The Illini defense has forced six turnovers in the last two games.
Nov. 14, 2011
The Illinois/Wisconsin game will be nationally televised by ESPN2 with an air time of 11 a.m. CST. Beth Mowins (play-by-play) and Mike Bellotti (analysis) will call the action with Bart Fox producing and Kelly Atkinson directing. The game also will be streamed live at ESPN3.com.
The 41-station Illini Sports Network will carry the radio broadcast with the pregame show beginning at 10:30 a.m. CST. Calling the action will be Brian Barnhart (play-by-play), Kurt Kittner (analysis) and Steve Kelly (pregame, halftime and postgame). The broadcast also can be heard on SIRIUS (117) XM (194) satellite radio.
The game will also be broadcast nationally by Westwood One, with Brian Davis (play-by-play), Eddie George (analysis) and Jason Horowitz (pre-game and halftime) calling the action.
Limited tickets are available for Saturday's game against Wisconsin and can be purchased at the UI Athletic Ticket Office at Assembly Hall, by calling 1-866-ILLINI-1 or online at fightingillini.com.
The Fighting Illini (6-4, 2-4) will face their third-straight top-25 opponent this Saturday when No. 15/13 Wisconsin (8-2, 4-2) comes to Memorial Stadium (11 am CST, ESPN2). The two teams have not met since 2008.
Illinois started the season 6-0, the program's best start in 60 years, but has dropped four straight entering Saturday's matchup with the Badgers.
The Illinois defense has continued to climb the national rankings. The Illini are allowing 288.3 yards per game to rank ninth nationally in total defense, and also rank in the top-25 nationally in passing defense (173.4, ninth), scoring defense (18.6 ppg, 12th), rushing defense (114.9 ypg, 23rd) and pass efficiency defense (115.5, 24th).
Illinois leads the Big Ten and ranks in the top-10 nationally in sacks and tackles for loss. The Illini rank fifth in the NCAA in sacks (3.2 per game) and sixth in TFLs (8.1 per game).
All-America candidate Whitney Mercilus continues to lead the nation in sacks (12.5), sacks per game (1.25) and forced fumbles (7). The seven forced fumbles is an Illinois single-season record and the second-most in Big Ten history, behind only Jonal Saint-Dic's (Michigan State) conference record of eight from 2007.
All-America and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist A.J. Jenkins leads the Big Ten and ranks among the nation's elite in both receiving yards per game (113.3) and receptions per game (7.6). Jenkins needs 146 yards to break Hall of Famer David Williams' Illinois single-season record of 1,278.
Jenkins has 48 catches for 768 yards and five touchdowns in five Big Ten games. His 128.0 yards per game during conference games is more than 15 yards per game better than his closest competitor (Iowa's Marvin McNutt - 112.7 ypg).
LB Jonathan Brown has been a monster the last four games, totaling 48 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, two PBUs, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one hurry.
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase leads the Big Ten in total offense during conference games. Scheelhaase's 251.8 yards per game put him just in front of Wisconsin's Russell Wilson (244.5 ypg) and Michigan's Denard Robinson (240.5 ypg). Scheelhaase has thrown 25 TDs against just seven INTs over the last 17 games.
Senior PK Derek Dimke has missed just one kick all season, a 42-yarder that would have tied the game as time expired at Penn State. Dimke has hit 7-of-8 field goals and all 29 of his PATs this season. For his career, he has made 36-of-42 field goals (.857) and all 84 PATs he's attempted.
Senior RB Jason Ford has 26 career rushing touchdowns, which ranks second on the UI career list behind only career leader Howard Griffith (31).
Saturday's game will mark the final home game for 15 Illini seniors. Jeff Allen, Sean Anderson, Brandon Clear, Jack Cornell, Derek Dimke, Jason Ford, Trulon Henry, A.J. Jenkins, Wisdom Onyegbule, Troy Pollard, Ronald Stewart, Fred Sykes, Ian Thomas, Craig Wilson and Tavon Wilson will all be recognized prior to the game.
Six Fighting Illini were recognized on Phil Steele's Midseason All-America Teams, including first-team DE Whitney Mercilus. WR A.J. Jenkins was named to Steele's second team, OT Jeff Allen to the third team and DB Tavon Wilson to the fourth team. QB Nathan Scheelhaase and C Graham Pocic were both named honorable mention All-Americans by Steele.
With six wins, Illinois is bowl-eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time since a streak of five straight seasons from 1988-92.
WR A.J. Jenkins has 56.3 percent of Illinois' receiving yards this season, the most in the nation by over 10 percent. Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill is second at 45.9 percent.
Nearly 50 percent of Nathan Scheelhaase's completions have gone to Jenkins this season (73 of 147 - 49.7 percent), the second-highest percentage in the nation for any QB-WR duo behind Rutgers' Chas Dodd and Mohamed Sanu (56.3).
Jenkins has five 100-yard receiving games this season, one shy of the UI single-season record of six by David Williams and Brandon Lloyd.
DE Whitney Mercilus and LB Jonathan Brown rank fourth and seventh nationally in tackles for loss per game with 1.75 and 1.61 TFLs per game, respectively.
RB Troy Pollard is averaging 7.6 yards per carry, the 13th-highest per carry average in the nation and the best in the Big Ten.
Illinois is 14th nationally in fewest penalty yards per game (38.5).
The Illini defense has allowed just eight scores (five TDs and three FGs) following 22 UI turnovers this season.
JENKINS MAKING MOST OF SENIOR SEASON
Biletnikoff Award semifinalist A.J. Jenkins leads the Big Ten and ranks eighth nationally in yards per game (113.3).
Jenkins ranks third on the UI single-season receiving yards list with 1,133, putting him within striking distance of David Williams' 27-year-old record of 1,278. He also ranks second on the single-season list for 100-yard receiving games with five and fourth in season receptions at Illinois with 76.
Jenkins' big 2011 has propelled him onto several UI career record lists. He currently ranks third in career TD receptions (18), fourth in career 100-yard receiving games (8), fifth in career receiving yardage (2,289) and sixth in career receptions (153). See pages 11-12 for a complete list of Illini records to watch.
Jenkins' 268 yards against Northwestern shattered Williams' UI single-game record of 208 and was the third-most receiving yards in a Big Ten conference game and the fourth-most in all games in Big Ten history, while his 328 all-purpose yards against NU were the third-most in school history.
Jenkins' 450 combined yards against Northwestern (268) and Indiana (182) in back-to-back games marked the most receiving yards in a two-game span in Big Ten history.
Jenkins' has four scoring plays of 50+ yards this season, which is tied for the fifth-most in the nation. He's had TD receptions of 77, 72, 67 and 50 yards this season. His 17 scrimmage plays of 20+ yards rank sixth nationally.
Jenkins' three 65-plus yard TD catches this season also is a UI record, eclipsing the previous mark of two by Rich Kreitling in 1958. All three of Jenkins' long TDs have come from QB Nathan Scheelhaase, marking the first time in school history that a QB and receiver have combined for multiple TD passes of 65-plus yards in their careers.
Jenkins' three-touchdown performance against NU matched the single-game receiving touchdown record at Illinois and marked the first time an Illini has accomplished the feat since Greg Lewis in 2000. He currently is third on Illinois' all-time list with 18 career TD receptions behind Brandon Lloyd (21) and David Williams (24).
Jenkins and Scheelhaase are the most prolific QB-WR combo in the Big Ten over the last two seasons. The Illini duo has connected 124 times, ahead of Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham (105).
Jenkins has at least one catch in 28 straight games. His 12 catches against Northwestern tied for the third-most in a game in UI history and his 11 catches against Arkansas State tied the most ever in a season-opener by an Illini.
SCHEELHAASE KEEPS IMPROVING
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase has three TD passes of 65-plus yards this season, all to WR A.J. Jenkins, which equals Juice Williams' single-season school-record total from 2006.
Scheelhaase threw for a career-high 391 yards and three touchdowns to lead Illinois back from an 18-point deficit against Northwestern on Oct. 1.
Scheelhaase is fourth in the Big Ten and 40th nationally in passing efficiency (140.1). The UI single-season record is 140.0 set by Tony Eason in 1981. The Manning and Maxwell Award candidate has improved his completion percentage from 58.7 in 2010 to 62.3 this season.
Scheelhaase had a career game against Northwestern, throwing for 391 yards and three touchdowns in the comeback victory to easily eclipse his previous high of 267 yards against Arkansas State earlier this season. His one-yard TD plunge with 13 seconds left provided the winning points against the Wildcats.
Scheelhaase has made drastic improvement during his 23 games on the field. After tossing four touchdowns and seven interceptions in Illinois' first six games of 2010, Scheelhaase has thrown 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions since the midpoint of 2010.
Scheelhaase has been outstanding in Illinois' 13 wins since the beginning of the 2010 season, completing 170-of-250 passes (68.0 percent) for 2,288 yards, 20 TDs and four INTs for a 168.1 efficiency rating. He also has rushed for 849 yards on 181 carries and six TDs in those 13 games. For comparison, Scheelhaase is 132-of-250 (52.8 percent) for 1,394 yards, nine TDs and 10 INTs for a 103.5 rating in Illinois' nine losses.
ILLINOIS VS. RANKED OPPONENTS
Illinois faces its third-straight top-25 opponent in a row and its fourth of the season on Saturday as Wisconsin is ranked No. 15 in this week's Associated Press poll and No. 13 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
The Illini defeated No. 22/18 Arizona State, 17-14, earlier this season, ending a nine-game losing streak to ranked opponents, and then fell at No. 21/19 Penn State, 10-7, on Oct. 29 and against No. 22/21 Michigan, 31-14, on Nov. 12 in Champaign.
In the Ron Zook era, the Illini are 4-20 against ranked teams, with three wins coming in the 2007 Rose Bowl season - No. 21 Penn State, No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 1 Ohio State - and the other coming earlier this season against No. 22 Arizona State. In his nine-plus years as a head coach, Zook has posted 10 wins over ranked opponents.
WISCONSIN SERIES NOTES
This week's game marks the 78th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Badgers. Illinois leads the all-time series 36-34-7 and holds a 20-14-3 series edge in Champaign.
Illinois and Wisconsin have not met since 2008, a 27-17 Badger win in Madison. The last meeting in Champaign was a 31-26 Illini win in 2007 over the fifth-ranked Badgers. Prior to the 2007 UI win, Wisconsin had won four straight in the series.
Illini head coach Ron Zook is 1-3 in his career against Wisconsin, while Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is 2-1 against Illinois.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE BADGERS
WR A.J. Jenkins led the Illini in receiving during the 2008 game as a true-freshman with three catches for 61 yards, including a 14-yard TD reception from Juice Williams.
RB Jason Ford was Illinois' leading rusher in the 2008 game as a true-freshman with 47 yards on 12 carries.
WR Fred Sykes had three catches for 25 yards in the 2008 game as a true-freshman.
TE Zach Becker caught a two-yard TD pass from Juice Williams as a true-freshman in the 2008 game at UW.
THE BIG TEN'S RUSHING TEAMS
During the Ron Zook era (since 2005), Wisconsin and Illinois rank 1-2 in the conference in rushing yards per game. The Illini's 202.0 yards per game (16,769 yards in 83 games) in the last six-plus seasons is just behind Wisconsin's 204.4 ypg (17,989 yards in 88 games) during that same time span. The Badgers passed the Illini after last week's game after Illinois led for the last two-plus seasons.
Illinois' 182.3 ypg this season ranks 38th in the nation. The Illini have finished the season ranked in the top-20 nationally in rushing yards per game in four of the last five years.
Over 60 percent of Illinois' plays this season have been runs (62.2 percent - 441 rushes in 712 total plays).
The Illini have led the conference in rushing in three of the last five years (2006, '07 and '10).
Illinois has produced three NFL running backs in the last five years. Pierre Thomas (Saints) and Rashard Mendenhall (Steelers) have both led their respective teams to the Super Bowl. Mikel Leshoure (Lions), a 2011 second round draft pick, will miss his entire rookie season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon during training camp.
Illinois has had five games decided by one score this season, tied for the sixth-most in the nation, going 3-2 in those games. The Illini had three consecutive three-point wins against Arizona State, Western Michigan and Northwestern and now has two straight losses by one score, losing at Purdue by seven and at Penn State by three.
The Illini overcame a 14-10 fourth-quarter deficit in the Sept. 17 win over No. 22 Arizona State. A 16-yard TD reception by A.J. Jenkins with 9:59 remaining gave Illinois the lead and then the defense took over, forcing four straight Brock Osweiler incompletions to give the Illini a 17-14 win.
Against Western Michigan on Sept. 24, a Derek Dimke field goal with 5:44 left broke a 20-20 tie. Then the defense did the job once again, holding the Broncos scoreless on two final drives to give Illinois a 23-20 win.
Illinois had to come from behind twice against Northwestern on Oct. 1. The Illini trailed 28-10 late in the third before scoring 21 points in less than 12 minutes to take a 31-28 lead. After an Illinois defensive stop, the offense fumbled and NU scored to go up 35-31 with 1:15 remaining. This time, the offense stepped up with a 69-yard TD drive, capped by one-yard Nathan Scheelhaase QB sneak with 13 seconds left, to give the Illini the win.
At Purdue on Oct. 22, the Illini fell behind 21-0 before scoring 14 fourth-quarter points to get within seven. However, Illinois' onside kick attempt in the final minutes was recovered by the Boilers to seal the 21-14 win.
Illinois was in control most of the way in a snowy game at Penn State, but a Nittany Lion TD with 1:08 remaining gave the hosts a 10-7 lead. The Illini proceeded to march 58 yards on eight plays to get in position to tie the game, but Derek Dimke's game-tying 42-yard field goal hit the right upright and bounced back toward the field as time expired.
Illinois has shown its ball-control ability in 2011, holding the ball an average of 31:43, which ranks 27th nationally and second in the Big Ten in time of possession. Overall, Illinois has had 17 scoring drives last at least 10 plays and 11 last at least five minutes each.
Illinois is one of just five teams in the nation with at least three scoring drives of 95+ yards. Illinois has had scoring drives of 95 (vs. Arkansas State), 95 (vs. Northwestern) and 97 (at Indiana) this season. Georgia Tech, BYU, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss also have at least three. The Illini also have one 90 yard TD drive, making them one of just 12 teams in the nation with at least four 90+ scoring drives.
For the second year in a row, an Illini broke an individual program record against Northwestern. In 2010, RB Mikel Leshoure ran for an Illinois record 330 yards in the Illini win at Wrigley Field. This season, WR A.J. Jenkins had a school-record 268 receiving yards in Illinois' win over the 'Cats.
While Illinois' rushing offense has remained strong, the Illini are doing it by committee this year rather then relaying on one dominant runner like in 2007 (Rashard Mendenhall) and 2010 (Mikel Leshoure). Four different Illini have at least 360 rushing yards this season and no one has more than 518.
RB Jason Ford leads the team in rushing with 518 yards and has a team-high seven rushing touchdowns, while sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase has 515 yards and six touchdowns. Senior RB Troy Pollard has 401 yards on only 53 carries. His 7.6 yards per carry average and leads the Big Ten.
Ford has 26 career rushing TDs, moving him past Robert Holcombe and Thomas Rooks for second on the UI career list. He is five behind Howard Griffith's UI career record of 31. Ford currently ranks 16th on the UI career rushing list (1,880 yards).
Weak-side tackle Jeff Allen anchors the Illini offensive line once again, earning third-team Midseason All-America honors from Phil Steele. The Lombardi and Outland trophy candidate has started every game since the fourth game of his freshman season, giving him a team-high 44 consecutive starts.
The Illinois defense made huge improvements in 2010 after the arrival of defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and has continued to improve in 2011.
ILLINOIS' DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT IN 2010 and 2011 Category 2009 (NR) 2010 (NR) 2011 (NR) Rushing Def. (ypg) 154.42 (76) 130.8 (32) 114.9 (23) Total Def. (ypg) 403.3 (91) 351.3 (38) 288.3 (9) Pts Allowed (ppg) 30.2 (96) 23.5 (48) 18.6 (12) Pass Eff. Def. 142.77 (103) 128.6 (61) 115.5 (24) Passing Def. (ypg) 248.83 (100) 220.5 (61) 173.4 (9)
Illinois has forced at least one turnover in 24 of its last 25 games. The Illini had a streak of 21 consecutive games forcing a turnover, which was the longest active streak in the nation at the time, snapped against Ohio State. Since then, the Illini got one fumble recovery at Purdue, forced three turnovers at Penn State and then three more against Michigan to bring the new streak to three games.
Linebacker Jonathan Brown notched a career-high 17 tackles, including 2.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks, against Ohio State on Oct. 15, marking the most tackles by an Illini in a game since Brit Miller tallied 17 on Nov. 8, 2008, vs. Western Michigan. He's followed that up with three more strong games, totaling 31 tackles, 6.0 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 2 PBU, one forced fumble and one hurry against Purdue, Penn State and Michigan. For the season, Brown leads the team with 78 tackles and is second on the team and third in the Big Ten with 14.5 TFLs.
Brown was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 19 after a dominant performance in the upset win over Arizona State (7 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, one INT and one PBU).
Junior DE Whitney Mercilus has become a force on the defensive line this season. He leads the nation in sacks (12.5), sacks per game (1.25) and forced fumbles (7). His 12.5 sacks already rank third on the UI single-season sacks list and put him within striking distance of Simeon Rice's school-record 16 sacks in 1994. His seven forced fumbles are already a UI single-season record and are one shy of the Big Ten record, while his eight career forced fumbles are tied for second all-time at UI.
Senior DB Tavon Wilson was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and CFPA National Defensive Player of the Week after a big performance at Indiana on Oct. 8. Wilson returned a fumble 66 yards for a TD against the Hoosiers and also had a team-high 11 tackles, including nine solos, a career-high 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one pass break-up in the game. For the season, Wilson is tied for the team lead with six passes defended and is third on the team with 60 tackles.
Senior linebacker Ian Thomas is back to the familiar role of middle linebacker for the 2011 season, ranking second on the Illini with 64 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks and three QB hurries. Playing in the middle isn't new for Thomas, as he led the team in tackles as the MLB in 2009 before moving to weak-side linebacker for the 2010 season.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Senior PK Derek Dimke was the last perfect kicker of 2011 before missing the game-tying field goal as time expired at Penn State. For the season, Dimke has made 7-of-8 FG attempts and all 29 PATs. For his career, Dimke has hit 36-of-42 field goals in his career (.857), which ranks fourth nationally among active kickers.
A Lou Groza Award candidate, Dimke had made 10 straight field goals dating back to the 2010 Texas Bowl prior to the miss at Penn State, which tied for the third-longest streak in school history.
Dimke is a perfect 84-of-84 on extra points in his career, making him one of only two players in Illinois history to be perfect with at least 65 PAT attempts.
True-freshman Justin DuVernois has taken over punting duties after the loss of 2010 first-team All-Big Ten punter Anthony Santella to graduation. He has punted 52 times for a 38.3-yard average this season, including a long of 66, 15 fair catches and 16 inside the 20, and also had one free kick for 49 yards following a safety.
DuVernois is one of just 10 true-freshman starting punters in the nation.
Senior LB Trulon Henry will miss the rest of the regular season after being shot in the hand in an off-campus incident on Nov. 13. He is the older brother of former Illini standout and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Arrelious Benn. His status for a possible bowl game is unknown.
Junior OG Hugh Thornton sat out the second half of the Penn State game and missed entire Michigan game with a lower leg injury and is questionable to play this weekend against Wisconsin.
Freshman RB Josh Ferguson (hamstring) has missed the last seven games due to injury. His return is unknown.
Senior FB Chris Willett has missed the last five games while recovering from a concussion and is questionable for the Wisconsin game.
Junior OL Corey Lewis has missed the first 10 games of 2011 recovering from a torn ACL that kept him out all of 2010. He is cleared to practice and is questionable for Saturday's game.
Senior FB/TE Zach Becker is out for the season after breaking a bone in his leg against South Dakota State.