Nothing would please Illini seniors Sam Carson, Brit Miller and Will Davis more than a win at Northwestern Saturday and a subsequent bowl game opportunity.
Nov. 17, 2008
Saturday's game will be the 102nd meeting between Illinois and Northwestern. llinois leads the series, 52-44-5 overall, and in Evanston, 26-25-3. It is Illinois' longest standing series. The two teams have played consecutively for 82 years since 1927.
With a start on Saturday against Northwestern center Ryan McDonald would tie the school record for most starts in a career, reaching 48 games along with offensive lineman Tim Simpson who played for the Illini from 1988-91.
With 420 yards of total offense against Northwestern on Saturday, Illinois will break the school record for yards per game. The previous season best is 446.3 yards a game from the 2002 season and the Illini are currently averaging 448.3.
Matt Eller was successful on his two field goal attempts against Ohio State to bring his season total to 14, which sets a new freshman field goal record, besting the 13 kicked by Chris Sigourney in 1991.
Sophomore Arrelious Benn recorded 65 receiving yards last week to break the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the season. He is the first Illini over 1,000 since Brandon Lloyd in 2002. He also has posted the fifth-best season in school history and is just the fourth player at Illinois to have a 1,000-yard receiving year.
Illinois quarterback Juice Williams can break the Illinois season total offense record with 85 yards against Northwestern. He also is three yards shy of breaking into the Big Ten season total offense top-10.
Williams is 39 passing yards away from the 3,000-yard mark this season. It would be the first 3,000-yard season for an Illinois player since Kurt Kittner in 2001. With his 328-yard performance against Western Michigan on Nov. 8, he reached the 6,000-yard point for his career to become only the fifth quarterback in Illinois history to pass for 6,000 or more yards.
Williams leads the Big Ten in total offense and has since the first week of the season. This week, he is averaging 326.0 yards per game - 56.8 on the ground and 269.2 in the air - which ranks eighth nationally. He has led the league, for the past five weeks, in passing and currently ranks 13th nationally. Williams also is 22nd in the NCAA?in passing efficiency and second in the league.
Illini receiver Arrelious Benn is averaging 5.7 catches per game, which is the most for an Illini receiver since Brandon Lloyd averaged 6.2 catches per contest in 2002. That number also ranks third in the Big Ten. In seven Big Ten games, Benn has posted 107.3 yards receiving per game, 34 yards more than his next competitor (Minnesota's Eric Decker with 73.0 per game).
The Illini offense ranks in the top-2 in the Big Ten in three offensive categories - first in passing (274.5) and total offense (448.3) and second in scoring offense (30.4). Nationally, Illinois ranks in the top-40 in all three categories - total (16), passing (16) and scoring (37).
Illinois' offense has put up some staggering numbers, ranking first in the Big Ten and 16th in the nation in total yards (447.9 ypg). The Illini have posted over 500 yards five times already this season and accomplished the feat in three straight games (Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana) for the first time since 2002.
Illinois middle linebacker Brit Miller leads the Big Ten in tackles for the 11th time in 12 weeks with 11.3 per game, which ranks third in the NCAA. He also is averaging 1.4 tackles for loss per game, which ranks 14th in the nation.
As a defense, the Illini are leading the Big Ten in both tackles for loss and sacks with 7.4 and 2.9 per game. Those numbers rank 14th and seventh in the NCAA.
Illinois' Ron Zook has defeated Michigan in "The Big House" (2008) and Ohio State in "The Horseshoe" (2007). He is one of two active Big Ten coaches (Joe Paterno is the other, beating Michigan in 1994 and 1996, and Ohio State in 1978) and is one of 13 coaches in Big Ten history to accomplished the feat.
Illinois had a season-high six sacks against Iowa, as part of 10 tackles for loss. The six sacks are the most by the Orange and Blue since recording seven at Indiana on Sept. 22, 2007. The Illini defense has now recorded 32 sacks and 81 TFLs on the season.
Freshman Matt Eller kicked a 46-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining to seal the victory against Iowa. It marked Illinois' first game-winning field goal in the final minute since Jason Reda hit a 39-yarder with six seconds left at Michigan State on Sept. 30, 2006, for a 23-20 win. Eller is 8-of-10 on field goals over 40 yards.
Junior cornerback Vontae Davis was named to the Thorpe Award Semfinal List for the second straight year. He is one of 13 honored and one of just three from the Big Ten Conference. Davis is in his third year as a starter in the Illinois secondary and currently has posted 69 tackles, 7.0 for loss. He has one interception and eight passes broken up. He is tied for second in the Big Ten in fumbles forced (0.20/game) and is 18th in the Big Ten in tackles per game with 6.3. Davis is a 2008 Playboy All-American and a unanimous preseason All-America selection.
The semifinalist list will be narrowed to three finalists Monday, Nov. 24, and the winner will be announced on the ESPNU College Football Awards Show, broadcast nationally on Thursday, December 11. Formal presentation will be at a banquet in Oklahoma City, Monday, February 11, 2009. The award, named after Oklahoma born Native American sports legend Jim Thorpe, is presented annually to the defensive back who best exhibits performance on the field, athletic ability and character.
NORTHWESTERN SERIES NOTES
Saturday's game will be the 102nd meeting between Illinois and Northwestern. llinois leads the series, 52-44-5 overall, and in Evanston, 26-25-3.
The Illini topped the Wildcats last year in Champaign, 41-22, to snap a four-game series losing streak. Illinois' last victory in Evanston was in 2002, 31-24.
This will be Ron Zook's fourth head-to-head contest against Northwestern. He is 1-2 vs. the Wildcats. NU coach Pat Fitzgerald is 1-1 against the Illini in his first two seasons as head coach.
Northwestern defensive coordinator Greg Colby was a linebacker at Illinois from 1972-74, graduating in 1975. He began his coaching career at Illinois as a graduate assistant in 1977-78 and then returned for another stint with the Illini as the outside linebackers/special teams coordinator from 1988-95.
ILLINOIS HIGHLIGHTS VS. THE WILDCATS
Last year's 41-22 victory over Northwestern on the final weekend gave the Illini nine wins on the year and kept alive Illinois' hopes for a BCS Bowl bid. The Illini would end up playing in the Rose Bowl against USC.
Illinois rolled up 541 total yards and 321 yards rushing in last year's win over the Wildcats at Memorial Stadium. The Illini controlled the game from the start, jumping out to leads of 21-0 and 35-7 and dominated time of possession, holding the ball for over 38 minutes.
Quarterback Juice Williams had a big game against NU last season, completing 15-of-23 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown while rushing 23 times for 136 yards and two scores.
Wide receiver Jeff Cumberland had a career game with 131 yards on four catches, including a 48-yard reception and a 42-yard touchdown reception in last year's victory.
Defensive end Will Davis had a sack in last season's game to bring his season total to 9.5, which placed him fifth on the all-time season list.
Senior linebacker Brit Miller posted what was then a career-high 12 tackles against Northwestern during his freshman season in 2005.
THE BATTLE FOR THE SWEET SIOUX TOMAHAWK
This week Illinois and Northwestern will play for the "Tomahawk." The Illini lead the traditional trophy series by a 32-27-2 mark.
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. The trophy returned to Illinois after the team's 41-22 win over the Wildcats, after a four-year residence in Evanston from 2003-2006.
ALL-BIG TEN ANNOUNCEMENT SHOW
The Big Ten Network will present the live, exclusive announcement of the 2008 All-Big Ten football teams and individual honors during a special edition of Big Ten Tonight at 6:30 p.m. CT on Monday, Nov. 24. Dave Revsine will host the announcement alongside analysts Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith, with selected award winners joining them during the 30-minute program. The special edition of Big Ten Tonight will reveal the All-Big Ten teams as selected by both the coaches and the media. Coaches and media each will select a Big Ten Offensive Player, Defensive Player and Freshman of the Year. Media also will honor the Dave McClain Coach of the Year while the coaches will pick an Offensive and Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Juice Williams has accomplished a feat unprecedented in history. In three games this season (Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota), he has set stadium records in total offense numbers.
Williams passed for 451 yards and rushed for 10 against Missouri on Aug. 30 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo., eclipsing the 456 yards posted by Rams quarterback Marc Bulger against the New York Jets in 2004. Others that Williams surpassed include Kansas State's Michael Bishop, who had 442 total yards in the 1998 Big 12 championship game, and Tommy Corwin, who had 453 for DeSmet in a high school state title game in 2005. Williams managed to surpass Bulger's best day despite being sacked five times by Missouri for a loss of 42 yards. In college, sacks count against a quarterback's rushing yards but in the NFL they don't.
Williams compiled 431 yards of total offense at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 4, which is a Michigan Stadium record. One week later on Oct. 11 against Minnesota, Williams threw for 462 yards and rushed for another 41, making his 503 total yards an Illinois Memorial Stadium record.
Based on research collected by Division I SIDs, there are no other current players who own stadium records in more than one venue, much less three.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Illinois' six losses have come to teams with a combined record of 50-16 (Missouri 9-2, Penn State 10-1, Minnesota 7-4, Wisconsin 6-5, Western Michigan 9-2, Ohio State 9-2).
Four of Illinois' 11 FBS opponents are ranked in the top-25 - Penn State (7), Ohio State (10), Missouri (12), Northwestern (24)
Illinois' three FBS non-conference opponents have a combined record of 23-9. Missouri is ranked 12th at 9-2, Louisiana-Lafayette is 5-5 and Western Michigan is 9-2.
Against seventh-ranked and undefeated Penn State, the Illini offense posted over 350 total yards, the only team to do so this year. Illinois also put up 24 points, tied for the most scored against PSU this season (along with Iowa).
ILLINOIS RECORDS TO WATCH
Juice Williams needs 102 yards to move into the top-13 on the all-time rushing list in the Illinois record books.
Williams needs 86 yards to break the Illinois season total offense record.
Williams needs 44 rushing yards to break the 2,000-yard mark. He would be the 14th player in school history to top 2,000 and the first non-running back.
Williams already holds the Illinois season record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 775 last year, but needs 130 yards in his final two regular season games to beat that mark.
Benn needs six receptions to move as high as fourth on the Illinois top-10 single-season list.
Benn needs 266 yards to break the Illinois single-season receiving yards record.
Running back Daniel Dufrene needs 52 rushing yards to break the career 1,000-yard mark.
ILLINOIS VS. RANKED OPPONENTS
Illinois will face its fourth top-25 opponent of the season when it squares off with No. 24 Northwestern. The Illini lost to No. 12 Missouri in the season opener, at No. 7 Penn State in game four and No. 10 Ohio State last weekend.
Last season, the Illini were 3-2 vs. top-25 opponents and 2-1 against top-10 foes (wins over No. 19 Penn State, No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 1 Ohio State, and losses to No. 24 Michigan and No. 7 USC). In the Ron Zook era, the Illini are 3-11 against ranked teams.
In his seven years as a head coach, Ron Zook has posted nine wins over ranked opponents.
Illini receiver Arrelious Benn is a candidate for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's best receiver.
Benn is leading the Big Ten in receiving yardage with 92.0 yards per game, and his 107 yards per conference game is 34 yards better than the second-ranked player. He has scored five touchdowns - two rushing and three receiving.
Benn is averaging 5.7 catches per game, which is the most for an Illini receiver since Brandon Lloyd averaged 6.2 catches per contest in 2002. That number ranks third in the Big Ten.
Benn has five 100-yard receiving games this season. He recorded four straight earlier this year (4-110 at Penn State, 6-122 at Michigan, 12-181 vs. Minnesota, 7-130 vs. Indiana). It was the first time an Illinois player has put together four consecutive 100-yard receiving games in school history. He also has recorded 90 yards or more on seven occasions this year.
With two catches vs. Wisconsin, Benn reached the 100-reception mark for his career, the first time an Illini has reached the milestone since the trio of receivers in 2002 (Greg Lewis, Walter Young and Brandon Lloyd).
Benn had a career day against Minnesota, compiling a career-high 12 catches for 181 yards, which marked the fifth-most receiving yards in a game in Illinois history. His 181 yards were the most by an Illini since David Williams racked up a school-record 208 yards on Sept. 1, 1984.
Benn's 12 catches against Minnesota marked the the third-most in school history and were the most by an Illini since Brandon Lloyd caught 13 passes against Northwestern on Nov. 22, 2001.
Benn has converted first downs on 50 of his 63 catches (79.4 percent) and is a near-perfect 13-for-14 converting on third downs (92.8).
Benn was the 2007 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and earned honorable mention Freshman All-America honors after he broke Illinois' freshman receiving and receptions record.
Senior Brit Miller, a four-year starter at linebacker, leads the Big Ten in tackles through 11 games with 11.3 per game, which is third nationally.
Miller posted his first 100-tackle season after his 17-tackle performance against Western Michigan. He now has 121 tackles in 2008.
Miller also is averaging 1.6 tackles for loss per game, which ranks ninth in the NCAA.?
Miller earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after his performance at Michigan. He recorded nine tackles, four for loss and two sacks. The four tackles for loss ranked 10th in the Illinois record book.
Miller scored his first defensive touchdown when he stripped Louisiana-Lafayette's quarterback and returned it 27 yards for the score.
Miller has 33 tackles for loss in his career, making him ninth on the Illinois top-10 list. Miller set a career high in tackles with 17 vs. Western Michigan, besting his previous high of 16 vs. Wisconsin earlier in 2008.
Miller is a semifinalist for the Ronnie Lott award, which combines athletic excellence with off-the-field character. He also was named to the American Football Coaches Association's Good Works team. Miller is a staple in the Champaign and Decatur communities, volunteering every week with elementary and middle schools, military veterans and children's hospitals.
Sophomore receiver Arrelious Benn has caught a pass in every game of his career, 24, since he was a true-freshman in 2007. He leads a group of receivers that is averaging of 18.5 catches per game. Here is a list of the receivers and their current reception streaks (2 or more games):
Juice Williams ranks first in the Big Ten in passing and total offense, second in passing efficiency, ninth in rushing and is the only quarterback in the country to hold three stadium records (total offense in the Edward Jones Dome, Michigan Stadium and Illinois' Memorial Stadium).
Williams has twice been named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week this season. He earned the honor for his performance at Michigan after posting 431 yards of total offense against the Wolverines, breaking a Michigan Stadium record, and against Missouri after throwing for a career-high five TDs and 451 yards on a career-high 26 completions. His 451 passing yards rank fourth all-time at Illinois. He out-passed Chase Daniel 451 yards to 323 and threw two more TDs than the Missouri Heisman candidate.
With 310 yards passing and 121 yards rushing vs. Michigan on Oct. 4, Williams became just the third player in Big Ten history to rack up over 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in single game. He joins Northwestern's Zak Kustok (421 passing, 111 rushing vs. Bowling Green on 11/17/2001) and Michigan State's Drew Stanton (308 passing, 102 rushing vs. Minnesota on 10/16/2004) in the Big Ten record books. Williams accomplished the feat for the 24th time in NCAA history and is the only player in the nation to do it this year. It was also the first time in school history.
Williams now owns two of the top-5 spots in the Illinois record books for passing yardage in a game with his 462 yards vs. Minnesota and 451 vs. Missouri. He is third and fourth behind Dave Wilson's 621 yards (11/8/80) and Tony Eason's 479 (10/23/82). He also holds three of the top-10 in total offense - 2nd, 503 vs. Minnesota; 4th, 461 vs. Minnesota; 7th, 431 at Michigan.
Williams has four career TD passes of 69 or more yards, the most by any quarterback in school history. Jack Trudeau and Tony Eason are the only other two Illini QBs to throw two TD passes of 69 or more yards and there have only been 15 such plays in school history.
Williams' 328 passing yards against Western Michigan marks his 10th game over 200 yards, fourth over 300 and he has posted two over 400.
Williams is averaging 14.9 yards per completion this season, with a high of 23.8 vs. Michigan. That average ranks third in the nation behind David Johnson of Tulsa (17.1) and Sam Bradford of Oklahoma (15.2).
Williams has rushed for over 100 yards six times in his career and twice this season.
Williams' leads the Big Ten and ranks 22nd in the NCAA in passing efficiency with 142.1 for the season, which is on pace to break the Illinois single-season record in the category. His quarterback efficiency against Indiana was 221.20, the sixth-best single-game rating in school history.
Williams' 77-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland against Michigan was the longest play from scrimmage this season for the Illini and the longest Illinois reception since 1985, when Cap Boso caught an 83-yarder from Jack Trudeau.
Williams has put together three perfect passing quarters this season, the latest being a 5-for-5 third-quarter outing for 47 yards against Indiana. He was 4-of-4 through the air for 68 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter at Penn State and completed 5-of-5 passes for 67 yards in the third quarter against Eastern Illinois on Sept. 6.
Williams became just the fourth quarterback in Illinois history to throw for five or more touchdowns in a game, joining Dave Wilson (6), Tom O'Connell (5) and Jeff George (5) with his five-touchdown performance against Missouri.
Williams has accounted for 71.8 percent of Illinois' first downs for the season, 163-of-227, rushing for 35 and passing for 128. He engineered 92.9 percent of the Illinos' first downs vs. Iowa, 92.0 percent vs. Minnesota and 91.7 percent vs. Missouri.
JUICE IN THE RECORD BOOKS
2nd - season total offense (3,586) - 85 for 1st
3rd - career total offense (8,159) - 481 for 2nd
14th - career rushing yards (1,956) - needs 102 for 13th
5th - career passing yardage (6,193) - 838 for 4th
7th - career pass completions (455) - needs 7 for 6th
5th - career pass attempts (873) - needs 38 for 4th
3rd - career passing touchdowns (44) - needs 11 for 2nd
3rd - season passing touchdowns (22) - 2 for 2nd / 5 for 1st
1st - career rushing yards by a quarterback (1,956)
1st - season rushing yards by a quarterback, 2007 (755) - already holds record
2nd - season rushing yards by a quarterback, 2008 (625) - needs 130 yards for 1st
3rd - season rushing yards by a quarterback, 2006 (576) - record was broken in 2007
BIG TEN 1,000-YARD RUSHERS
The Big Ten boasts 11 career 1,000-yard rushers. Illinois quarterback Juice Williams ranks sixth among active players and is tops among the two quarterbacks in the rankings. Indiana's Kellen Lewis is the only other signal-caller on the list.
Illinois has scored touchdowns in less than two minutes on 18 of its 40 scoring drives, which ranks 14th nationally. The fastest drive has been a one-play, eight-second drive that culminated in a 13-yard touchdown run by Arrelious Benn vs. Eastern Illinois.
The Illinois offense ranks fourth nationally with six touchdowns over 50 yards.
Juice Williams has completed 10 passes over 50 yards this season, second-most in the country. Six of those have gone for touchdowns, which is third behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Tulsa's David Johnson.
The Illini also have 17 touchdown-scoring drives of five plays or less, which ranks 14th nationally.
Illinois defenders Vontae and Will Davis (no relation) are two of the leaders on the Illinois defense.
Vontae, a two-year starting cornerback earned unanimous first-team Freshman All-America honors in 2006 and emerged as one of the best corners in the Big Ten last season, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. He is a 2008 Playboy All-American, ranks 18th in the Big Ten in tackles, has totaled six interceptions and 22 passes broken up in his career, while also blocking two punts.
Will, a senior defensive end, exploded in 2007 with 9.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He was named second-team All-Big Ten and was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after his four-sack, five-TFL performance vs. Indiana. This season, he broke into the Illinois all-time quarterback sack list and ranks ninth with 15 career sacks. He has totaled 33 tackles, seven for loss, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble this year.
ILLINI ON THE RUN
The Illini offense rushed for 214 yards against Ohio State, marking the third time this season they have surpassed the 200-yard mark in a game (399 vs. Eastern Illinois, 292 vs. Indiana, 214 vs. Ohio State).
With 121 yards against Michigan, Illini quarterback Juice Williams rushed for over 100 yards for the sixth time in his career and second time this season. He ranks 14th on the Illinois all-time rushing list with 1,840 yards.
True-freshman running back Jason Ford broke out against Indiana, rushing for 172 yards and three touchdowns. His yards are the second-most by a freshman at Illinois behind Rocky Harvey's 215 against Middle Tennessee in 1998. They are the most by an Illini freshman against a Big Ten team.
NATIONAL CONSECUTIVE STARTS
Illinois senior center Ryan McDonald has started 47 consecutive games during his four-year career. That number is among the best in the nation, ranking as the fourth-longest active streak. It ranks as the second-best in Illinois history and with a start against Northwestern, McDonald will tie Tim Simpson with the school record.
Illinois has scored 40 points or more four times in 2008 - 55 vs. Indiana, 45 at Michigan, 47 vs. Eastern Illinois and 42 against Missouri. The 55-point game vs. Indiana is the highest in the Ron Zook era at Illinois and the third-most by a Ron Zook-coached team (65 and 63 by Florida).
Illinois' 55 points scored against Indiana are the most Illinois has ever scored in a Big Ten game at Memorial Stadium (previous high was 50 in a 50-0 shutout over Iowa in 1973) and the most points the UI has scored in a conference game since winning at Northwestern, 63-14, in 1989.
Illinois scored 45 points against Michigan, the most the Illini have put up against the Wolverines in school history, and the most points against Michigan in the Big House since 1991 when Florida State scored 51. It also was the most points scored by a Big Ten opponent at Michigan Stadium since Ohio State won, 50-20, in 1961.
The Illinois offense has put up over 500 yards in five of its 11 games of 2008. The Illini posted 532 against Missouri, 533 against EIU, 501 at Michigan, 550 vs. Minnesota and 563 against Indiana. It was the first time since 2002 that the Illini have had 500 yards or more in three consecutive games.
The Illini passed for 451 yards against Missouri and 462 yards vs. Minnesota, marking the third-and fourth-best passing performances in Illinois history.
In 11 games, the offense has put together 65 big plays over 20 yards, including 17 over 40 yards. Among those 65 are 42 big passing plays and 18 rushes (three special teams and two defense). Illinois has six touchdowns this season on plays of more than 50 yards, which ranks fourth nationally.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui is emerging as a first-down machine. Out of his 23 catches so far this season, 17 have gone for first downs and two others were touchdowns. Hoomanawanui has become a much larger part of the Illinois offense in his third season, with 23 catches and 291 yards so far in 2008 after catching just five passes for 64 yards in his first two seasons combined.
Senior receiver Will Judson made the most out of his first collegiate start vs. Missouri, hauling in five catches for 177 yards. Of his 20 catches for the year, 13 have converted first downs.
Judson and Chris Duvalt each hauled in two touchdown receptions in the season opener against Missouri, marking the first time since the 2002 Sugar Bowl that Illinois had two receivers with two TDs catches in a game (Walter Young and Brandon Lloyd vs. LSU).
The 94 total points scored by Missouri and Illinois (52-42) marks the highest combined scoring game in school history.
The Fighting Illini defense leads the Big Ten in quarterback sacks with 32 (2.9 per game) and tackles for loss (7.4) . The Illini have posted double-digit tackles for loss numbers in three games this year, racking up 11 tackles for loss against Mchigan and Louisiana-Lafayette and 10 vs. Iowa. Five times this year the Illini have posted four or more sacks (against Wisconsin, Michigan, Eastern Illinois, Indiana and Iowa).
The defensive line features a rotation of nine players with those guys accounting for 42.5 tackles for loss and 20 sacks through 11 games. Ends Derek Walker, Doug Pilcher and Will Davis and tackle David Lindquist are veteran returning starters. From those four, the Illini defense has gotten 122 tackles, 27.5 for loss and 16 sacks this season.
The Illinois defense has held opponent offenses on 8-of-14 fourth-down attempts for the season.
Illinois has scored three defensive touchdowns this year. In the season opener against Missouri, Derek Walker intercepted a screen pass by Chase Daniel and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown. The defense scored its second touchdown of the season, against Louisiana-Lafayette, when linebacker Brit Miller stripped an option handoff from Louisiana's quarterback and returned it 27 yards for the score. The third came against Iowa with cornerback Dere Hicks' sack, forced fumble and seven-yard return for a touchdown.
The defense has forced 19 turnovers this season - five interceptions and 14 fumbles. DE Derek Walker, LB?Brit Miller and DBs Dere Hicks, Donsay Hardeman and Vontae Davis each have one interception, and 10 different Illini players have recovered fumbles for Illinois this year. Illinois' aggressive defense has forced a whopping 20 fumbles in nine games, falling on 14 of them. The Fighting Illini have surpassed last year's eight fumbles recovered and 19 forced.
Junior college transfer safety Donsay Hardeman returned from an injury, which kept him out of the first three games of the season, to start in the Big Ten opener against Penn State. In eight games, he has recorded 44 tackles, including 31 solos, one interception, a tackle for loss and has forced and recovered a fumble.
The Illini defense has held four teams under 100 yards rushing this season, including Louisiana-Lafayette, who currently ranks third the nation in rushing with 283 yards per game. The Illini kept the Ragin' Cajuns under 100 with 87 yards and star running back Tyrell Fenroy to just 20 yards (now ranks eighth in the nation with 126 ypg).
Michigan averaged 2.0 yards per carry on the ground for 69 total rushing yards in the game, Minnesota managed just 88 yards, 2.7 yards per carry, and Western Michigan mustered a mere 2.3 yards per run and 64 yards on the ground. Despite Wisconsin's 163 yards on the ground, the Badgers averaged just 3.6 yards per rush and Iowa posted just 3.5 yards per carry.
True-freshman receiver A.J. Jenkins has emerged as a solid kick returner and recorded his first touchdown with a 96-yard return against Indiana. With many of the teams kicking away from Arrelious Benn, Jenkins has picked up 21 returns in 11 games. He is averaging 22.6 yards per return, which ranks eighth in the league and 74th in the nation.
Jenkins and Arrelious Benn put together back-to-back games with kickoff returns of over 60 yards with Jenkins' 96-yarder vs. Indiana and Benn's 63-yarder at Wisconsin.
Illinois features a freshman kicker, Matt Eller. Eller, in 11 games, has been successful on 14 field goals, including a 51-yarder vs. ULL, and 38-of-40 extra points. Eller leads the team in scoring and ranks eighth in the league with 7.2 points per game.
Eller kicked a 46-yard field goal with 24 seconds remaining to seal the victory against Iowa. It marked Illinois' first game-winning field goal in the final minute since Jason Reda hit a 39-yarder with six seconds left at Michigan State on Sept. 30, 2006, for a 23-20 win and the first at Memorial Stadium since 1991.
Defensive end Will Davis blocked a field goal attempt at Michigan. It was Illinois' first blocked field goal since 2005 when Chris Norwell blocked one against California on Sept. 17.
ILLINOIS ON A "JOURNEY"
The Big Ten Network original series Illinois Football: The Journey airs each Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. CT/9:30 p.m. ET. The 11th show of the season will air on Nov. 25.
New episodes will air at 8:30 p.m. CT/9:30 p.m. ET every Tuesday during the football season, with the previous week's show preceding the new episode. Viewers can follow The Journey online with a producer's diary, bonus video clips, photos, archived segments and a five-minute video preview of the season premiere by visiting www.BigTenNetwork.com/Journey.
Five of Illinois' 2008 starters came to Illinois on a different path than the one they currently find themselves.
Wide receiver Chris Duvalt spent his first two seasons as an Illini at cornerback. He played a key role on special teams, but was spending too much time behind other players. This spring, he gave offense a try and the rest is history. He has made an impact with four touchdown catches. He is averaging 15.9 yards a catch.
Junior Rahkeem Smith played a season as a linebacker before seeing a straight shot to a starting role at fullback.
Senior Will Davis came to Illinois as a 235-pound tight end, but quickly saw a chance at success on the defensive side of the ball with his addition of 40 pounds and a move to defensive end. In four seasons, he has totaled 23.5 tackles for loss, 15 quarterback sacks and 19 hurries.
One of the most immediately effective moves came before the 2007 season when former defensive end Xavier Fulton switched to offensive tackle and earned All-Big Ten honors that same season. In his only year as a starter, the offensive line set new school records for total offense and rushing yards. This season, the Illini are curently ranked No. 1 in the conference in passing and in total offense.
Jeff Cumberland moved from tight end to receiver in the middle of last season. As a receiver in his final four games of 2007, he caught 11 passes for 221 yards, including 131 yards against Northwestern. He has played in seven games this season after sitting out the beginning of the year with a foot injury. He caught his first pass of the season against Michigan, a 77-yard touchdown reception, the longest play from scrimmage in 2008 and the longest pass play since 1983. After nine games played, Cumberland has 15 catches for 292 yards and four touchdowns.
ILLINI IN THE NATIONAL RANKINGS
Illinois dropped out of the top-25 after being ranked for the first five weeks of the season. Before falling to undefeated No. 3 Penn State, the Illini had spent seven consecutive weeks in the polls, dating back to the 2007 season. That number was the most since the 1989, '90 and '91 squads put together 24 consecutive weeks in the top-25 and ranked as the fourth-longest streak in Illinois history
HE'S A ROCKET SCIENTIST
Maybe you don't have to be a rocket scientist to play football, but Illinois senior center Ryan McDonald thinks it doesn't hurt. In four years, McDonald finished an undergraduate degree in aeronautical engineering with a 3.83 GPA. After completing a bachelor's degree and having one more year of eligibility remaining, McDonald began a master's degree in the same program this fall. Illinois' College of Engineering is ranked among the top-5 in the nation, with some programs notching the top spot.
DAVIS' FAMILY INSTRUMENTAL IN LIBERIAN GOVERNMENT
Illinois defensive end Will Davis' family are natives of the Republic of Liberia. He has spent his entire life in the United States, and was able to visit Liberia as a young child before civil war broke out. Now that the war has ended, his mother, Pearine Davis-Parkinson, recently returned home to become the Deputy Minister in the Ministry of State office (Chief of Staff). The Ministry of State supports the work of the President of the Republic of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The major departments of the Ministry of State are the Office of the President, Administration, and Public Affairs and Communications Technology. Davis' mother played basketball for the Liberian national team and at the University of Liberia. His uncle, John Davis, played soccer for Liberia.
HOOMANAWANUI HONORING HIS POLYNESIAN DECENT
Junior tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, while growing up in Bloomington, Ill., lived much of the Hawaiian heritage passed down by his father, Isy. Isy came to the mainland to play football at Illinois State then stayed to raise his family.
When Michael came to Illinois, he began many of the traditions carried on by Polynesian and Samoan football players. He entered his freshman year with clean-cut short hair, but then began to grow it out to the long black mane that can be seen out the backs of football helmets. This tradition dates back to Samoan warriors to signify battle. It also is very noticeable to the public in the stands and draws attention to their heritage.
Hoomanamwanui also has three tattoos, called Aumakua, which means "protectors." His family's protectors are the shark and the turtle, two images that have been passed down for centuries and are now tattoos on Michael's arms and shoulders.
Michael also can be seen on campus wearing what looks to be a brightly adorned skirt. However, it is called a kikepa and is traditional dress for men in Hawaii.
BO KNOWS FOOTBALL ... AND BASEBALL
Sophomore safety Bo Flowers turned 24 the day after Illinois' upset of Ohio State last season and he is the oldest player on the Illini roster. Flowers began his college career last season after four years in professional baseball. He was a fifth-round draft pick in 2003 by the Detroit Tigers. After spending three seasons in the Detroit organization, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs, where he played the 2006 season. Currently, Flowers is a walk-on on the Illini team because the Tigers are footing the college bill
On this year's Illini football roster, there are five members who are direct descendents of Africa. Starting left guard Jon Asamoah's father, Samual Asamoah, is from Ghana in West Africa, and senior defensive end Will Davis' mother is from Liberia, while four others' parents are Nigerian. Newcomers Supo Sanni, Ugochukwu Uzodinma, Chudi Aguanunu and Wisdom Onyegbule's parents were born and raised in Nigeria, also in West Africa. Sanni's parents are Sesis and Olarunji Sanni, Uzodinma's parents are Florence and Joel Uzodinma, Aguanunu's parents are Chika and Kate Aguanunu, and Onyegbule's parents are Onyemuwa and Grace Onyegbule.