Illini Look To End Regular Season On A Positive Note
Nov. 13, 2000
Illinois (5-5, 2-5 Big Ten) is coming off a another heartbreaking loss, this time by a 24-21 count when Ohio State kicker Dan Stultz booted a 34-yard field goal on the final play of the game.
Illinois took a 21-18 lead early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Dustin Ward connected with Jameel Cook for a 1-yard TD pass. The Buckeyes answered with a 17-yard field goal with 6:05 remaining before Stultz's fourth field goal of the day decided things on the final play. Buckeye running back Jonathan Wells rushed 27 times for 131 yards, while quarterback Steve Bellisari completed 23 of 38 passes for 251 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Illinois quarterback Kurt Kittner completed 13-26 passes for 166 yards before leaving the game with an injury on the final play of the third quarter.
Northwestern (7-3, 5-2) enters the game Saturday with a chance to tie for the Big Ten title. Four teams (Northwestern, Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan) all enter the final weekend of play tied for the league lead with 5-2 conference records. The Iowa Hawkeyes kept the Wildcats from taking sole possession of first place with a 27-17 win at Iowa City. Northwestern's potent offense averages 36.3 points per game, but, the Wildcats are also giving up an average of 31.1 points per game. Running back Damien Anderson is an All-America candidate with 1,735 yards and 18 TDs rushing. Quarterback Zac Kustok completes 58 percent of his passes and has thrown for 17 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. He averages 210.1 yards passing and nearly 40 yards rushing per game. The Wildcats have five receivers with at least 24 receptions. Illinois needs to win at Northwestern to become bowl eligible for the second consecutive season.
THE COACHES' CORNER
RON TURNER (16-28 in his fourth year at Illinois, 23-32 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. 18 contest against Northwestern with a 23-32 head coaching record, 16-28 at Illinois. The Illini have won 10 of their last 16 games stretching back to 1999 and had a seven-game winning streak snapped Sept. 23 against Michigan.
Turner is 2-1 against Northwestern as a head coach, including wins each of the last two seasons. Last year, the Fighting Illini posted a 27-9 victory over the Wildcats at Champaign.
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 Micronpc.com 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.
RANDY WALKER (69-46 in his seventh season as head coach and 10-11 in his second year at Northwestern) - Randy Walker is in his second year at Northwestern following nine years at Miami (Ohio). After a 3-8 record in 1999, Walker has the Wildcats tied for the Big Ten lead heading into the final regular-season game of 2000. Besides serving at Miami and Northwestern, Walker spent 10 years as an assistant at North Carolina.
Illinois leads the all-time series by a 49-39-5 margin, including a 25-22-3 advantage in games played at Evanston. Illinois has won four of the last seven meetings, including the last two. Northwestern had a three-game winning streak in the series from 1995-97. The two teams have split the last six games at Ryan Field dating back to 1988.
Last year, Illinois concluded the regular season with a 29-7 victory over the Wildcats at Memorial Stadium. After Northwestern had taken a 7-3 first-quarter lead, Illinois erupted for 17 second-quarter points to take a 20-7 lead into halftime. Illini placekicker Neil Rackers booted three field goals, while running back Steve Havard had 99 yards rushing and two touchdowns to lead the Illini attack. Rocky Harvey added 99 yards and another TD of his own, while the Illini ran up 261 rushing yards. Wildcat running back Damien Anderson rushed 25 times for 133 yards while NU quarterback Zac Kustok was 16-32 for 179 yards and one TD passing.
THE TOMAHAWK (since 1945)
The story of the Illinois-Northwestern trophy dates back to 1945 when the staff members of the two student newspapers conceived the idea of a wooden Indian trophy, "Sweet Sioux." In September, 1946, "Sweet Sioux" was stolen from a showcase at Northwestern. A Tomahawk Trophy was inaugurated in 1947 to replace the wooden Indian and has been used since. "Sweet Sioux" was found in 1948, but was discarded because of its bulk. Illinois has held claim to the trophy for the last two years, including its 29-7 win in Champaign last fall.
Illinois head coach Ron Turner was the quarterbacks/receivers coach at Northwestern in 1981 and 1982. Illini defensive coordinator Tim Kish was the defensive ends/linebackers coach at Northwestern from 1992-96. Northwestern defensive coordinator Jerry Brown was on the same Wildcat staff with Kish from 1993-96 as defensive backs coach.
PLAYING THE NATIONALLY RANKED
The Illini take the field for their third game this season against a nationally ranked opponent this weekend against the xxth-ranked Northwestern Wildcats. Illinois has hosted ninth-ranked Michigan and 13th ranked Ohio State in close losses. Illinois has a 29-89-3 record against ranked opponents.
It comes as no surprise that within this in-state rivalry between the Wildcats and the Illini many of the players will match up with former high school teammates. Illini receiver Eric McGoey will meet fellow receiver from his Wheaton Warrenville South team, Jon Schweighardt. Freshman offensive lineman Don Baskin was a prep teammate of David Hilderbrand at Naperville Central. Quarterback Zak Kustok's father, Al Kustok, was an offensive tackle at Illinois in 1972-73.
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 four 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. The Illniois offense is also taking advantage of the defensive turnovers and have scored 63 points in drives following turnovers.
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.
LEAST LIKELY TO GET PENALIZED
One of the tell-tale signs of a well-disciplined team is the amount of penalties charged. The latest NCAA rankings show Illinois as one of the least penalized team of the 114 squads in Division I football. The Illini have committed 40 penalties this season in 10 games which ranks second behind Colorado State which has been penalized only 39 times. Louisville brings up the rear with 118 penalties for 1,039 yards. The average for a team is 61 penalties, over 7 per game. The Illini commit approximately four per game. Here is a list of the top-5 least penalized teams in the nation.
1. Colorado State 39 - 331 2. Illinois 40 - 346 3. Army 44 - 286 East Carolina 44 - 420 5. Toledo 46 - 435
ILLINI IN THE POLLS
After spending six weeks in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Polls, the Illini fell out of the Top-25 following two tough conference losses to Michigan and Minnesota. 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. Here is a look at the Illini week-by-week in 2000:
THIS KITT'S FOR REAL
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, 58 percent completion performance in the last 10 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 1,982 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.
TIGHT END PRODUCTION
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 21 catches and 213 yards. Here are top-5 lists of all-time catches, yards and touchdowns by tight ends.
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, 133.9 yards per game, (72.1 yards a game for Harris and 61.8 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 2,030 yards in three years and needs only 164 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).
ITS A FAMILY AFFAIR
KITTNER EARNS CONFERENCE HONORS
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.
WAKEFIELD TWICE NAMED BIG TEN DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
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.
SULLIVAN NAMED TO PLAYBOY PRESEASON ALL-AMERICAN TEAM
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.