Neil Rackers is Big
Ten Special Teams
Player of the Week.
Nov. 9, 1999
Nov. 13, 1999
12:10 p.m. ET espn2
Ohio Stadium (89,841)
Illinois takes to the road for the final time in 1999 when they travel to Columbus to face the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Fighting Illini are looking for their sixth win of the season, which would make them bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994. Ohio State leads the all-time series 56-27-4 and holds a 25-15-4 lead in games at Columbus. The Buckeyes have won the last four meetings and five of the last six, including last season's 41-0 victory at Champaign. In that game, Joe Germaine threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns as the No. 1 ranked Buckeyes piled up 518 yards of total offense. Ron Turner is 0-2 versus Ohio State while OSU coach John Cooper is 6-6 all-time versus Illinois (5-6 at OSU, 1-0 at Arizona State).
Illinois has won four of the last six meetings at Columbus, dating back to 1988. The Buckeye offense is led by senior tailback Michael Wiley, who has amassed 709 yards rushing and eight touchdowns in 1999. The passing game features wide receivers Reggie Germany and Ken-Yon Rambo. The duo has combined for 77 of the team's 121 receptions and seven of 12 touchdown receptions. Na'il Diggs leads the OSU defense with 78 tackles, 14 TFL, and 5 sacks, while cornerback Ahmed Plummer leads the team with five interceptions.
Illinois Sports Network
Jim Turpin, play-by-play
Jim Grabowski, color
espn2, 12:10 ET
JOHN COOPER - Cooper is in his 12th season in Columbus with a record of 103-37-4 at Ohio State, 185-77-6 overall. Cooper is the fifth winningest active NCAA head coach (by number of wins). He has led the Buckeyes to three Big Ten co-championships (1993, '96, '98) during his tenure and 11 wins in three of the last four seasons. Prior to becoming head coach at Ohio State, Cooper was head coach at Arizona State where he led the Sun Devils to a 1986 Pac-10 title and a 25-9-2 record in his three seasons. Prior to Arizona State, Cooper was head coach at Tulsa from 1977-1984. Cooper has had assistant coaching stints at Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, Oregon State, and Iowa State.
players that appear on the depth chart:
Jason Eberhart (knee) probable
Tony Francis (concussion) questionable
Brett Kautter (knee) questionable.
BATTLE FOR THE ILLIBUCK
This weekend the Illini and Buckeyes will go head-to-head in one of the three Illinois trophy games: the battle for the Illibuck. "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 smoke the peace pipe and present the "Illibuck" trophy to last year's winning school. Ohio State has won the last four meetings, including a 41-0 win last season in Champaign.
RACKERS NAMED BIG TEN SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Neil Rackers was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week following his 22-point performance in the Illini's 40-24 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes, Saturday.
The senior from St. Louis, Mo., put together the most exciting performance ever by an Illini kicker in the history of Illinois football. Rackers was a perfect 4-for-4 in field goal attempts, including the two longest of his career 50 and 49-yard boots to put the Illini on the board. He scored his first career touchdown when he caught an 18-yard pass from punter Steve Fitts on a fake field goal attempt. Rackers was also flawless in his four PAT attempts. His 22-points are the most scored by a kicker, while his touchdown was the first by a kicker in Illinois history. The performance was also the fifth-best scoring performance in school history.
ILLINOIS-OHIO STATE CONNECTIONS
Illinois has four players from Ohio: senior fullback Chris Hoffman (Cincinnati/St. Xavier HS), freshman linebacker Ty Myers (Springfield,/North HS), freshman kicker Brent Peterson (Columbus/St. Francis De Sales HS), Asim Pleas (Youngstown/Cardinal Mooney HS).
Ohio State has one player from Illinois, freshman defensive back Richard McNutt (Park Forest/Rich East HS). McNutt was a high school teammate of Illinois receiver/quarterback Walter Young. Illinois' starting fullback Jameel Cook, a Miami, Fla., native played high school ball with Buckeye starting linebacker Courtland Bullard at Southridge High School. Illini junior linebacker Mike Young and OSU junior wide receiver Reggie Germany were high school teammates at Hazelwood (Mo.) East HS.
OSU defensive ends coach Shawn Simms coached running backs at Illinois during the 1995 and '96 seasons under head coach Lou Tepper. Buckeye wide receiver coach Chuck Stobart was associate head coach at USC on the 1987 staff that included receivers coach Ron Turner and graduate assistant Harry Hiestand.
PLAYING THE NATIONALLY RANKED
The Illini's win over No. 9 Michigan was the first win against a ranked opponent under Ron Turner. It was also the first time UI defeated a ranked-team since Sept. 16, 1995 when they won 9-7 against No. 17 Arizona. It was the first victory over a top-10 ranked team and the highest ranked opponent Illinois has defeated since Sept. 4, 1989, a 14-13 win at No. 5 USC. The last time the Illini defeated two ranked teams in a season was in 1991 when they defeated No. 21 Houston (9/21, 51-10) and No. 11 Ohio State (10/12, 10-7).
AMONG THE ELITE
With 33 yards rushing in the Illini's 40-24 win over Iowa, senior running back Steve Havard breaks into the top 20 in career rushing yards at Illinois. His 1263 career yards move him ahead of Ray Wilson (1983-86) who totaled 1250 yards during his career.
Illinois' 40-26 win at Iowa was the third road win of the 1999 season for the Fighting Illini. The last time an Illinois team won three road games in one season was 1994. If Illinois wins at Ohio State for their fourth road win of the season, it would be the highest total since 1989 when the Illini won five road games. In addition, Illinois has won four of the last six games against Ohio State in Columbus, dating back to 1988.
CLIMBING THE CHARTS
True-freshman receiver Brandon Lloyd needs 39 receiving yards to set a new freshman record for receiving yardage. Ty Douthard had 406 receiving yards in 1993.
Freshman punt returner/cornerback Eugene Wilson needs 30 punt return yards to set a new single-season record for punt return yards. Darryl Usher holds the record with 308 punt return yards in 1987.
Senior Steve Havard and sophomore Rocky Harvey have shared duties as featured running back in the Illini offense. The duo has accounted for 76 percent of the team's rushing yardage. If the two backs' numbers were combined, they would have 220 carries for 1028 yards and nine touchdowns. The combo's average of 114.2 yards rushing per game would rank 14th nationally and third in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin's Ron Dayne and Minnesota's Thomas Hamner.
This season's 250 points to date by the Illini eclipses the 1997 and 1998 entire season totals combined. The 1999 average of 27.8 points per game is the highest points per game average for Illinois since the 1984 team averaged 29.3 (323 points in 11 games).
Illinois has scored 30 points or more in six games this season. That is the highest total of 30+ point games in one season since the 1989 team scored 30 or more points in seven games (including the Florida Citrus Bowl). The Fighting Illini have scored 40 or more points three times this season, which is the highest number of 40+ games in one season since the 1982 team tallied 40+ points in four games.
TOTAL TEAM POINTS (SEASON) 1. 1983 338 2. 1982 323 1984 323 4. 1989 301 5. 1990 293 6. 1981 287 7. 1994 279 8. 1985 275 9. 1991 261 10. 1999 250
FIGHTING ILLINI POST BIG WIN AT IOWA
Neil Rackers kicked four field goals and caught a touchdown pass to lead Illinois to a 40-24 victory at Iowa, ending Iowa's three-game series winning streak. The Hawkeyes got on the scoreboard first on the opening possession when Tim Douglas connected on a 33-yard field goal. Illinois answered on their opening drive with a 50-yard field goal by Rackers. The next Illini possession also resulted in a Rackers field goal, this time a 49-yarder, that gave Illinois a 6-3 lead.
Early in the second quarter, the Fighting Illini opened up their bag of tricks on a fake field goal. Holder Steve Fitts threw a 18-yard touchdown pass to Rackers for his first career touchdown, giving the Illini a 13-3 lead. Iowa drew within 13-10 late in the second quarter when Ladell Betts broke free for a 47-yard TD gallop. Rackers added a 37-yard field goal just before halftime to extend the Illinois lead to 16-10 at the break. The Illini picked up where they left off in the second half when Rackers connected on his fourth field goal of the day, a 37-yarder, to give Illinois a 19-10 lead.
The Hawkeyes fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Illini possession at the Iowa 15 yard line. Illinois capitalized on the turnover on their third play from scrimmage when Kurt Kittner threw a 9-yard TD pass to fullback Elmer Hickman that gave the Illini their biggest lead of the game, 26-10. Iowa answered when Scott Mullen threw a 21-yard TD pass to Kevin Kasper, capping an 11-play, 75-yard drive, cutting the Illinois lead to 26-17.
Iowa continued their rally early in the fourth quarter when Mullen scored on a 4-yard TD run that narrowed the margin to 26-24. Illinois halted the Iowa comeback when Jameel Cook caught a 5-yard TD pass from Kittner, completing a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive and extending the lead to 33-24. The Illini added another touchdown late in the fourth quarter when Steve Havard scored on a 7-yard scamper to the endzone that concluded the scoring.
SPREADING OUT THE OFFENSE
Through nine games, Illinois has had 12 different players catch 19 touchdown passes (Kittner 11 receivers for 18 TDs, punter Steve Fitts 1 receiver 1 TD). That number is the second-most nationally only Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel who has found 14 receivers open for TD strikes. Kittner has thrown touchdown passes to tight ends: Josh Whitman, Brian Hodges, Mike Craciuniou, receivers: Brandon Lloyd, Michael Dean, Greg Lewis, Aaron Moorehead, Walter Young, fullbacks: Jameel Cook, Elmer Hickman and running back Rocky Harvey. Fitts hit placekicker Neil Rackers for an 18-yard TD pass on a fake field goal attempt.
ILLINOIS' SIGNAL CALLER
Sophomore quarterback Kurt Kittner is protecting the ball as well as anyone in the country, only throwing two interceptions in 311 attempts. His two interceptions are the fewest in Division I football. He has tallied 2,036 yards passing and his 18 touchdown passes are good enough for sixth on the Illinois single season touchdown pass list. His career touchdown totals 19 which ranks seventh in the Illinois record books. He is completing 54 percent of his attempts and ranks 41st in the nation in passing efficiency and 30th in total offense. His career yardage total of 2,818 is eighth best on the Illinois career passing yards list.
MIXING IT UP
The Illinois offense has seen some changes lately and the position switches have resulted in an offensive explosion. Backup quarterback Walter Young began training for his career at receiver during fall drills in an effort to get the best athletes in the game. The change has resulted in 10 catches for 147 yards and a 31-yard touchdown against Michigan that spurred the 20-point comeback over the ninth-ranked Wolverines. Sophomore tailback Jameel Cook was moved to fullback to utilize his speed against Michigan and has now started the last three contests. The move gave the Illini their first score against the Wolverines and a six-reception, 32-yard performance. Senior fullback Chris Hoffman put his blocking skills to use when he saw a majority of his playing time at tight end against Michigan.
ELMER HICKMAN - Hickman, starting fullback, caught his second touchdown pass of the season with a nine-yard reception in the Illini's 40-24 win over Iowa. He has 33 receptions for 241 yards for the season.
STEVE HAVARD - Havard, with his performance against Iowa, has moved into the top-20 all-time Illinois rushers with 1263 yards in his career. He has five touchdowns rushing and 512 yards on the ground.
ROCKY HARVEY - Harvey, the all-purpose back, has four rushing TDs and two receiving and is second on the team in scoring. He has compiled 516 yards rushing and 243 yards receiving, including a team-season long catch of 67 yards vs. Louisville.
ANTOINEO HARRIS - Harris posted his first career touchdown against Indiana on an 11-yard run. He is averaging 5.3 yards per carry and erupted for a 47-yard run against Louisville.
With 18 total turnovers forced, the Illini rank eighth in the nation in turnover ratio. The Illinois defense has forced six fumbles and picked off 12 passes for the season, while the offense has only turned the ball over 10 times (seven fumbles and three interceptions). Illini defensive backs Tony Francis and Muhammad Abdullah rank 30th in the nation and fourth in the Big Ten in interceptions with four each in nine games.
DEAN OF RECEIVERS
After three years without a touchdown reception, senior receiver Michael Dean has four touchdown receptions in nine games. Dean has led all receivers in five of the nine games and has had two 100-yard receiving games (100 yards vs. Indiana, 124 yards vs. Louisville). He has 38 catches for 505 yards. His first collegiate touchdown came on a 12-yard strike from QB Kurt Kittner against Arkansas State, then followed that up with a spectacular 38-yard grab vs. San Diego State. His third came on an eight-yard catch against Louisville. His fourth made ESPN Plays of the Week on a eight-yard, one-handed grab around the defender.
GREATEST COMEBACK WIN IN SCHOOL HISTORY
When the Illini came back to win at Michigan after trailing 27-7, the margin tied the largest an Illinois team has ever faced and overcome to be victorious. The Illini trailed 27-7 at the 6:01 mark of the third quarter before rallying to win 35-29. Ray Eliot's 1956 team faced a 20-0 deficit in the season opener against California and scored 32 straight points to win 32-20.
WHERE THERE'S A WILSON THERE'S A WAY
With a punt return for a touchdown against Arkansas State and a near-touchdown return against San Diego State, true-freshman Eugene Wilson has become a huge asset to Illinois' special teams. Wilson's 65-yard return for a touchdown was Illinois' first since 1982 when Kirby Wilson took a punt 42-yard for a score. Eugene also had a 56-yard return vs. SDSU which took him to the two yardline. He has returned 26 punts for 278 yards, averaging 10.7 yards a return and ranks 34th in the nation.
By the near-flawless play of the Illini vs. Arkansas State you would have never guessed that 18 Illini made their collegiate debut, including five true-freshmen. Illinois went without a penalty until late in the fourth quarter and had no turnovers, while at the same time starting two redshirt-freshmen. The players making their debut were: starting flanker Greg Lewis, starting right tackle Tony Pashos, Marc Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, Trayvon Waller, Walter Young, Quincy Washington, Eugene Wilson, Antoineo Harris, Carlos Lattimore, Brett Kautter, James Brown, David Diehl, Brian Scott, Terrell Washington, Aaron Moorehead and Mike O'Brien.
ILLINI TICKET OFFICE ONLINE
Fans can now order their season and single game tickets online at www.fightingillini.com. Football tickets for the Penn State and Northwestern games are still on sale as well as season tickets for the nationally ranked men's and women's basketball teams. Visit www.fightingillini.com to order now.
ILLINOIS ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT PRAISED
According to The Sporing News, Illinois ranks among the top 20 of the 1999 Best Collegiate Athletic Departments. Released in USA Today, Illinois ranks 18th in a list of 20 dominated by the Big Ten Conference. The Fighting Illini were one of nine Big Ten schools selected in the top 20, Penn State took top honors. The 112 participating Division I schools were graded on win-loss record, graduation rates, fan support and ethics. Illinois received A- marks in fan support, graduation rates and ethics.
KITTNER AND CLARK GARNER BIG TEN ACCOLADES
Sophomore quarterback Kurt Kittner earned his second Big Ten Player of the Week honor for his four-touchdown, 280-yard performance in the Illini's 20-point comeback victory over then-No. 9 Michigan. The honor is the third of the season for an Illini. Illinois senior linebacker Danny Clark was named the co-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after his 17-tackle performance against San Diego State on Sept. 11 and Kittner landed the offensive award a week later for his four-touchdown performance in the Illini's win over Louisville.
THE JACKSON THREE
The Jackson Three, two-year starter Bobby, true-freshman Marc and first-year coach Robert have been reunited. The Harvey, Illinois natives have come home to Illinois after stints in Corvallis, Oregon. Bobby and Marc both enjoyed standout careers at Crescent Valley High School, while Dad was the receivers coach and director of football operations at Oregon State. After the departure of Illini offensive coordinator Buddy Teevens, who also served as receivers coach, it seemed only right to bring back a natural coach at the position who also had ties with recruiting in the state of Illinois (coached at Northern Illinois 1985-89). Marc is listed in the two-deep at safety this season, while Bobby underwent knee surgery and is expected to be out indefinitely.
ILLINI WINS GAIN INTEREST
Busey Bank's "Illini Fan CD" has fans banking on the team's fortunes. The certificate of deposit's annual percentage yield climbs with each Illinois victory on the gridiron. A minimum $2,500 deposit is required on the 10-month CD with a starting 5.70 percent annual percentage yield. Each time the Illini win, a 0.03 percentage point is added to the rate. A bowl bid adds another 0.05 percentage point, while a trip to the Rose Bowl adds 0.10 percentage points.