Nov. 19, 2012
BATTLE FOR THE LAND OF LINCOLN TROPHY
The Fighting Illini (2-9, 0-7 Big Ten) will close out the 2012 season by traveling to Evanston to face in-state rival Northwestern (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) on Saturday (11 a.m. CT, BTN). Illinois will be looking to win the Land of Lincoln rivalry trophy for the third year in a row.
Illinois is holding opponents to a third-down conversion rate of just 29.6 percent (40-of-135), which leads the Big Ten and ranks eighth in the nation. On Oct. 27, the Illini held Indiana to just one conversion on 13 third-down plays, and earlier in the season, the Illini held Charleston Southern without a first down on 13 third-down attempts.
Illinois ranks 19th nationally in defensive three-and-outs with 4.27 per game. The Illini have forced a three-and-out on 47 out of 142 drives over the first 11 games of 2012. Additionally, the Illini have forced a three-and-out on the opponent's first drive in eight of 11 games this season.
True-freshman LB Mason Monheim has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice this season, most recently after his 15-tackle, 1.5-TFL, half-sack performance against Minnesota on Nov. 10. Monheim leads all Big Ten freshmen and the Illini in tackles with 81 on the season. During conference games, the true-freshman is averaging 9.1 stops per game, which is tied for sixth overall in the Big Ten.
Junior QB Nathan Scheelhaase keeps moving up several Illinois career lists. After throwing for 160 yards against Purdue last week, Scheelhaase passed Jeff George and Jon Beutjer into seventh all-time on the UI career passing yardage list (5,205). He's also currently fifth in career passing efficiency (125.1), sixth in total offense (6,994 yards), sixth in completions (479), eighth in passing attempts (787) and 18th in rushing yardage (1,789) at Illinois.
Redshirt-freshman Taylor Zalewski booted a career-long 54-yard field goal against Purdue last week, marking the third-longest field goal in school history and the longest by an Illini since 1990, when Doug Higgins nailed a 55-yarder against Michigan State on Oct. 20, 1990. Zalewski's 54-yard FG is tied for longest in Big Ten and the ninth-longest in the nation this season.
Illinois leads the Big Ten and ranks 26th nationally in net punting, averaging 39.1 yards per kick. Sophomore punter Justin DuVernois is averaging 41.9 yards per punt, fourth-best in the conference.
Senior OT Corey Lewis is one of the feel-good stories of 2012 for the Illini. Lewis saw his first game action since 2009 at Ohio State on Nov. 3 (25 snaps) after missing the previous two-and-half years (over 1,000 days and 34 games) recovering from five different knee surgeries. After returning against the Buckeyes, Lewis also saw plenty of action the last two weeks against Minnesota and Purdue. The fifth-year senior, already with a bachelor's degree in communications, will petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility.
Saturday's game at Northwestern will mark the final game for 20 Illini seniors. Zach Becker, Michael Buchanan, Tommy Davis, Glenn Foster, Justin Green, James Hallendorff, Terry Hawthorne, Sean McGushin, Kaeman Mitchell, Patrick Nixon-Youman, Zak Pedersen, Graham Pocic, Jack Ramsey, Tyler Sands, Supo Sanni, Justin Staples, Beau Sullivan, Hugh Thornton, Eddie Viliunas and Ashante Williams all will suit up in Orange and Blue for the last time on Saturday.
Illinois and Northwestern will play for the "Land of Lincoln" trophy on Saturday, the fourth battle for the new rivalry trophy. Illinois won the trophy last season with the thrilling 38-35 victory at Memorial Stadium to grab the series lead 2-1. The Land of Lincoln Trophy was chosen by fans of both schools in 2009 in an online vote to replace the 62-year old Tomahawk Trophy.
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.
NORTHWESTERN SERIES NOTES
The Last Meeting
October 1, 2011
Saturday's game will be the 106th meeting between Illinois and Northwestern. Illinois leads the series 54-46-5 overall, but the series is knotted at 26-26-3 in games played in Evanston.
Illinois has won the last two matchups against the Wildcats, both in incredible fashion. Last year, the Illini rebounded from a 28-10 third-quarter deficit to beat Northwestern 38-35 after Nathan Scheelhaase's
one-yard touchdown plunge with 13 seconds left in the game. In 2010, the Illini crushed the 'Cats 48-27 at Wrigley Field in Chicago behind Mikel Leshoure's
record-breaking 330 rushing yards. It was the first college game played at Wrigley Field in 40 years and was famously played one-way, as all offensive drives went toward the west end zone due to safety concerns with the wall behind the east end zone.
Northwestern has controlled the series in Evanston of late, winning the last three games at Ryan Field: 27-10 in 2008, 27-16 in 2006 and a 28-21 overtime thriller in 2004.
This will be Tim Beckman's
first contest against Northwestern, while NU coach Pat Fitzgerald is 3-3 against the Illini in his first six seasons as head coach.
Northwestern offensive line coach Adam Cushing is the brother of former Illinois tight end Matt Cushing.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE WILDCATS
Illinois is averaging 456.4 total yards and 251.4 rushing yards per game in the teams' last five meetings.
In each of the last two meetings, an Illini offensive player has broken 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. Last season, WR A.J. Jenkins had a school-record 268 receiving yards and three touchdowns in Illinois' win over the 'Cats. That total ranks as the third-most receiving yards in a conference game in Big Ten history.
Thanks to those two performances, two of the three best single-game all-purpose yardage totals in school history have come in the last two meetings with the Wildcats. Leshoure totaled 341 all-purpose yards in 2010, while Jenkins racked up 328 in 2011. Those two totals rank second and third, respectively, in UI history, behind only Red Grange's legendary 402-yard performance against Michigan in 1924, a game many consider the greatest performance in college football history.
QB Nathan Scheelhaase engineered a comeback for the ages in last year's game, guiding the Illini to four touchdown drives covering 296 yards in the game's final 22:11, throwing for three scores and rushing for the clincher with 13 seconds remaining in the game. Scheelhaase went 21-for-32 for a career-high 391 yards in last year's game, passing for three touchdowns and rushing for a fourth. He is averaging 281.5 yards of total offense with five total touchdowns in two career games against Northwestern.
DB Steve Hull registered his first career QB sack in the 2010 victory over the `Cats and had seven tackles in the 2011 win.
WR Spencer Harris caught a career-high six passes for a career-best 63 yards in last year's game against Northwestern. He also caught a two-point conversion pass from Scheelhaase that gave the Illini a 31-28 lead in the fourth quarter.
RB Donovonn Young gave Illinois its first lead in the 2011 game with a one-yard TD run at the 6:53 mark of the fourth quarter.
LB Jonathan Brown had a then-career high 11 tackles against the 'Cats in 2011.
DE Michael Buchanan had a career-high 10 tackles and career-best 3.0 TFLs in the 2011 game.
DT Akeem Spence had a career-high nine tackles against Northwestern in 2011, a total that he has equaled four times since.
DE Tim Kynard recorded his first career sack against the 'Cats in 2011.
TE Evan Wilson recorded a career-long 36-yard reception against Northwestern in 2011, which also stands as his single-game receiving yards career high.