards against Northwestern. He has played in seven games this season after sitting out the beginning of the year with a foot injury. He caught his first pass of the season against Michigan, a 77-yard touchdown reception, the longest play from scrimmage in 2008 and the longest pass play since 1983. After seven games played, Cumberland has nine catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns.
NATIONAL CONSECUTIVE STARTS
Illinois senior center Ryan McDonald has started 45 consecutive games during his four-year career. That number is among the best in the nation, ranking as the fourth-longest active streak. It ranks as the sixth-best in Illinois history and with starts in the final three games of the regular season, McDonald will tie Tim Simpson with the school record.
Illinois has scored 40 points or more four times in 2008 - 55 vs. Indiana, 45 at Michigan, 47 vs. Eastern Illinois and 42 against Missouri. The 55-point game vs. Indiana is the highest in the Ron Zook era at Illinois and the third-most by a Ron Zook-coached team (65 and 63 by Florida).
Illinois' 55 points scored against Indiana are the most Illinois has ever scored in a Big Ten game at Memorial Stadium (previous high was 50 in a 50-0 shutout over Iowa in 1973) and the most points the UI has scored in a conference game since winning at Northwestern, 63-14, in 1989.
The Fighting Illini have thrived in the second and third quarters this season, outscoring their opponents 144-81 over those two stanzas.
Illinois scored 45 points against Michigan, the most the Illini have put up against the Wolverines in school history, and the most points against Michigan in the Big House since 1991 when Florida State scored 51. It also was the most points scored by a Big Ten opponent at Michigan Stadium since Ohio State won, 50-20, in 1961.
The Illinois offense has put up over 500 yards in five of its nine games of 2008. The Illini posted 532 against Missouri, 533 against EIU, 501 at Michigan, 550 vs. Minnesota and 563 against Indiana. It was the first time since 2002 that the Illini have had 500 yards or more in three consecutive games.
The Illini passed for 451 yards against Missouri and 462 yards vs. Minnesota, marking the third-and fourth-best passing performances in Illinois history.
In nine games, the offense has put together 55 big plays over 20 yards, including 15 over 40 yards. Among those 55 are 36 big passing plays and 15 rushes (two special teams and two defense). Illinois has six touchdowns this season on plays of more than 50 yards, which ranks third nationally.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui is emerging as a first-down machine. Out of his 17 catches so far this season, 14 have gone for first downs and two others were touchdowns. Hoomanawanui has become a much larger part of the Illinois offense in his third season, with 17 catches and 233 yards so far in 2008 after catching just five passes for 64 yards in his first two seasons combined.
Senior receiver Will Judson made the most out of his first collegiate start vs. Missouri, hauling in five catches for 177 yards. Of his 20 catches for the year, 13 have converted first downs.
Judson and Chris Duvalt each hauled in two touchdown receptions in the season opener against Missouri, marking the first time since the 2002 Sugar Bowl that Illinois had two receivers with two TDs catches in a game (Walter Young and Brandon Lloyd vs. LSU).
The 94 total points scored by Missouri and Illinois (52-42) marks the highest combined scoring game in school history.
Junior safety Donsay Hardeman had his first interception of his career last Saturday against Iowa.
The Fighting Illini defense leads the Big Ten in quarterback sacks with 30 (3.33 per game). The Illini have posted double-digit tackles for loss numbers in three games this year, racking up 11 tackles for loss against Mchigan and Louisiana-Lafayette and 10 vs. Iowa. Five times this year the Illini have posted four or more sacks (against Wisconsin, Michigan, Eastern Illinois, Indiana and Iowa).
The defensive line features a rotation of nine players with those guys accounting for 37.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks through nine games. Ends Derek Walker, Doug Pilcher and Will Davis and tackle David Lindquist are veteran returning starters. From those four, the Illini defense has gotten 100 tackles, 25.5 for loss and 15 sacks this season.
The Illinois defense has held opponent offenses on seven-of-12 fourth-down attempts for the season.
Illinois has scored three defensive touchdowns this year. In the season opener against Missouri, Derek Walker intercepted a screen pass by Chase Daniel and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown. The defense scored its second touchdown of the season, against Louisiana-Lafayette, when linebacker Brit Miller stripped an option handoff from Louisiana's quarterback and returned it 27 yards for the score. The third came against Iowa with cornerback Dere Hicks' sack, forced fumble and seven-yard return for a touchdown.
The defense has forced 17 turnovers this season - five interceptions and 12 fumbles. DE Derek Walker, LB Brit Miller and DBs Dere Hicks, Donsay Hardeman and Vontae Davis each have one interception, and 10 different Illini players have recovered fumbles for Illinois this year. Illinois' aggressive defense has forced a whopping 17 fumbles in nine games, falling on 12 of them. The Fighting Illini have surpassed last year's eight fumbles recovered (forced 19).
Junior college transfer safety Donsay Hardeman returned from an injury, which kept him out of the first three games of the season, to start in the Big Ten opener against Penn State. In six games, he has recorded 32 tackles, including 22 solos, one interception, a tackle for loss and has forced and recovered a fumble.
The Illini defense is allowing just 3.5 yards per carry and has held three teams under 100 yards rushing this season, including Louisiana-Lafayette, who currently ranks third the nation in rushing with 301.3 yards per game. The Illini kept the Ragin' Cajuns under 100 with 87 yards and star running back Tyrell Fenroy to just 20 yards (now ranks fifth in the nation with 131.4 ypg).
Michigan averaged 2.0 yards per carry on the ground for 69 total rushing yards in the game, while Minnesota managed just 88 yards, 2.7 yards per carry. Despite Wisconsin's 163 yards on the ground, the Badgers averaged just 3.6 yards per rush and Iowa posted just 3.5 yards per carry.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
True-freshman receiver A.J. Jenkins has quickly emerged as a solid kick returner and recorded his first touchdown with a 96-yard return against Indiana. With many of the teams kicking away from Arrelious Benn, Jenkins has picked up 17 returns in nine games. He is averaging 24.2 yards per return, which ranks fourth in the league and 43rd in the nation.
Jenkins and Arrelious Benn put together back-to-back games with kickoff returns of over 60 yards with Jenkins' 96-yarder vs. Indiana and Benn's 63-yarder at Wisconsin.
Illinois features a new kicking battery of snapper Tad Keely, holder, Jared Bosch, and kicker, Matt Eller. Eller, in nine games, has been successful for 11 field goals, including a 51-yarder vs. ULL, and 34-of-36 extra points. Eller leads the team in scoring and ranks eighth in the league with 7.4 points per game.
Eller kicked a 46-yard field goal with 24 seconds remaining to seal the victory against Iowa. It marked Illinois' first game-winning field goal in the final minute since Jason Reda hit a 39-yarder with six seconds left at Michigan State on Sept. 30, 2006, for a 23-20 win and the first at Memorial Stadium since 1991.
Defensive end Will Davis blocked a field goal attempt at Michigan. It was Illinois' first blocked field goal since 2005 when Chris Norwell blocked one against California on Sept. 17.
ILLINI IN THE NATIONAL RANKINGS
Illinois dropped out of the top-25 after being ranked for the first five weeks of the season. Before falling to undefeated No. 3 Penn State, the Illini had spent seven consecutive weeks in the polls, dating back to the 2007 season. That number was the most since the 1989, '90 and '91 squads put together 24 consecutive weeks in the top-25 and ranked as the fourth-longest streak in Illinois history.
HE'S A ROCKET SCIENTIST
Maybe you don't have to be a rocket scientist to play football, but Illinois senior center Ryan McDonald thinks it doesn't hurt. In four years, McDonald finished an undergraduate degree in aeronautical engineering with a 3.83 GPA. After completing a bachelor's degree and having one more year of eligibility remaining, McDonald began a master's degree in the same program this fall. Illinois' College of Engineering is ranked among the top-5 in the nation, with some programs notching the top spot.
DAVIS' FAMILY INSTRUMENTAL IN LIBERIAN GOVERNMENT
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 (Chief of Staff). 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.
HOOMANAWANUI HONORING HIS POLYNESIAN DECENT
Junior tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, while growing up in Bloomington, Ill., lived much of the Hawaiian heritage passed down by his father, Isy. Isy came to the mainland to play football at Illinois State then stayed to raise his family.
When Michael came to Illinois, he began many of the traditions carried on by Polynesian and Samoan football players. He entered his freshman year with clean-cut short hair, but then began to grow it out to the long black mane that can be seen out the backs of football helmets. This tradition dates back to Samoan warriors to signify battle. It also is very noticeable to the public in the stands and draws attention to their heritage.
Hoomanamwanui also has three tattoos, called Aumakua, which means "protectors." His family's protectors are the shark and the turtle, two images that have been passed down for centuries and are now tattoos on Michael's arms and shoulders.
Michael also can be seen on campus wearing what looks to be a brightly adorned skirt. However, it is called a kikepa and is traditional dress for men in Hawaii.
BO KNOWS FOOTBALL ... AND BASEBALL
Sophomore safety Bo Flowers turned 24 the day after Illinois' upset of Ohio State last season and he is the oldest player on the Illini roster. Flowers began his college career last 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.
On this year's Illini football roster, there are five members who are direct descendents of Africa. Starting left guard Jon Asamoah's father, Samual Asamoah, is from Ghana in West Africa, and senior defensive end Will Davis' mother is from Liberia, while four others' parents are Nigerian. Newcomers Supo Sanni, Ugochukwu Uzodinma, Chudi Aguanunu and Wisdom Onyegbule's parents were born and raised in Nigeria, also in West Africa. Sanni's parents are Sesis and Olarunji Sanni, Uzodinma's parents are Florence and Joel Uzodinma, Aguanunu's parents are Chika and Kate Aguanunu, and Onyegbule's parents are Onyemuwa and Grace Onyegbule.
ILLINOIS VS. RANKED OPPONENTS
Illinois has faced two current top-20 teams early in the season, losing to No. 13 Missouri in the season opener and No. 2 Penn State in game four. Two of Illinois' final three opponents are ranked in the top-25, No. 12 Ohio State and No. 25 Northwestern.
Last season, the Illini were 3-2 vs. top-25 opponents and 2-1 against top-10 foes (wins over No. 19 Penn State, No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 1 Ohio State and losses to No. 24 Michigan and No. 7 USC). In the Ron Zook era, the Illini are 3-10 against ranked teams.
In his seven years as a head coach, Ron Zook has posted nine wins over ranked opponents.
TV SHOW GETS OVERHAUL
The 2008 edition of the Ron Zook TV Show has seen a complete overhaul. Not only can it be seen on a brand-new network, WICD/WICS, but it sports a format unlike any other coaches' show. The Ron Zook Show features the latest and best in graphics and creative video. Each week, Zook and the show's host Brian Barnhart will discuss the previous week's game, issues in college football and the current Illini team in a Sportscenter-like format. The show begins with a recap of the game and ends with a quick-hitting music video. This year's show is sponsored by Dish Network.