Football
Illinois (7-3, 4-2) at #1 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0)

 
The 2007 Illinois team will be Ron Zook's fourth squad in his six seasons as a head coach to play in a bowl game.
The 2007 Illinois team will be Ron Zook's fourth squad in his six seasons as a head coach to play in a bowl game.
 

Nov. 5, 2007



STORY LINES

  • With its 44-17 win over Minnesota last weekend, the Illini posted their seventh win of the season. It is the most wins since the 2001 Big Ten Championship team won 10 games. It is also the 27th time in school history a team has had a seven-plus win season.
  • Illinois is 3-14 against No. 1 opponents as it heads into its 18th appearance against the top-ranked. The last win over a No. 1 opponent was in 1956 when the Illini defeated Michigan State, 20-13.
  • The Illini offense is facing its third top-15 rushing defense this season. Ohio State is allowing just 65 yards per game, which ranks third nationally. In the two prior meetings, Illinois went head-to-head with then- 12th-ranked Indiana (allowing 71.3 ypg) and then-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. Ohio State's total defense and scoring defense are the nation's best at 221.2 ypc and 9.7 ppg.
  • Rashard Mendenhall has 1,314 rushing yards in 2007 and needs 17 to break the Illinois single-season rushing record, held by Antoineo Harris when he rushed for 1,330 in 2002. With 201 yards against Minnesota, Rashard Mendenhall surpassed the 2,000-yard mark for his career.
  • Mendenhall has recorded six 100-yard rushing game this season, tying the school record held by Jim Grabowski (1965) and J.C. Caroline (1953). One more 100-yard rushing game and he will be the sole owner of the mark.
  • The Illinois defense has recorded 34 sacks this season, which ranks 10th in the nation. With seven more quarterback sacks in the final three games, the squad could break the school record of 40, which was posted by the 2001 squad.
  • The Illinois offensive line is allowing only one sack per game, which is tops in the Big Ten and tied for ninth in the NCAA. The line has started the same five in each of the first 10 games.
  • Illinois leads the Big Ten in rushing and ranks sixth in the NCAA. The Illini are averaging 261.3 yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry this season. Only Arkansas (6.4) and West Virginia (6.1) have rushed for more yards per carry than the Illini this season.
  • The Illini offense broke the school record for most rushing yards in a season in just 10 games. With 448 yards at Minnesota, Illinois moved up to 2,613 yards for the year, which beat out the 2,590 yards compiled by the 1972 team. The 448-yard performance was the fifth best in school history.
  • The Illini offense racked up 655 yards of total offense, which was the fourth-highest single-game output in the Illinois record books.
  • True-sophomore cornerback Vontae Davis has been named to the Jim Thorpe Award semifinal list. He is the only sophomore on the list, as well as one of only two Big Ten players (Malcolm Jenkins, OSU). He has four interceptions, seven passes broken up and two blocked punts this year.
  • Senior placekicker Jason Reda earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his 14-point performance against Minnesota. He made a season-high three field goals and was a perfect 5-for-5 on extra points. He hit his third 50-yard field goal of the season against the Gophers.


Quarterback Juice Williams (center) has been protected well this season by Ryan McDonald (60), Martin O'Donnell (64) and their teammates on the offensive line that has yielded just one sack per game, a figure that leads the Big Ten.


FOR OPENERS

  • Illinois coach Ron Zook is in his sixth year as a head coach and has produced four bowl-eligible teams during that time.
  • Illinois' 44 points scored at Minnesota are the most in the Ron Zook era, passing the 42 points scored against Eastern Illinois on Sept. 2, 2006.
  • 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 45 votes by the coaches and 27 by the AP.
  • With his 97 yards vs. Ball State, Benn set a new Illinois freshman receiving record. He now has 573 receiving yards, besting Brandon Lloyd's 511 yards in 1999. With his four-catch performance at Minneosta, Benn set the freshman reception record as well with 46 catches, breaking Ty Douthard's 43 catch-mark set during his freshman year in 1993.
  • Juice Williams rushed for 99 yards vs. Ball State to push him over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for his career. He is the only 1,000-yard rushing quarterback in school history. He already holds the school record for single-season rushing yards by a quarterback with 576 and is just nine yards from breaking that record this year (568).
  • Three Illini earned midseason All-America honors from CBSSportsline.com, SportsIllustrated.com, Rivals.com 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 SI.com. Senior offensive guard Martin O'Donnell took second-team honors on Steele's list.
  • With 102 tackles in 10 games, senior linebacker J Leman is ranked 27th in the nation in tackles per game. Ranked fourth in the Big Ten, Leman is averaging 10.2 stops per game. This is the first week in the last 18 that he has not been the conference leader in tackles.
  • 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. 7/9, Michigan is No. 13/14 and Penn State is 25th in the USA Today/Coaches poll. Wisconsin is receiving votes. According to the NCAA, the Illini have the 11th-toughest schedule in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
  • 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 seven of its 10 games this season. In each of those seven games, the Illini have finished the game victorious.
  • The Illini are 4-1 at Memorial Stadium this season, which is the best home record since the 2001 team went 6-0.
  • The Illini have had four 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. This week, placekicker Jason Reda earned the special teams award for his 14-point, three-field goal performance at Minnesota.


THE BATTLE FOR THE ILLIBUCK

  • This week, Illinois and Ohio State will play for the coveted Illibuck Trophy. Ohio State leads the "Illibuck" series with a 56-22-2 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 did not meet in 2003 or 2004. The Illini have lost games to the Bucks in 2005 and 2006.


ILLINOIS VS. NO. 1

  • This will be the 18th meeting between Illinois and a No. 1 ranked team. In those games, Illinois is 3-14 against No. 1's with all three of those victories coming at Memorial Stadium. The Illini haven't defeated a No. 1 team since 1956.
  • Of those 17 games against No. 1 ranked teams, Ohio State was the opponent nine times, including the last No. 1 to come to Memorial Stadium. In 2006, Ohio State was the unanimous No. 1 team and the Illini dropped a tight 17-10 game to the Buckeyes. The Illini outgained then No. 1 OSU, 233-224, and held the Bucks to their fewest points scored that season. Ohio State jumped out to a 17-0 lead on the Illini at halftime, but Illinois closed the gap to 17-10 with two fourth-quarter scores, while keeping the Buckeyes scoreless in the second half.
  • Here is a list of all 17 of Illinois games vs. No. 1 teams:
    Nov. 4, 2006 vs. Ohio State L 17-10
    Nov. 16, 2002 vs. Ohio State L 23-16
    Oct. 10, 1988 vs. Ohio State L 41-0
    Nov. 8, 1975 vs. Ohio State L 40-3
    Nov. 2, 1974 at Ohio State L 49-7
    Nov. 3, 1973 vs. Ohio State L 30-0
    Sept. 23, 1972 vs. Southern Cal L 55-20
    Oct. 16, 1971 vs. Michigan L 35-6
    Oct. 24, 1970 vs. Ohio State L 48-29
    Oct. 25, 1969 at Ohio State L 41-0
    Oct. 1, 1966 vs. Michigan State L 26-10
    Oct. 27, 1956 vs. Michigan State W 20-13
    Nov. 5, 1955 vs. Michigan W 25-6
    Nov. 18, 1950 vs. Ohio State W 14-7
    Oct. 30, 1948 at Michigan L 28-20
    Oct. 23, 1943 at Notre Dame L 47-0
    Oct. 11, 1941 at Minnesota L 34-6


OHIO STATE SERIES NOTES

  • Saturday's game marks the 94th meeting between these two teams, dating back to 1902. Ohio State holds the series lead 60-29-4. OSU also holds the series lead in Columbus, 26-17-4.
  • This will be Ron Zook's third head-to-head meeting with Ohio State, losing his first two games to OSU, 40-2 in 2005 and 17-10 in 2006. Buckeye coach Jim Tressel is 3-1 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.
  • Illini offensive line coach Eric Wolford is an Ohio native from Youngstown and special teams coach Mike Woodford hails from Niles, Ohio.
  • In the last six meetings between these two teams, the series has been a very competitive one. The Illini have won twice in Columbus (1999, 2001), lost 17-10 to No. 1 OSU in 2006, fell 40-2 in Columbus (2005), lost in overtime (2002), fell on a last-second field goal (2000) in Champaign.
  • The Illini have faced a ranked Ohio State team on 34 occasions in the series history and are 10-24 vs. the Buckeyes in those contests (dating back to 1942 when rankings were recorded in Illinois archives).
  • Illinois has 12 players on its roster from the state of Ohio, including the following players who have seen time on the field in 2007: sophomore wide receiver Jeff Cumberland (Columbus/Brookhaven), freshman receiver Brian Gamble (Massillon/Washngton), sophomore defensive end Antonio James (Massillon/Washington), sophomore receiver Joe Morgan (Canton/McKinley), senior defensive tackle Chris Norwell (Cincinnati/Anderson), freshman offensive lineman Ryan Palmer (Canton/Glen Oak), freshman linebacker Erique Robertson (Maple Heights), senior linebacker Antonio Steele (Cleveland/St. Peter Chanel) and junior defensive tackle Sirod Williams (Garfield Heights)


ILLINI HIGHLIGHTS VS. OHIO STATE

  • In 2005, safety Kevin Mitchell returned a botched OSU PAT 75 yards for a defensive two-point conversion and followed that up with seven tackles and an interception in the 2006 game.
  • In 2006, linebacker J Leman recorded 19 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss against the then-No. 1 Buckeyes, which earned him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.


RECORDS TO WATCH

  • With one more rushing touchdown, Rashard Mendenhall will tie Howard Griffith's 15-touchdown season in 1990 for the school record for rushing touchdowns in a season. He scored two times vs. Minnesota to bring his total touchdown mark to 16 this season, which broke the school record for overall touchdowns in a year.
  • Mendenhall has 1,540 all-purpose yards this season, which ranks third on the Illinois list. With 278 more yards, he will own the school record, passing running back Keith Jones' 1,818 yards in 1988.
  • Mendenhall needs 22 rushing yards to move into the eighth on the school's all-time rushing list and 313 to jump to seventh. In three seasons, he has accumulated 2,172 yards on the ground on just 318 carries, for a 6.8 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.
  • Senior kicker Jason Reda currently stands third on the Illinois career scoring list, needing 12 points to pass Chris Richardson for second. Reda needs 15 more points this season to become the career scoring leader.
  • Reda also is third on the career field goals list. He would need five more field goals to become the career field goal record holder.
  • Senior linebacker J Leman needs four 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.


THE GOLDEN LEG OF Jason Reda

  • Illinois placekicker Jason Reda is posting his best numbers of his career this season, hitting 13-of-14 field goal attempts, for a 92-percent accuracy rate. That rate ranks No. 1 on the Illinois single-season list. It is also the second-best in the Big Ten and ties for fourth-best in the nation. His 2006 numbers (15-19) for 79 percent rank sixth on the school top-10 list.
  • Reda also has made three 50-yard field goals this year (50, 50, 51), one of only three kickers in the country to accomplish that feat. (Swayze Water, UAB; Ryan Harrison, Air Force). In addition to those three over 50 yards, Reda has connected on four additional 45-plus field goals. The only other Illinois kicker to make three 50-yarders was Mike Bass in 1982 when he connected on 53, 52, 50 yarders.
  • Reda earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his 14-point performance against Minnesota. He made a season-high three field goals and was a perfect 5-for-5 on extra points.


MENDENHALL IN HUNT FOR DOAK WALKER AND MUCH MORE...

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.

NAME RECORD YPG NCAA RK YPC NCAA RK* TD ALL-PURPOSE NCAA RK
Mendenhall, ILL 7-3 131.4 8th 6.8 2nd 16 154.0 25th
McFadden, ARK 6-3 146.2 4th 5.9 11th 12 176.0 13th
Hart, Mich. 8-2 148.5 3rd 5.5 21st 12 153.9 26th
Hill, WIS 7-3 118.4 16th 5.0 40th 15 128.3 56th
Rice, RUT 5-4 139.7 6th 4.9 43rd 15 163.2 21st
Slaton, WVU 7-1 103.1 30th 5.5 23rd 14 142.3 35th
*min. 140 carries


FANTASTIC FRESHMAN

  • 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 already has caught 46 passes this season, the most for an Illini receiver since Kendrick Jones' 47 receptions in 2004. He has recorded 573 yards this season, 12.5 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 performance brought his season total to 556, besting Brandon Lloyd's 511 yards in 1999. With 46 catches, he broke Ty Douthard's freshman catch record of 43 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 Rivals.com.


GIANT KILLERS

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.


ILLINI LINEBACKER J Leman

  • 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 CBSSportsline.com, Sports Illustrated, Rivals.com 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 10 games. Currently, he is fourth in the Big Ten in tackles per contest with 10.2 after leading the conference 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.


Junior tailback Rashard Mendenhall needs just 17 yards to break the Illinois single-season rushing record.


CARRYING THE LOAD

  • 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 10 games, Mendenhall has rushed for 1,314 yards, averaging 131.4 ypg. He also is averaging 6.8 yards per carry and ranks eighth in the nation in rushing. Mendenhall has racked up six 100-yard rushing games this season, including two 200-yard performances.
  • Mendenhall put together back-to-back 175-yard plus performances with 189 yards vs. Ball State and 201 against Minnesota. It was the first time for an Illini running back since 2002 when Antoineo Harris had 195 vs. Purdue and 176 vs. Indiana.


BIG TEN 1,000-YARD RUSHERS

Through 10 games in the 2007 season, the Big Ten boasts 15 career 1,000 yard rushers. Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall ranks eighth among active running backs in the Big Ten. Illini quarterback Juice Williams became the 14th 1,000-yard rusher and first quarterback in the conference when he rushed for 99 yards vs. Ball State. He was joined this week by Indiana's Kellen Lewis as the only signal-callers on the list.

1. Mike Hart, Sr., Michigan - 4,861 yards
2. Albert Young, Sr., Iowa - 2,986 yards
3. Tyrell Sutton, Jr., Northwestern - 2,784 yards
4. P.J. Hill, So., Wisconsin - 2,635 yards
5. Javon Ringer, Jr., Michigan State - 2,528 yards
6. Amir Pinnix, Sr., Minnesota - 2,438 yards
7. Jehuu Caulcrick, Sr., Michigan State - 2,241 yards
8. Rashard Mendenhall, Jr., Illinois - 2,172 yards
9. Kory Sheets, Sr., Purdue - 2,020 yards
10. Chris Wells, So., Ohio State - 1,742 yards
11. Damian Sims, Sr., Iowa - 1,483 yards
12. Austin Scott, Sr., Penn State - 1,323 yards
13. Rodney Kinlaw, Sr., Penn State - 1,219 yards
14. Juice Williams, So., Illinois 1,147 yards
15. Kellen Lewis, So., Indiana 1,028 yards
-- Marcus Thigpen, Jr., Indiana 984 yards


FROM THE DIAMOND TO THE GRIDIRON

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)


KEEPING UP WITH THE DAVISES

Illinois defenders Vontae and Will Davis (no relation) are two of the bright spots on this Illini defense which ranks 22nd in rushing and 46th 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 has four interceptions and has seven passes broken up, which rank third and sixth, respectively. He also has blocked two punts this year. Will, a junior defensive end, 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 seventh in the Big Ten in quarterback sacks.


PULLING DOUBLE DUTY

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.


OFFENSIVE NOTES

  • The Illini have recorded six 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, had 469 vs. Ball State and a Zook-era best 655 at Minnesota. The 655 yards at Minnesota were the fourth-best in school history and the most since 1983.
  • The Illini have posted seven 200-yard rushing games this season with 277-yards against WIU, 378 at Syracuse, 288 at Indiana, 216 vs. Penn State, 289 vs. Wisconsin, 324 vs. Ball State and 448 at Minnesota. The 448 rushing yards vs. Minnesota were the best for an Illini squad since 467 yards were put up against Iowa in 1973. For the year, Illinois is averaging 261.3 yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry. So far, the team's per game rushing average is 72 yards better than a year ago when it won the Big Ten rushing title.
  • With Rashard Mendenhall (201) and Juice Williams (133) surpassing the 100-yard rushing mark against Minnesota, it marks the first time that the Illini have had two 100-yard rushers since Nov. 11, 2006 when Pierre Thomas and Williams did it against Purdue.
  • Last season, the Illini proved to have big-play ability with 49 plays over 20 yards. Through 10 games, the offense has topped that number with 53 (5.3 per game).
  • The Illini offense has faced two top-15 rushing defenses in 12th-ranked Indiana (allowing 71.3 ypg) and fifthranked 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 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).
  • 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.


Sophomore cornerback Vontae Davis was named a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist last week.


DEFENSIVE NOTES

  • The Illini defense has held four offenses under the 100-yard mark this season (Missouri-70; Western Illinois-81; Syracuse-63 and Minnesota-95).
  • After forcing only 20 turnovers last year as a defense, this year's campaign already is on pace to top that number. Through 10 games, the Illini have forced 19 turnovers - eight fumbles and 11 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 43 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 13 three-and-outs all season. The Illinois defense was responsible for five of those 13.
  • 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 (43), LB J Leman (38), SS Justin Harrison (33), DE Derek Walker (31), FS Kevin Mitchell (30), Brit Miller (23) and Antonio Steele (22).


SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES

  • Senior placekicker Jason Reda has made 13-of-14 field goal attempts of the year. After not attempting a kick in the first two games of the season, he has made 13 field goals in the last eight contests. He has connected on thre 50-yard field goals this season, the second and third-longest of his career (51 at Minnesota, 50 vs. Wisconsin and Syracuse). He also has made seven 45-plus field goals (47 vs. Penn State and Minnesota, 46 at Iowa and 45 vs. Indiana).
  • 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 49 times for a 36.5 average. But of those 49 punts, only 11 have been returned (22 per- cent) for a total of 52 yards (4.7 yard per return). He has placed 13 punts inside the 20 yard line (27 percent) and 12 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.


FIRST-TIMERS


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. 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.


WHAT'S IN A NAME?

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."


BIG TEN TELEVISION EXPOSURE ANALYSIS (through eight games)

  • 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


CLASSROOM STANDOUTS

  • 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.


ILLINI GRIDDERS MAKE IMPACT IN THE COMMUNITY

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.


EXCITEMENT ABOUNDS FOR 2007 ILLINI FOOTBALL SEASON

  • 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.

HEADLINES