Mikel Leshoure has scored 10 touchdowns in the last three games (seven rushing, three receiving)
Nov. 16, 2010
The Illinois/Northwestern game will be televised on ESPNU with an air time of 2:30 p.m. CT. Mark Jones (play-by-play), Bob Davie (color analyst) and Erin Andrews (sidelines) will call the action with Kim Belton producing.
The 41-station Illini Sports Network will carry the radio broadcast with the pregame show beginning at 2 p.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 (121) & XM (141) satellite radio.
The team will depart for Chicago on Friday afternoon via charter bus. Coach Zook will meet with members of the media at the team's walkthrough at Wrigley Field (time TBA).
UPDATE 11/19: BIG TEN ANNOUNCES ADJUSTED PLAYING RULES
The Big Ten Conference announced a series of adjustments to football playing rules in order to enhance student-athlete safety for the Allstate Wrigleyville Classic to be played on Saturday, Nov. 20, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Rule Change Details.
ESPN COLLEGE GAMEDAY AT WRIGLEY
ESPN College GameDay will be coming to Chicago this Saturday morning, broadcasting live from outside Wrigley Field prior to the Allstate Wrigleyville Classic. Gameday Details.
THE OPENING KICK
The Fighting Illini will head to the "Friendly Confines" of Wrigley Field in Chicago this Saturday to face the Northwestern Wildcats in the Allstate Wrigleyville Classic. ESPN's College Gameday crew will be on hand as Illinois and Northwestern battle for the Land of Lincoln rivalry trophy.
Saturday's game will mark the first football game at Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs, in 40 years. The game was scheduled as a Northwestern home game, but the Wildcats decided to move the game from their regular home stadium, Ryan Field in Evanston, to Wrigley.
The Illinois offense has exploded in the last four games, averaging 46.5 points and 412.7 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 13 turnovers in the last four games and has converted those miscues into 62 points (eight TDs and two FGs). During that span, the Illini offense has turned the ball over just three times.
The Orange and Blue defense has been stingy after turnovers all season. Following the 17 Illini turnovers, the defense has allowed just 25 points (one touchdown and six field goals).
Opponents have started 20 regulation drives in plus territory this season, but the Illini defense has allowed just three touchdowns and nine field goals on those 20 drives.
Offensively, Illinois ranks second in the nation in red zone scoring percentage, picking up points on 37 of its 39 trips inside the 20 this season (95 percent). The Illini have 24 touchdowns and 13 field goals in the red zone so far this season. Only Memphis (15-for-15) has a better percentage nationally.
Illinois ranks fifth in the nation in fourth-down conversion percentage. The Illini are 7-of-9 (78%) on fourth-down tries this season, which trails only Florida State (100%), LSU (90%), Ohio State (86%) and East Carolina (80%).
The Illini defense also has fared well stopping fourth downs. Illinois ranks 13th nationally in defensive fourth-down efficiency, allowing only five first downs on 14 opponent attempts (35.71 percent).
Big Ten Freshman of the Year candidate QB Nathan Scheelhaase has been on fire in the last four games, completing 53-of-87 passes (61 percent) for 701 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions while rushing for another 299 yards and one TD on 67 carries (4.5 ypc). His QB rating in the last four games is 170.33, compared to 110.24 in his first six games. Scheelhaase has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week five times already this season and also has been named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week once.
Junior RB Mikel Leshoure has combined for 323 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns in the last two games. He shared Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors on Nov. 8 after scoring five touchdowns and totaling 172 all-purpose yards (120 rushing, 52 receiving) against Michigan and then piled up 151 yards (141 rushing, 10 receiving) and two more TDs vs. Minnesota last week.
Junior LB Martez Wilson ranks second in the Big Ten and 28th nationally in tackles (9.4 tpg) and is second on the team in TFLs (7.5) and third in sacks (2.0). He has led the Illini in tackles in six of the last eight games, including last week against Minnesota, when he tallied a career-high 15 stops.
Junior PK Derek Dimke has been named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award and senior punter Anthony Santella a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award. Dimke is 18-of-21 on field goals and a perfect 32-of-32 on extra points this season, while Santella ranks 10th in the nation in punting (45.4 ypk).
NORTHWESTERN SERIES NOTES
Saturday's game will be the 104th meeting between Illinois and Northwestern. Illinois leads the series 52-46-5 overall and 1-0 in games played in Chicago. The series is tied 26-26-3 in games played in Evanston.
The Illini won the lone game in the series played in Chicago, 29-0, in 1923. That game also was played at Wrigley Field.
The Wildcats topped the Illini, 21-16, last season in Champaign, their second-straight win in the series and sixth in the last seven games. Illinois' only win in that span was a 41-22 victory in Champaign in 2007.
This will be Ron Zook's sixth head-to-head contest against Northwestern. He is 1-4 versus the Wildcats. NU coach Pat Fitzgerald is 3-1 against the Illini in his first four seasons as head coach.
Northwestern offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Adam Cushing is the brother of former Illinois tight end Matt Cushing.
THE BATTLE FOR THE LAND OF LINCOLN TROPHY
This week, Illinois and Northwestern will play for the "Land of Lincoln" trophy in the second battle for the relatively new rivalry trophy. The Land of Lincoln Trophy was chosen by fans of both schools in an online vote to replace the 62-year old Tomahawk Trophy. Northwestern won the trophy last season with a 21-16 victory in Champaign.
Illinois and Northwestern played for the "Sweet Sioux" Tomahawk from 1947-2008. Illinois led the traditional trophy series by a 32-28-2 mark, but Northwestern won the final meeting for the Tomahawk with its 27-10 win in 2008. The Tomahawk was retired following the 2008 season.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE WILDCATS
In last year's game, Derek Dimke made his first career field goal in the second quarter, a 30-yarder.
Tavon Wilson registered 11 tackles, including a career-high 10 solo stops, in last year's game against the Wildcats.
Corey Liuget recorded a then-career high of seven tackles last year against Northwestern.
Whitney Mercilus notched then-career highs with two tackles and 1.5 TFLs in last year's contest.
Illinois is averaging 416.7 total yards and 218.7 rushing yards per game in the teams' last three meetings. The Illini also have rushed for over 200 yards as a team in three of the last four meetings and have three 100-yard rushers (Juice Williams and Rashard Mendenhall in 2007, Mendenhall in 2006) during that span.
ILLINOIS HISTORY AT WRIGLEY
Wrigley Field regularly hosted football games from 1916 to 1970, including about 370 NFL games. The primary football tenants were the Chicago Bears, who called the park home from 1921 (as the Chicago Staleys) through 1970. The Chicago Tigers (1920) and Chicago Cardinals (1920, 1931-1939) also played professional football at Wrigley. The , however, wasn't limited to the pros as the park also hosted high school and collegiate football games, including a 1923 battle between Northwestern and the University of Illinois.
In that Oct. 27, 1923, game, Illinois beat Northwestern 29-0 in front of 32,000 fans. The game was moved to Wrigley Field - then named Cubs Park - after Illinois ticket requests exceeded 10,000. At that time, Northwestern's stadium held approximately 17,000 fans.
In that game, the Illini led 19-0 at halftime after three touchdowns by sophomore Harold "Red" Grange, the second score on a 90-yard interception return. Earl Britton kicked a field goal in the third quarter and Clarence Muhl caught a fourth-quarter TD pass to reach the final score of 29-0.
Prior to the 1923 game, there was concern that Cubs Park wasn't big enough to hold a regulation football field, with NU head coach Glenn Thistlethwaite measuring the field in late August and declaring that the field wasn't large enough unless the field was oriented southwest-to-northeast. But that field layout would make it hard for fans to watch the game.
In early September, UI athletic director George Huff and head coach Bob Zuppke agreed to play the game with reduced end zones, stating that playing on a slightly smaller field was preferred in order to allow more fans to attend the game.
Grange also made his professional debut for the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field on Nov. 26, 1925, playing in front of a crowd of 39,000 on Thanksgiving Day. The Bears raised ticket prices 25 cents to $1.75 prior to the game in anticipation of Grange's debut.
Fomer Illini George Halas was instrumental in moving the Staleys from Decatur to the Windy City, reaching an agreement with Cubs' President/Treasurer Bill Veeck Sr. for use of Cubs Park for the 1921 season. In accordance with the move, the team was renamed the Chicago Staleys (for one year). In 1922, after Halas and Sternaman purchased the team, they were re-named the Chicago Bears. Halas considered calling the team the Cubs but noted that football players were bigger than baseball players, so he elected to call them the "Bears." The Chicago Staleys/Bears called Wrigley their home for 50 years (1921-1970), completing 39 winning seasons at the park.
The last football game played in Wrigley Field was the Chicago Bears' 35-17 win over the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 13, 1970. The Bears officially announced their move to Soldier Field on May 13, 1971. In 2007, the final traces of football at Wrigley were uncovered as the playing surface was renovated. Work crews discovered the concrete blocks surrounding the bottom parts of the old goal posts that had been buried under the infield for nearly four decades.
ILLINOIS VS. RANKED OPPONENTS
Illinois will face its third top-25 opponent of the season when it faces Northwestern this Saturday in Chicago. The Wildcats are ranked No. 25 in this week's Coaches Poll and is first among those receiving votes in the AP Poll. The Illini previously faced #2/2 Ohio State and #13/11 Michigan State, while Missouri was not ranked when it played the Illini in the season-opener, but is now ranked 15th in the AP poll and 16th in the Coaches poll.
The Illini are 3-11 vs. top-25 opponents over the past three-plus seasons, including a win over No. 1 Ohio State in 2007. Illinois is 2-4 against top-10 foes during that span with wins over No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 1 Ohio State, and a loss to No. 7 USC in 2007, losses to No. 6 Missouri and No. 10 Ohio State in 2008 and No. 5 Cincinnati in 2009. In the Ron Zook era, the Illini are 3-18 against ranked teams.
In his eight-plus years as a head coach, Ron Zook has posted nine wins over ranked opponents.
LESHOURE HAVING BREAKOUT SEASON
Junior Mikel Leshoure had 141 rushing yards and two touchdowns last week against Minnesota, giving him 1,041 yards for the season. He now has 1,901 yards for his career, 15th on the Illini all-time list.
Leshoure has scored 10 touchdowns in the last three games, seven rushing and three receiving, and has 14 total touchdowns this season, a total that ranks third on the Illinois single-season touchdown list. He needs six more touchdowns to break that school record, currently held by Rashard Mendenhall (2007, 19 TDs).
Leshoure's 104.1 rushing yards per game this season rank 16th in the nation and lead all Big Ten running backs. He's second overall in the conference behind only Michigan QB Denard Robinson.
A native of Champaign, Ill., Leshoure had his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season last week versus the Gophers, which ties for the second-most in school history with Jim Grabowski (1965) and J.C. Caroline (1953). Rashard Mendenhall holds that record with eight 100-yard rushing games in 2007. Leshoure also has nine 100-yard games in his career, tied for fourth-most with Pierre Thomas (2003-06), Rich Johnson (1966-68) and John Karras (1949-51).
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 UI history.
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 20.0 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 5.2 ypc for the season.
Leshoure's 5.54 career yards per carry ranks 18th among all current Division I players with at least 300 carries.
SCHEELHAASE HAVING HUGE FRESHMAN SEASON
Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has been named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Week five times already this season.
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 in those five games.
Scheelhaase has run for 587 yards this season, a total that ranks third 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 two season totals of 755 in 2007 and 719 in 2008. Scheelhaase needs 169 yards to break Williams' single-season record.
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.
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 (13,854 yards in 70 games) in the last six seasons tops Wisconsin's 194.3 ypg (14,576 yards in 75 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 five 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 207.1 ypg on the ground, which ranks 20th nationally and fourth in the Big Ten. For some perspective, that average of 207.1 ypg would have led the league in all of those years except for the Illini's average of 256.8 in 2007, and it would have ranked second that year.
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.
ILLINI DUO CLIMBING ILLINOIS AND BIG TEN RUSHING LISTS
Junior running back Mikel Leshoure went over the 1,900-yard career rushing mark with 141 yards against Minnesota on Nov. 13 and moved up to 15th on the Illinois career rushing list in the process. He enters this weekend's contest with 1,901 yards, which puts him fourth among active Big Ten players. For the season, he has 1,041 yards, needing just 11 yards to move into the Illinois single-season top-10 list.
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 1,172 yards for his career, a total that ranks 12th among active Big Ten players and 31st in Illinois history.
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 has missed the last two games after re-aggravating a foot injury that sidelined him for the first five games of the season. His playing status for the Northwestern game is unknown. Sophomore DB Terry Hawthorne missed the Minnesota game after re-aggravating a foot injury that caused him to miss the first four games this season, but is expected to return this weekend against Northwestern.
They're Back: FS Steve Hull (ankle), RB Jason Ford (ankle) and WR Jarred Fayson (hamstring) all returned to active status for the Michigan game. Hull missed four games after being injured against Ohio State, while both Ford and Fayson sat out the Purdue game. 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.
ILLINI DEFENSE HAS HISTORY OF SHUTTING DOWN HIGH POWERED OFFENSES
The Illini `D' has held some of the top players and 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 14th in the nation, averaging 107.0 ypg, and racked up 223 yards on 15 carries against Minnesota on Sept. 25, one week after the Fighting Illini shut him down.
THE FIGHTING ILLINI DEFENSE
The Illinois defense has made huge improvements this year under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, even despite its recent struggles. The Illini currently rank 38th in total defense (344.8 ypg) 39th in rushing defense (133.3 ypg), 52nd in points allowed (23.9 ppg) and 53rd in passing defense (211.5 ypg). 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.
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 six tackles, 1.0 TFL and a half-sack vs. Minnesota, seven tackles at Michigan and 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 50 tackles, a team-high 8.5 TFLs and 3.5 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 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. Henry is the older brother of former Illini standout and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Arrelious Benn.
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 (5.5).
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 6.0 tackles per game are third on the team and he already has eclipsed his previous season career-highs with 5.0 tackles for loss and six pass break-ups.
MORE NOTES ON THE OFFENSE
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.
Illinois' string of three straight 40-point performances against Indiana, Purdue and Michigan (65 points) marked just the fourth time in school history that the Illini had scored 40 or more points in three consecutive games and the first since 1983.
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 26 scoring drives of 8+ plays and 22 scoring drives of 4+ minutes.
The offense has also shown the ability to strike quickly, registering 15 scoring drives of two minutes or less and 17 scoring drives of five plays or less.
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 31 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 in the Oct. 30 meeting.
Junior receiver A.J. Jenkins had six catches for a career-high 137 receiving yards against Minnesota last week. It marks the third time in his career and second time this season that he has recorded over 100 receiving yards. For the season, Jenkins leads the Illini with 40 catches for 595 yards and five 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 1,172 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 over 50 yards, and 32-of-32 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 44-of-44 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 20 touchbacks and has a 62.2 yard average in 59 kickoffs this season, blowing away 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 semifinalist 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 10th in the nation with a 45.4 average on 52 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 45.4 so far this season. He currently ranks fourth in the Illinois record books in career punting average (40.8), second in career yardage (9,461) and second in career punts (232).
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 24.6 yards on 12 returns this season to rank fourth in the conference, and ranks second in Big Ten games with a 25.1 average.
MISCELLANEOUS TEAM NOTES
Illinois has faced the 20th-toughest schedule in the nation thus far according to the official NCAA schedule strength rankings. Illinois' opponents have a combined record of 55-35 this season vs. Division I opponents (not counting their game vs. Illinois).
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.
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.
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.
A LOOK BACK AT 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 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.
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
NORTHWESTERN: OL Jeff Allen, RB Mikel Leshoure, DL Corey Liuget, WR Eddie McGee, LB Martez Wilson