Illinois Football Readies For Showdown With Ohio State

LB Robert Franklin had 12 tackles and a key forced fumble against Indiana.
LB Robert Franklin had 12 tackles and a key forced fumble against Indiana.

Nov. 7, 2000

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Illinois (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten) is coming off a wild 42-35 win over Indiana that saw Kurt Kittner score the winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak with 25 seconds remaining in the game. The game featured 11 touchdowns, 55 first downs, 148 offensive plays, 546 yards rushing, 407 yards passing and an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Kittner completed 21-of-29 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns, including two TD passes to Aaron Moorehead. Antwaan Randle El led the Hoosiers with 209 yards rushing, including four rushing TDs, and 130 yards passing. Safety Bobby Jackson led the Illini with 15 tackles, while Robert Franklin added 12 stops. Franklin may have made the play of the game when he stripped Randle El of the ball as the IU quarterback was about to enter the end zone for a game-tying touchdown in the third quarter. Illinois recovered the fumble and was able to post a seven-point win.

Ohio State (7-2, 4-2) comes to Champaign Oct. 11 to battle for the "Illibuck" Trophy after beating Michigan State Saturday 27-13. The Buckeyes still have slim Big Ten title hopes while standing just one game behind co-leaders Purdue and Northwestern. After four straight dominating wins by the Buckeyes over Illinois, the Fighting Illini went to Columbus last year and posted a 46-20 victory for the worst OSU loss at home in 50 years..

Illinois needs to win one of its final two games against either Ohio State or Northwestern to become bowl eligible for the second consecutive season.


RON TURNER (16-27 in his fourth year at Illinois, 23-31 overall) - In his fourth year at the helm of the Fighting Illini Football program, head coach Ron Turner has Illinois geared toward one of the greatest turnarounds in college football. He enters the Nov. 11 contest against Ohio State with a 23-31 head coaching record, 16-27 at Illinois. The Illini have won 10 of their last 15 games stretching back to 1999 and had a seven-game winning streak snapped Sept. 23 against Michigan.

Turner is 1-2 against Ohio State as a head coach. Last year, the Fighting Illini went to Columbus and posted a 46-20 victory over the Buckeyes.

After sub-par seasons in 1997 and '98, Turner led the Illini to an 8-4 record and a 63-21 thumping of Virginia in the Bowl. For his efforts, Turner finished fourth in the Associated Press's Coach of the Year voting. Turner came to Illinois after a four-year stint as the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears (1993-96). In 1992, he was the head coach for San Jose State where he turned in a 7-4 record and a second-place finish in the Big West Conference. Turner has served as an assistant at Stanford, Texas A&M, Southern California, Pittsburgh, Northwestern and Arizona working mainly with quarterbacks and receivers during his 20-plus years in college coaching.

JOHN COOPER (192-81-6 in his 24th season as head coach and 110-41-4 in his 13th year at Ohio State) - John Cooper has been the head coach at Ohio State since 1988 following three years at Arizona State and eight years at Tulsa. Cooper has led the Buckeyes to postseason action 10 of his 12 seasons and has OSU in line for an 11th bowl appearance in 2000. Cooper is just 5-7 against Illinois while at Ohio State and 6-7 overall against the Illini with one win coming while at Arizona State.

Ohio State leads the all-time series 56-28-4, including a 29-12 margin at Champaign in a series that dates back to 1902. Following a streak of five straight wins by the Illini from 1988-92, the Buckeyes won five of six until last year's 46-20 victory by Illinois at Columbus. This will be the 87th consecutive season the two teams have met on the football field dating back to 1914, a streak that stands eighth longest in the nation.

Last year, Illinois jumped out to a 36-7 lead in the third quarter before posting the 46-20 victory. Kurt Kittner completed 17-of-31 passes for 221 yards and four touchdowns, while Steve Havard led the rushing attack with 104 yards and one TD. Two Illini scores in the final 34 seconds of the first half proved fatal for the Buckeyes. Following a 50-yard Neil Rackers field goal that made the score 22-7, Illinois recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return that set up a two-yard TD pass with nine remaining before halftime.

ILLIBUCK (since 1925)
"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 the 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 smoke the peace pipe and present the "Illibuck" trophy to last year's winning school.

On Nov. 8, 1980, an unranked Illini squad led by a relatively unknown quarterback entered Ohio Stadium against the heavily favored and seventh-ranked Buckeyes. Ninety-one points, 621 Illini passing yards, 69 pass attempts, 43 completions, 36 first downs, 97 offensive plays and six touchdown passes later, 87,952 partisan Buckeye fans gave Illini quarterback Dave Wilson a standing ovation as he walked off the field and into the record books.

All Wilson did that day was break the NCAA single-game passing yardage record by 50 yards, tie the NCAA record for pass attempts with 69 and completions with 43, while setting the NCAA record for passing yardage in a half with 344 in the second. His 76 offensive plays tied another NCAA mark. The six TD passes set a Big Ten record as did his 585 yards in total offense.

Ohio State had jumped out to a 28-0 lead when Illini coach Mike White and Wilson opened up a passing attack like few had ever seen. In the second half alone, Wilson completed 23-37 passes for 344 yards and five touchdowns to pull the Illini within a touchdown of Ohio State three times.

Wilson's performance overshadowed a fine performance by Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter, who completed 17-21 passes for 284 yards and four touchdowns of his own. Wilson completed passes to 10 different receivers with three topping 100 yards in receptions.

Illinois head coach Ron Turner, assistant head coach Harry Hiestand and Ohio State offensive coordinator Chuck Stobart were on the same Southern California staff in 1987. OSU defensive line coach Jim Heacock and Illini defensive coordinator Tim Kish were on the same Bowling Green staff in 1978. Heacock also was head coach at Illinois State from 1988-95.

The Illini take the field for their second game this season against a nationally ranked opponent this weekend against the 13th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. Earlier this season, Illinois hosted ninth-ranked Michigan in a close 35-31 loss to the Wolverines. Illinois has a 29-88-3 record against ranked opponents, but knocked off No. 25 Ohio State last season, 46-20.

The University of Illinois roster three members of it 2000 team from the state of Ohio: true-freshman linebacker Mike Gawelek, true-freshman defensive tackle Charles Gilstrap and red-shirt freshman linebacker Ty Myers, while Ohio State lists only one Illinois native in Richard McNutt from Park Forest, Ill./Rich East High School, home of Illinois receiver Walter Young. Gilstrap a native of Columbus will be playing in his first college game in his home town and joins OSU's Columbus-natives LB Joe Cooper, DB Curtis Crosby, P/K Andy Groom, WR Andrew Lee, TE Marvin Payne and fellow St. Francis de Sales teammate DB Emeka Onyejekwe. Gawelek hails from Chillicothe along with Buckeye backup tight end Ben Hartsock. However, the biggest rivals on these two teams didn't grow up in either state. Former Miami Southridge teammates fullback Jameel Cook and OSU linebacker Courtland Bullard will square off in a game that Cook got the better of a year ago (100 yards receiving, 1 TD).

Following his 78 percent passing performance in the Illini's 42-35 win over Indiana, quarterback Kurt Kittner was named the Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Week. Kittner accounted for four touchdowns, 3 passing and one rushing, including the game-winner on a one-yard run. He connected on 21-of-29 for 277 yards and no interceptions.

The Illini enter this weekend's game against the Ohio State Buckeyes with a 4-1 home record with their only loss to Michigan in a close 35-31 game. Illinois has gotten wins over Middle Tennessee (35-6), California (17-15), Iowa (31-0) and Indiana (42-35). The Memorial Stadium crowds have averaged nearly 55,000 this season a dramatic change from 45,000 of a year ago.

Following a 67 percent conversion percentage on third downs against the Hoosiers last week, the Illini improve their season total to 51 percent. The above average number ranks third among Top-25 teams. Only Purdue (58%) and Michigan (53%) rank higher in the elite list. Here is a list of the third-down conversion numbers over 50 percent this season for Illinois: Middle Tennessee 9-of-16, 56%, San Diego State 10-of-13, 77%, Penn State 13-of-21 62%, Indiana 10-of15, 67%.

The Illinois offense put together an 18-play drive, elapsing 7:04 in the Illini's 31-0 win over Iowa to tie a school record for plays in an offensive drive, something only done for the fourth time in school history. The drive resulted in a touchdown for the Illini. Just two weeks later, the Illini match the record-high with another 18-play drive for 66 yards against Michigan State.

After a season without a defensive touchdown in 1999, the Illini are making a habit of turning turnovers into points. Twice in the last three games, the Illinois defense has taken an interception into the end zone. Junior, safety Bobby Jackson scored his first career touchdown following a 39- yard interception return against Michigan State, while senior linebacker Mondrian Long had a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Illini's blanking of Iowa 31-0.

Illinois' 31-0 shutout over Iowa Oct. 14 was its first since a 7-0 victory over East Carolina Sept. 23, 1995 and the first in Big Ten play since a 34-0 win over Purdue on Oct. 13, 1990, a streak of 82 straight games.

One of the most tell-tale signs of a well-disciplined team is the amount of penalties charged. The latest NCAA rankings show Illinois as the least penalized team of the 114 squads in Division I football. The Illini lead the pack with only 38 penalties and 331 yards along with Colorado State (38-326) - Louisville brings up the rear with 113 penalties for 994 yards. The average for a team is 63 penalties, over 7 per game. The Illini commit approximately four per game.

After spending six weeks in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Polls, the Illini fell out of the Top-25 following four tough conference losses to Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State and Michigan State. The six-week stint was the longest for Illinois since 1990 when the team spent the entire season in the rankings. The Illini entered the 2000 season with a Top-25 national ranking by both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll for the first time since prior to the 1995 season when they were rated No. 24. The Illini finished the 1999 season ranked 24th by the AP and 25th in the Coaches Top-25.

No one can deny the impact quarterback Kurt Kittner made on the Illini in '99 with his 2,702 yards passing, school record 24 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. After his 18-touchdown, 59 percent completion performance in the last nine games, Kittner is quickly moving up the charts as one of the most productive quarterbacks in Illinois history. He ranks in the top-5 in passing yardage, pass completions, pass attempts total offense and most impressively in touchdown passes. With 43 career TDs, Kittner is second among Illini greats with still a season left to play. Kittner has passed for 1,816 yards this season and has connected with six different receivers for TDs, including six touchdown passes to sophomore flanker Greg Lewis and four each to tight end Josh Whitman and split end Aaron Moorehead. He sports over a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio, not only for the 2000 season, but for his three- year career. The numbers also have earned him recognition as a All-America, Heisman Trophy and Davey O'Brien Award candidate.

Following his four-yard touchdown catch against Penn State, senior tight end Josh Whitman (7 career TDs) pulled to within two of the Illinois record for career touchdowns by a tight end. Lee Boeke, 1977-80, and Ken Dilger, 1991-94, both caught nine touchdown passes during their Illini career. The 2000 tight end corp is already on pace to be the most productive in the Turner era, having matched the six touchdowns caught in '99. The most touchdowns by a group of tight ends was eight in 1994. The 2000 group of Whitman and Brian Hodges (4 career TDs) account for 19 catches and 178 yards.

Although the Illini's equal use of two tailbacks the past two years has kept the Illinois running backs from posting individual 1,000-yard seasons (last time 1997 Robert Holcombe, 1,253), the running game is more prosperous than ever. Junior Rocky Harvey and sophomore Antoineo Harris each posted 100-yard rushing games against Middle Tennessee and San Diego State, marking the first time in school history two Illinois tailbacks have had 100+ yards in back-to-back games. Each back has also posted a third 100-yard game, Harris with 123 yards against Michigan State and Harvey with 104 in the Illini's 31-0 win over Iowa. The performances prove that together they are one of the premier running back duos in college football. Combine the numbers of the tandem, 131.9 yards per game, (69.8 yards a game for Harris and 62.1 ypg for Harvey) and they would be ranked ninth in the nation and fourth in the Big Ten, according to this week's NCAA and conference stats. Harvey also broke into the Top-10 all-time rushing in the Illinois record books following his performance against the Hawkeyes. He has posted 1,971 yards in three years and needs only 223 to reach the Top-5. The two-tailback combo of Harvey and Steve Havard rushed for 1,564 yards in 1999 and the 2,082 yards rushing by the Illini team in was the most since 1978 when the squad ran for 2,186 yards.

Eight true-freshmen have played on this Illini team in 2000, four players alone on the defensive line. In a conference where it is uncommon to see so many young faces on the defensive lines, four freshmen, Charles Gilstrap (DT), Clark Collins (DT), Derrick Strong, DE, and Jemari Perry, DE, have lined up and played significant time in key backup roles. The foursome have combined for 14 tackles and one sack in the four-game stretch. During this 2000 season, the Illini lost five d-linemen to a number of different factors (Karleton Thomas, DT, academics, Tim McGill, DE, academics, Shaheed Richardson, DT, transfer, Mike O'Brien, DE, injury, and Jeff Ruffin, DT, injury out seven games, but returned against Indiana).

The starting Fighting Illini offensive line coached by Harry Hiestand is the largest in school history at a total of 1,540 pounds, or an average of 308 per player across the front line from tackle-to-tackle. The average of 308 pounds per player is larger than the starting offensive lines on 11 NFL teams, including last year's Super Bowl teams St. Louis and Tennessee. The five starting offensive line group (from left tackle to right tackle) of Marques Sullivan (6-5, 320), Jay Kulaga (6-5, 306), Luke Butkus (6-4, 287), Ray Redziniak (6-5, 297) and Tony Pashos (6-6, 330) average 6-foot-4.6-inches and 308 pounds per man.


  • Don't be too surprised when you're seeing double in the Illini secondary. The brother safety duo of Marc and Bobby Jackson are prominent fixtures in the defensive backfield. Bobby, a junior, sat out last season with a torn ACL, while his younger brother, Marc, got experience as a true-freshman. To make things even more of a family affair Robert Jackson, the duo's father, serves as the team's wide receivers coach.
  • This year's dynamic duo at the wide receiving positions are very familiar with each other. Not only did flanker Greg Lewis and split end Walter Young grow up as high school rivals, but they are cousins as well.
  • Another pair of brothers are members of the Illinois squad. Brian Hodges is a junior tight end and his brother Aaron is an offensive guard who redshirted during the 1999 season.

    For his two pass deflection, six solo tackle, two sack performance in the Illini's 17-15 win over California and his eight-tackle, two-sack performance in the Illini's 31-0 blanking of Iowa, defensive end Fred Wakefield was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. The senior from Tuscola, Ill., now has eight sacks on the season and 14 tackles for loss which rank first in the Big Ten.

    This fall, senior offensive tackle Marques Sullivan became the first Illini player in five years to earn the prestigious honor of preseason All-American by Playboy magazine. Athletes selected to the team traveled to the Playboy ranch in Arizona in May and were honored in the October football preview issue of Playboy. The last time an Illinois player earned these honors were by linebackers Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy in 1995.

    Senior linebacker Michael Young has been named to the preliminary list of candidates for the Butkus Award, which honors the nation's top collegiate linebacker. He is making his first appearance on the list and is one of 10 players selected from the Big Ten Conference. The watch list will be trimmed to 10 semi-finalists on Oct. 19 and the three finalists will be announced on a national teleconference on Nov. 9. The winner will be announced Friday, Dec. 8 at the Hard Rock Live in Universal Studios.

    Junior safety Muhammad Abdullah was named among 40 players as a candidate for the 2000 Thorpe Award which honors the nation's top collegiate defensive back. Finalists will be invited to ESPN's College Football Award Show at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Where the winner will be announced Dec. 7.