Nov. 8, 2010
Complete Illinois-Minnesota Game Notes
Senior Day Promo Video
GAME 10: Minnesota (1-9, 0-6) at Illinois (5-4, 3-3)
SENIOR DAY // DAD'S DAY
Nov. 13, 2010 // 11 am CT // Big Ten Network
Champaign, Ill. // Memorial Stadium (62,870)
The Illinois/Minnesota game will be nationally televised on the Big Ten Network with an air time of 11 a.m. CT. Tom Hart (play-by-play), Anthony Herron (color analyst) and Lisa Byington (sidelines) will call the action with Bryan Carter producing and Tom Blair directing. The Big Ten Network will televise two games at 11 am CT on Nov. 13. Get local channel info at http://bigtennetwork.com/gamefinder.
The 41-station Illini Sports Network will carry the radio broadcast with the pregame show beginning at 10:30 a.m. CT. Calling the action will be Brian Barnhart (play-by-play), Kurt Kittner (color analyst) and Steve Kelly (pregame, halftime and postgame). The broadcast also can be heard on SIRIUS (91) & XM (196) satellite radio.
Tickets are available for Saturday's game against Minnesota and can be purchased at the UI Athletic Ticket Office at Assembly Hall, by calling 1-866-ILLINI-1 or online at fightingillini.com.
FOLLOW THE ILLINI...
THE OPENING KICK
The Fighting Illini are looking to become bowl eligible this Saturday when they host Minnesota at Memorial Stadium in the final home game of the season. Illinois is looking to bounce back from last week's heart-breaking 67-65 triple-overtime loss at Michigan.
Illinois has faced the fourth-toughest schedule in the nation thus far according to the official NCAA schedule strength rankings. Illinois' opponents have a combined record of 49-23 this season vs. Division I opponents (not counting their game vs. Illinois).
Illinois' four losses this season (Missouri, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan) have a combined record of 30-7, with three of the four teams ranked in the top-17 of the Nov. 7 BCS standings. Illinois led in the second half of three of the four losses (Missouri, Michigan State, Michigan) and was on the verge of tying Ohio State late in the game before falling short in the red zone late in the fourth quarter.
The Illinois offense has exploded in the last three games, averaging 50.7 points and 413.7 total yards per game. During the first six games this season, the Illini averaged 21.3 points and 320 yards per game.
The Fighting Illini defense has forced 12 turnovers in the last three games (five vs. Indiana, two vs. Purdue and five at Michigan) and has converted those into 56 points (seven touchdowns and two field goals). During that same span, the Illinois offense has turned the ball over just twice.
The Orange and Blue defense has also been stingy after turnovers. Following the 16 Illini turnovers, the defense has allowed just 25 points (one touchdown and six field goals).
Opponents have started 18 regulation drives in plus territory this season, but the Illini defense has allowed just one touchdown and nine field goals on those 18 drives.
Offensively, Illinois is tied for second in the nation in red zone scoring percentage, picking up points on 34 of its 36 trips inside the 20 this season (94 percent). The Illini have 21 touchdowns and 13 field goals in the red zone so far this season.
Illinois ranks third in the nation in fourth-down conversion percentage. The Illini are 6-of-7 (85.7%) on fourth down tries this season, which trails only Florida State (100%) and LSU (88.9%) and is tied with Ohio State.
The Illini defense has also fared well stopping fourth downs. Illinois ranks 17th nationally in defensive fourth-down efficiency, allowing only five first downs on 14 opponent attempts (35.71 percent).
Redshirt-freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase has excelled in the last three games, completing 43-of-66 passes (65.2 percent) for 529 yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions while rushing for another 264 yards and one TD on 48 carries (5.5 ypc). His QB rating in the last three games is 177.5, compared to 110.24 in his first six games. Scheelhaase picked up his fifth Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor this week for his performance against Michigan, and also has been named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week once earlier this season.
Doak Walker Award candidate Mikel Leshoure shared Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors this week after scoring five touchdowns and totaling 172 all-purpose yards (120 rushing, 52 receiving) against Michigan. Leshoure ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 18th in the nation in rushing (100.0 ypg) and has scored 12 total touchdowns. Leshoure has topped the 100-yard mark in five games this season.
Junior LB Martez Wilson leads Illinois and is fourth in the Big Ten in tackles (8.8 tpg) and also is second on the team in TFLs (6.5) and third in sacks (2.0). He has led the Illini in tackles in five of the last seven games.
Junior PK Derek Dimke has been named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award and senior punter Anthony Santella a candidate for the Ray Guy Award. Dimke is 18-of-21 on field goals and 28-of-28 on extra points this season, while Santella ranks eighth in the nation in punting (46.2 ypk).
Saturday's game will mark the final home game for 13 Illini seniors. Travon Bellamy, Nate Bussey, Jarred Fayson, Aaron Gress, Antonio Gully, Randall Hunt, Anterio Jackson, Chris James, Dustin Jefferson, Eddie McGee, Clay Nurse, Ryan Palmer and Anthony Santella will all be recognized prior to the game.
MINNESOTA SERIES NOTES
Minnesota leads the series by a 32-28-3 advantage overall, but Illinois holds a 16-13-1 edge in Champaign.
Illinois has won two of the last three games in the series, including a 35-32 win last year in Minneapolis. The last time the two teams met at Memorial Stadium, Minnesota left with a 27-20 win despite the Illini rolling up 550 total yards.
Illini head coach Ron Zook is 2-1 against Minnesota, while interim Gopher coach Jeff Horton has yet to face Illinois as a head coach.
Minnesota co-defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove spent seven years on the Illinois coaching staff in the 1980s. Cosgrove was a graduate assistant coach for the Illini from 1980-83 and was the linebackers coach for the Orange and Blue from 1983-87 under Mike White.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE GOPHERS
The Illinois defense dominated the line of scrimmage in last year's meeting, racking up seven sacks and eight tackles for loss, while holding the Gophers to just 50 rushing yards on 36 carries (1.4 ypc).
DE Clay Nurse had a career day in last year's game with four sacks for a loss of 28 yards in his seven-tackle performance, both career highs. His four sacks tied him for the second-most by an Illini in a single game behind only Simeon Rice's five sacks against Northwestern on 9/1/94.
CB Terry Hawthorne had a pick-six in last year's win over the Gophers as a true-freshman, returning his first career interception 44 yards for a score.
RB Jason Ford had a game-high 82 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries last year vs. Minnesota.
LB Ian Thomas had 10 tackles in last year's game, while LB Nate Bussey had six tackles and half a sack.
CB Justin Green, who played running back as a true-freshman in 2009, scored the second rushing touchdown of his career on a two-yard run in the second quarter of last year's win over Minnesota.
The last time the two teams met in Champaign in 2008, former Illini QB Juice Williams had 503 yards of total offense (462 passing, 41 rushing) to break the Memorial Stadium single-game total offense record.
WR A.J. Jenkins caught three passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the 2008 game as a true-freshman.
DT Corey Liuget had a sack and a fumble recovery against the Gophers in 2008 as a true-freshman.
LAST TIME OUT: SOME NUMBERS FROM THE HISTORIC GAME AT MICHIGAN
Even though Illinois didn't come out on top, the 67-65 triple-overtime loss at Michigan on Nov. 6 was an instant classic. Here are some of the mind-boggling numbers and records from the epic matchup:
The 132 combined points are a Big Ten record for most combined points in a conference game (previous: 115, Minnesota  vs. Purdue , 10/9/93). The teams also established Michigan records for combined points in a half (62) and combined points in a quarter (49).
The 132 combined points surpassed the combined point totals of the last three men's basketball games between Illinois and Michigan (96 on 2/23/10, 110 on 3/13/09 and 117 on 1/14/09).
The two teams combined for 1,237 yards of total offense (676 for Michigan and 561 for Illinois), the most ever in a Big Ten game and the most in both Illinois and Michigan history.
Illinois' 65 points were the most any team has ever scored against Michigan. The previous high was 58 points by Cornell in 1891, while the previous high by a Big Ten Team was 55 by Northwestern in 1958. It also marked the ninth-most points Illinois has ever scored in a game and the most since 1944 (79 vs. Illinois-Normal).
The 65-point outburst against Michigan was the most points an Illinois team put up against a Big Ten opponent since 1902, when the Illini hung 80 points on Iowa.
Illini running back Mikel Leshoure scored five touchdowns in the game (three rushing, two receiving) to tie for the second most in a game in school history behind only Howard Griffith's NCAA record 8 TDs vs. Southern Illinois in 1990 and tied with Red Grange's five TDs vs. Michigan in 1924. All five of Leshoure's scores came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The game was the longest in Illinois history, as no other Illini game has lasted more than one overtime.
The crowd of 111,441 is the largest crowd that the Illini have ever played in front of, surpassing the 110,231 at Michigan in 2003.
ILLINI DEFENSE IN HABIT OF SHUTTING DOWN HIGH POWERED OFFENSES
Looking past some of the extraordinary numbers put up by Michigan, the Illini `D' has held some of the top offenses in the nation in check this season:
The Illini held Heisman candidate Denard Robinson nearly 100 yards under his season rushing average. Robinson entered the game ranked second in the nation in rushing yards (160.9 ypg), but had just 62 yards on 19 carries in the Nov. 6 meeting.
Illinois forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, and blocked two punts against Indiana on Oct. 23. The Hoosiers entered the game with the nation's fifth-ranked passing offense, but were held 40 yards below their average of 319 yards per game. The Illini also limited IU WR/KR Tandon Doss, who entered the game ranked first in the nation in all-purpose yards (202 ypg) to just 90 yards.
The UI defense held No. 13 Michigan State 179 total yards below its season average and 132 yards below its rushing average. The Spartans were averaging 473 total yards per game and 225 yards on the ground - which both ranked in the top 15 in the nation - but were held to season-low totals of 294 total yards and 93 rushing yards by the Orange and Blue.
In Illinois' 33-13 win at Penn State on Oct. 9, the defense held PSU to season lows of seven first downs, 235 total yards, 2-of-14 third-down conversions and 21:48 time of possession, and kept the Nittany Lions to only 65 rushing yards. Penn State had been averaging 138.2 yards per game on the ground entering the game. PSU's seven first downs marked its fewest since 2004.
On Oct. 2, No. 2 Ohio State came to town ranked third in the nation in scoring (49.3 ppg) and eighth in total offense (506.8 ypg), but managed just 24 points and 290 total yards against the stingy Illini defense. The Illini held the Buckeyes to just 77 yards passing in the game, marking the third-straight year they have held OSU to under 100 yards passing (49 yards in 2008 and 82 yards in 2009).
The UI defense held NIU running back Chad Spann to just 15 yards on 13 carries. Spann currently ranks 12th in the nation, averaging 111.1 ypg, and racked up 223 yards on 15 carries against Minnesota on Sept. 25, one week after the Fighting Illini shut him down.
THE BIG TEN'S RUSHING TEAM
During the Ron Zook era (since 2005), Illinois leads the conference in rushing yards per game. The Illini's 197.9 yards per game (13,653 yards in 69 games) in the last 5+ seasons tops Wisconsin's 192.4 ypg (14,238 yards in 74 games) during that same time span.
Illinois has posted two games of 300+ rushing yards this season (319 vs. NIU on Sept. 18 and 315 at Michigan on Nov. 6) and four games of 200+ rushing yards this season.
The Illini led the conference in rushing yards per game in 2006 and 2007, and were second in 2009. This season, Illinois is averaging 207.8 ypg on the ground, which ranks 20th nationally and fourth in the Big Ten.
The Fighting Illini averaged 200.4 yards per game on the ground in 2009, ranking 17th in the nation and marking the third time under head coach Ron Zook that the Illini averaged over 200 yards rushing as a team. It also marked the third time in the last five years that Illinois finished the season ranked among the NCAA Top 20.
Leshoure's 6.8 yards per carry in 2009 led all BCS conference players with at least 100 attempts, and he and teammate Jason Ford (6.1 ypc) ranked 1-2 in the Big Ten in that category last season.
On the Mend: The injury bug hit the Illini hard heading into the 2010 season. Two probable starters are out for the season in OL Corey Lewis, who tore his left ACL during spring ball, and safety Supo Sanni, who ruptured his right Achilles in practice on Aug. 25. Junior FB/TE Zach Becker sat out last week's game at Michigan after re-aggravating a foot injury that sidelined him for the first five games of the season. His playing status for the Minnesota game is unknown.
They're Back: FS Steve Hull (ankle), RB Jason Ford (ankle) and WR Jarred Fayson (hamstring) all returned to active status last week for the Michigan game. Hull missed four games after being injured against Ohio State, while both Ford and Fayson sat out the Purdue game. Sophomore CB Terry Hawthorne (foot) missed the first four games of this season before returning to action Oct. 9 at Penn State. Senior WR Eddie McGee (missed NIU game with ankle injury) and bandit Nate Palmer (missed first three games with a toe injury) both returned against Ohio State after missing time earlier in the season.
THE FIGHTING ILLINI DEFENSE
The Illinois defense has made huge improvements this year under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, even despite the 67-point outburst by Michigan last week. The Illini currently rank 36th in rushing defense (133.0 ypg), 42nd in pass efficiency defense (121.25), 43rd in total defense (343.0 ypg) and 47th in scoring defense (22.33 ppg). At the end of last season, Illinois was 76th in rushing defense (154.4 ypg), 103rd in pass efficiency defense (142.77), 91st in total defense (403.3 ypg) and 96th in scoring defense (30.2 ppg).
Prior to the Michigan game, the Illini ranked 12th nationally in points allowed (16.8 ppg), 15th in total defense (301.4 ypg), 19th in pass defense (183.9) and 26th in rushing yards allowed (117.5 ypg), all while facing the toughest schedule in the nation.
The Fighting Illini have allowed more than 26 points in a game just once this season. Illinois held the high-powered offenses of Missouri (23) and Michigan State (26) to season-low point totals, and also held an Ohio State offense averaging 49.3 points per game to 24 points and an Indiana offense averaging 34.2 ppg to 13.
Illinois' defense has held its opposition under 100 yards rushing four times this season (98 vs. Missouri, 46 vs. SIU, 65 at PSU, 93 at MSU) and under 100 yards passing two times (77 vs. OSU and 52 vs. Purdue).
When Illinois' defense forced five turnovers against Indiana on Oct. 23 (four INTs and one fumble), it marked the first time in eight years that Illinois forced five turnovers in a game (five vs. Northwestern on Nov. 23, 2002). The Illini then repeated the feat two weeks later, forcing five turnovers at Michigan on Nov. 6 (three INTs and 2 fumbles).
Two of the Illini INTs vs. Indiana resulted directly in touchdowns. Patrick Nixon-Youman scored on a 68-yard interception return in the second quarter and Jonathan Brown scored on a 66-yard interception return in the fourth, marking the first time Illinois had two pick-sixes in a game since Bobby Jackson and Christian Morton both returned INTs for touchdowns at Purdue in 2001.
Defensive tackle Corey Liuget has been a beast all season and especially lately. He had seven tackles at Michigan and had five tackles, one sack and five QB hurries while helping the defense force five turnovers against Indiana. The week before at Michigan State, Liuget registered a career-high 11 tackles, marking the most tackles in a game by an Illini defensive lineman since DE Mike O'Brien had 12 stops vs. Missouri in 2002 and the most for a DT since Paul Marshall had 11 at Minnesota in 1996.
Liuget dropped 30 pounds in the offseason to get down to 285 in hopes of being more mobile and harder to block. It seems to have paid off, as Liuget has 44 tackles, a team-high 7.5 TFLs and 3.0 sacks this season to go along with a team-high nine hurries and two PBUs. He has already eclipsed his previous career-high of 36 tackles and 2.5 sacks and is close to passing his career-high of 8.0 TFLs.
Trulon Henry recorded a pair of interceptions in the 24-13 loss to the Buckeyes. He intercepted a Terrelle Pryor pass in the second quarter and picked off a Joe Bauserman pass in the third quarter to become the first Illini defender in six years to tally two INTs in a game (Kelvin Hayden vs. Florida A&M in 2004). He then added his third pick of the season against Michigan's Denard Robinson on Nov. 6.
LB Nate Bussey had a career day for the Orange and Blue against Penn State on Oct. 9, returning an interception 16 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and also tying his career high with eight tackles. Then against Indiana on Oct. 23, Bussey blocked the first punt of his career leading to an Illini safety, and his tipped pass against Michigan on Nov. 6 led to an interception by Martez Wilson. Bussey is second on the team in tackles (6.3 tpg) and third in tackles for loss (5.0).
Senior CB Travon Bellamy has saved his best season for last. Bellamy stepped up big when Terry Hawthorne missed the first four games with an injury and hasn't let up. His 5.8 tackles per game are third on the team and he already has eclipsed his previous season career-highs with 4.0 tackles for loss and five pass break-ups.
When Illinois put up 43 points vs. Indiana and 44 vs. Purdue in back-to-back victories, it marked the first time the Illini tallied 40 or more points in consecutive wins since 1999, when they won at Iowa, 40-24, on Nov. 6, and then at Ohio State, 46-20, on Nov. 13.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has been named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Week five times already this season. First on Sept. 13 following his 14-of-18, 229 yard, 1 TD, 0 INT performance against SIU, then again on Oct. 11 after his 15-of-19, 151 yard, 1 TD, 0 INT game at Penn State and on Oct. 25 following his 13-of-21, 123 yard, 2 TD, 0 INT game in the win over Indiana. He was named both Offensive Player of the Week and Freshman of the week on Nov. 1 after going 16-of-20 for 195 yards, 4 TD and 0 INT, and rushing for 118 yards vs. Purdue, and then freshman of the week again after going 14-of-25 for 211 yards, 3 TD and 0 INT, and rushing for 101 yards and a TD at Michigan.
In Illinois' five wins this season, Scheelhaase has been outstanding, completing 66-of-94 passes (70.2 percent) for 768 yards, 9 TDs and 0 INT for an efficiency rating of 170.44. Has also rushed for 352 yards on 59 carries (6.0 ypc) and a TD those five games.
Scheelhaase has run for 552 yards this season, a total that ranks fourth on the UI single-season QB rushing list and second on the career list. He trails only Juice Williams' career record of 2,557 yards and Williams' top three season totals of 755 in 2007, 719 in 2008 and 576 in 2006.
Scheelhaase owns two of the top seven single-game quarterback ratings in school history. His 227.9 rating against Purdue on Oct. 30 is the sixth best at Illinois, while his 221.31 passer rating for the SIU game on Sept. 11 is the seventh-highest single-game efficiency rating.
When Scheelhaase took the field for the first play against Missouri, he became just the third redshirt-freshman in Illinois history to start a season opener. Scott Weaver (1993) and Rich Weiss (1978) are the only other two redshirt-freshmen to take the first snap of a season.
New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino's offense has shown its ball control-capabilities so far this season. The team's opening drive of the year was a 17-play, 9:14 monster that resulted in a 21-yard field goal. The drive exceeded last year's longest drive by 1:54 and also tied last year's longest drive in terms of plays. Through eight games, Illinois has 24 scoring drives of 8+ plays and 20 scoring drives of 4+ minutes.
The offense has also shown the ability to strike quickly, registering 13 scoring drives of two minutes or less and 15 scoring drives of five plays or less.
Junior RB Mikel Leshoure has taken on a bigger load for the Illini offense this season. He had a career-high 27 carries for 119 yards against Penn State on Oct. 9 and is currently averaging 20.2 carries per game this season. Entering the season, Leshoure had carried the ball 20+ times just once (21 carries vs. Michigan in 2009). In 2010, he has five 20+-carry games and is still averaging a healthy 4.9 yards per carry for the season.
Leshoure had a string of four straight 100-yard games snapped earlier this season by Ohio State, a streak that tied him with J.C. Caroline and Robert Holcombe for the most consecutive 100+ rushing efforts in school history. His five 100+-yard games this season and eight career 100+-yard games rank fourth and seventh, respectively, in school history.
Weak-side tackle Jeff Allen anchors the Illini offensive line once again. The junior has started every game since the fourth game of his freshman season, giving him a team-high 30 consecutive starts. Allen was key in limiting Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who entered the game ranked second nationally in TFL and 15th in sacks, to just four tackles and a sack in the Oct. 30 meeting.
Junior receiver A.J. Jenkins tallied a career-high seven receptions for 76 yards, including an 18-yard TD, in the win at Penn State and added another score against Purdue Oct. 30. For the season, Jenkins leads the Illini with 34 catches for 458 yards and four touchdowns.
Junior RB Jason Ford had a four-yard TD pass to Evan Wilson in the third quarter against Penn State, Ford's first career pass and Wilson's first career TD catch. It marked the first time an Illini non-quarterback threw a TD pass since Oct. 7, 2006, at Michigan State, when WR DaJuan Warren threw a 27-yard TD to Jody Ellis. Ford also had nine carries for 47 yards against PSU, pushing him over 1,000 career rushing yards. He is the 37th player in Illinois history to surpass 1,000 career yards and currently has 1,147 yards to rank 31st all-time.
Senior WR Jarred Fayson had a breakout game for the Illini against Ohio State, catching eight passes for 83 yards, setting career highs in both categories. Fayson also completed the first pass of his career, throwing a 23-yarder to quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase in the first quarter, and downed a punt on the one yard line on special teams. Fayson also had a 17-yard touchdown reception against Indiana on Oct. 23, his first TD of the season. Fayson is second on the team with 33 catches for 318 yards on the season.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Lou Groza Award Semifinalist Derek Dimke has been outstanding this season, connecting on 18-of-21 field goals, including two from 50+, and 28-of-28 extra points this season. He had made 10 straight field goals, the third-longest streak in school history, until missing a 51-yarder against Indiana on Oct. 23. For his career, Dimke has connected on 23-of-26 field goals and is a perfect 40-of-40 on extra points since taking over placekicking duties late last season.
Dimke was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week after going 4-for-4 on field goals against Penn State Oct. 9, hitting from 50, 31, 41 and 38 yards. His 52-yard field goal against Missouri in the season-opener tied the sixth-longest field goal in school history and was the longest by an Illini since 2005. Dimke is currently tied for second in the nation with an average of 2.0 made field goals per game.
Dimke also has excelled on kickoffs. He has booted 18 touchbacks and has a 62.9 yard average in 53 kickoffs this season, already exceeding last year's season total of 12 touchbacks. This marks Dimke's third year as the Illini kickoff specialist, as he took over duties midway through his freshman season.
Ray Guy Award candidate Anthony Santella is having a stellar final season. He had a career-best 50.8 average on five punts against SIU, equaling the fifth-best single-game punting average in school history, then booted six punts against NIU for a 48.7 average, including a career-long 67-yarder, and has not let up since. Santella currently ranks eighth in the nation with a 46.17 average on 46 punts.
Santella has vastly improved in each of his four seasons. He's gone from averaging 37.7 yards per punt in 2007 to 39.4 in 2008, 41.3 in 2009 and now 46.2 so far this season. He currently ranks fourth in the Illinois record books in career punting average (40.8), second in career yardage (9,222) and fourth in career punts (226).
Illinois blocked two punts against Indiana on Oct. 23. Both came in the third quarter on back-to-back possessions, first by Martez Wilson and then by Nate Bussey. Bussey's occurred in the end zone, resulting in a safety. That marked the first safety by the Illini since Oct. 16, 2004, vs. Michigan and the first time Illinois blocked two punts in a game since Sept. 11, 1976, vs. Iowa.
Junior Troy Pollard had a big day returning kicks against Indiana. Pollard took back three kickoffs for 92 yards (30.7 ypr) against the Hoosiers, including an Illinois season-long 44-yarder in the second quarter. Pollard is averaging 25.6 yards on 11 returns this season to rank fourth in the conference, and ranks second in Big Ten games with a 26.3 average.
MISCELLANEOUS TEAM NOTES
Illinois' 34-point margin of victory over Purdue on Oct. 30, combined with the 30-point win over Indiana on Oct. 23, marked the first time an Illini team registered consecutive 30-point wins since 1944 and the first time they won consecutive Big Ten games by 30 or more points since 1914.
The win over Purdue snapped a five-game skid and gave the Illini possession of the "Cannon" rivalry trophy for the first time since 2002
With the win over Purdue Oct. 30, Illinois coach Ron Zook has now defeated each Big Ten team at least once.
Illinois' win at Penn State on Oct. 9 made Zook just the sixth coach ever to defeat both Penn State's Joe Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden on the road. Zook defeated Bowden's Seminoles in 2004 while coaching at Florida. He joins Larry Coker (Miami), Foge Fazio (Pitt), Dennis Erickson (Miami), Tom O'Brien (Boston College) and Howard Schnellenberger (Miami) as the only coaches to defeat the two winningest coaches in college football history on the road. (source Stats, Inc.)
The win at Penn State also made Zook the fourth coach to ever post road victories at Ohio State, at Michigan and at Penn State in a career. Zook joins former Big Ten coaches Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin), Hayden Fry (Iowa) and Glen Mason (Minnesota) on the exclusive list.
Zook, the 2007 Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year, is in his sixth season as the Illinois head coach. Entering Saturday's game against Michigan, Zook has an overall head coaching record of 49-57 in eight-plus seasons at Florida and Illinois combined and is 26-43 in five-plus seasons at Illinois.
Illinois picked up its first win at Penn State with the 33-13 victory on Oct. 9 after entering the game 0-6 all-time in Happy Valley. The Illini also handed the Nittany Lions their biggest Homecoming defeat since they fell by 20 to Navy in 1955.
Nineteen Illini, including eight true-freshmen, have made their Fighting Illini debuts this season. True-freshmen LB Jonathan Brown, bandit Brandon Denmark, WR Spencer Harris, WR Ryan Lankford, WR Darius Millines, QB Miles Osei, FB Jay Prosch and TE Evan Wilson all have seen action this season. In addition, two transfers: FS Trulon Henry and FB Chris Willett; seven redshirt-freshmen: RB Bud Golden, FS Steve Hull, DE Tim Kynard, TE Justin Lattimore, FS Ben Mathis, QB Nathan Scheelhaase and DT Akeem Spence; and two sophomores: LS Zak Pedersen and TE Eddie Viliunas all have seen the field for the first time in their UI careers this season.
LESHOURE CLIMBING ILLINOIS AND BIG TEN LISTS, FORD GOES OVER 1,000
Junior running back Mikel Leshoure went over the 1,700-yard career rushing mark against Michigan on Nov. 6, becoming the 17th Illini player to do so. He enters this weekend's contest with 1,760 yards, which puts him 17th on the UI career rushing list and fourth among active Big Ten players. For the season, he needs exactly 100 yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark.
Fellow junior Jason Ford also recently passed 1,100 career rushing yards, becoming the 33rd Illini player to reach the mark with 91 yards during the Nov. 6 game at Michigan. Ford now has 1,149 yards for his career, a total that ranks 13th among active Big Ten players.
The coaching staff designates different team captains for each game week throughout the season. Here is a list of this year's game captains:
MISSOURI: LB Nate Bussey, OL Randall Hunt, WR Eddie McGee, DL Clay Nurse
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS: OL Jeff Allen, LB Nate Bussey, WR Jarred Fayson, DL Clay Nurse
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: OL Jeff Allen, WR Jarred Fayson, LB Ian Thomas, DB Tavon Wilson
OHIO STATE: OL Jeff Allen, WR Jarred Fayson, DL Corey Liuget, LB Martez Wilson
PENN STATE: OL Randall Hunt, RB Mikel Leshoure, DL Corey Liuget, LB Martez Wilson
MICHIGAN STATE: OL Jeff Allen, RB Mikel Leshoure, DL Corey Liuget, LB Martez Wilson
INDIANA: OL Jeff Allen, DL Corey Liuget, WR Eddie McGee, LB Martez Wilson
PURDUE: OL Jeff Allen, DL Corey Liuget, WR Eddie McGee, LB Martez Wilson
MICHIGAN: OL Jeff Allen, DL Corey Liuget, WR Eddie McGee, LB Martez Wilson
MINNESOTA: OL Jeff Allen, LB Nate Bussey, DL Corey Liuget, WR Eddie McGee
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Following each Illini victory, the coaching staff names a player of the game for each of the three phases.
GAME OFFENSE DEFENSE SPECIAL TEAMS
Southern Illinois Nathan Scheelhaase, QB Ian Thomas, LB Anthony Santella, P
Northern Illinois Mikel Leshoure, RB Martez Wilson, LB Derek Dimke, PK
Penn State Mikel Leshoure, RB Nate Bussey, LB Derek Dimke, PK
Indiana Graham Pocic, C Entire Defensive Unit M. Wilson/N. Bussey/T. Pollard
Purdue Nathan Scheelhaase, QB Trulon Henry, FS Antonio Gully, kick coverage