DE Whitney Mercilus leads the nation in sacks and forced fumbles.
Nov. 21, 2011
The Illinois/Minnesota game will be nationally televised by the Big Ten Network with an air time of 2:30 p.m. CST. Tom Hart (play-by-play), Derek Rackley (analysis) and Lisa Byington (sidelines) will call the action with Bryan Carter producing and Tom Huet directing. BTN will televise multiple games at 2:30 pm CST on Nov. 26. Get local channel info at http://bigtennetwork.com/gamefinder.
The 41-station Illini Sports Network will carry the radio broadcast with the pregame show beginning at 2 p.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 (135) XM (195) satellite radio.
The Fighting Illini (6-5, 2-5) will look to end the regular season on a high note this Saturday when they head north to face Minnesota (2-9, 1-6) at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis (2:30 pm CST, BTN).
The road team has won the last four times the Illini and Gophes have met, with Illinois winning at the Metrodome in 2007 and at TCF Bank Stadium in 2009, and Minnesota winning at Memorial Stadium in Champaign in 2008 and 2010.
The Illinois defense has continued to climb the national rankings as the Illini rank ninth nationally in total defense, allowing just 288.0 yards per game. The Illini also rank seventh in pass defense (165.8 ypg), 16th in scoring defense (19.5 ppg), 23rd in rushing defense (122.2 ypg) and 27th in pass efficiency defense (117.6).
Illinois leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally in both sacks (3.1 per game) and TFLs (8.0 per game).
Bronko Nagurski Trophy finalist Whitney Mercilus continues to lead the nation in sacks (13.5), sacks per game (1.23) and forced fumbles (8). The eight forced fumbles equal the Big Ten single-season record by Michigan State Jonal Saint-Dic in 2007 and are second in the NCAA record book.
All-America candidate and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist A.J. Jenkins leads the Big Ten in receptions and ranks among the nation's elite in both receiving yards per game (106.0) and receptions per game (7.3).
LB Jonathan Brown has been a monster the last five games, totaling 58 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, two PBUs, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and two hurries. He ranks third in the nation in TFLs per game (1.85).
Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase is second in the Big Ten in total offense during conference games (234.0 ypg), behind only Michigan's Denard Robinson (243.7 ypg). Scheelhaase has thrown 25 TDs against just eight INTs since the midpoint of last season.
Senior PK Derek Dimke has missed just one kick all season, a 42-yarder at Penn State that would have tied the game as time expired. Dimke has hit 8-of-9 field goals and all 31 of his PATs this season. He is the most accurate kicker in Illinois history and ranks fourth among active NCAA kickers in FG accuracy. He has made 37-of-43 field goals (.860) and all 86 PATs he's attempted in his career.
Senior RB Jason Ford has 26 career rushing touchdowns, which ranks second on the UI career list behind career leader Howard Griffith (31).
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.
The Illini defense held Wisconsin to season lows in points (28) and total yards (285) last week.
Illinois has held four opponents under 100 yards passing this season, including three Big Ten teams (Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin).
The defense is approaching school records for team sacks and TFLs. The Illini's 34 sacks are six shy of the UI record of 40 shared by the 2001 and '07 teams, while their 88 TFLs are 19 behind the record of 107 from 1987.
WR A.J. Jenkins has 53.8 percent of Illinois' receiving yards this season, the most in the nation by nearly 10 percent. Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill is second at 44.1 percent.
Jenkins needs 113 yards to break David Williams' UI single-season receiving yardage record of 1,278
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.
RB Troy Pollard is averaging 7.7 yards per carry, the 10th-highest per carry average in the nation and the best in the Big Ten by over a yard (Montee Ball, 6.6 ypc).
Illinois is 21st nationally in fewest penalty yards per game (40.7).
The Illini defense has allowed just 10 scores (seven TDs and three FGs) following 26 UI turnovers this season.
Illinois started the season 6-0, the program's best start in 60 years.
WHITNEY THE MERCILESS
Junior DE Whitney Mercilus has lived up to his name, showing no mercy for opposing quarterbacks. His 13.5 sacks already rank third on the UI single-season sacks list and put him within 2.5 of Simeon Rice's school-record 16 sacks in 1994.
Mercilus has forced a fumble in three straight games and in six of the last seven games. His eight forced fumbles on the season are a UI single-season record and tie the Big Ten record. His 10 career forced fumbles are second in UI history, behind Rice's record of 13.
A finalist for the Naguski Trophy and a semifinalist for the Bednarik and Lombardi Awards, Mercilus has had at least one sack in nine of Illinois' 11 games this season and in eight of the last nine. His 15.5 career sacks ranks seventh on the UI career sacks list.
Mercilus' 18.5 tackles for loss share the Big Ten lead with fellow Illini Jonathan Brown and rank third nationally. The duo is tied for eighth on the UI single-season TFLs list, putting the school record of 23 by Rice and Mike Polskey within reach. See pages 11-12 for a complete list of Illini records to watch.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?
Sophomore LB Jonathan Brown had 10 tackles, a career-high 4.0 TFLs and also scooped up a fumble and returned it 28 yards against Wisconsin last week.
During conference games, Brown ranks third in tackles (11.5 per game), first in tackles for loss (14.0 total and 2.33 per game) and fifth in sacks (4.0 total and 0.67 per game), making him a strong candidate for first-team All-Big Ten honors.
For the season, Brown leads Illinois in tackles (88) and is tied with teammate Whitney Mercilus for the team and Big Ten lead in TFLs (18.5), a total that already ranks eighth on the UI single-season TFLs list.
JENKINS MAKING MOST OF SENIOR SEASON
Biletnikoff Award semifinalist A.J. Jenkins leads the Big Ten in receptions (80) and is second in receiving yards per game (106.0), ranking 12th in the nation in both categories.
Jenkins' 80 catches rank third on the UI single-season list, behind only David Williams' school-record 101 catches in 1984 and Williams' 92 grabs in 1985. Jenkins' 1,166 yards this season are second behind only Williams' UI record of 1,278 in 1984.
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), fourth in career receiving yardage (2,322) and sixth in career receptions (157). 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' three 65-plus yard TD catches this season 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 has at least one catch in 29 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.
WHOSE HOUSE? SCHEEL-HOUSE
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.
Nearly 50 percent of Nathan Scheelhaase's completions have gone to Jenkins this season (75 of 162 - 46.2 percent), the second-highest percentage in the nation for any QB-WR duo behind Rutgers' Chas Dodd and Mohamed Sanu (54.2).
Scheelhaase is fourth in the Big Ten and 45th nationally in passing efficiency (138.0). 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 63.5 this season.
Scheelhaase had a career game against Northwestern, throwing for 391 yards and three touchdowns while leading Illinois to victory after trailing by 18 in the third quarter. His one-yard TD plunge with 13 seconds left provided the winning points against the Wildcats.
MINNESOTA SERIES NOTES
Minnesota leads the series by a 33-28-3 advantage overall and a 19-12-2 edge in Minneapolis.
Illinois has won two straight against the Gophers on the road, winning 35-32 in 2009, the first season the Gophers played in TCF Bank Stadium, and 44-17 in 2007 in the Metrodome. In fact, the road team has won the last four games of the series, as the Gophers won in Champaign in both 2008 and 2010.
Illini head coach Ron Zook is 2-2 against Minnesota, while first-year Gopher coach Jerry Kill is 0-1 against Illinois as a head coach, facing the Illini in 2010 when he coached at Northern Illinois.
Minnesota assistant head coach/linebackers coach Bill Miller was associate head coach/linebackers coach at Florida in 2003 and 2004 under current UI head coach Ron Zook. Miller also was the linebackers coach at Louisville in 2008 when current Illini QB coach Jeff Brohm was the offensive coordinator for the Cardinals.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE GOPHERS
The last time the two teams met in Minneapolis, the Illini defense dominated the line of scrimmage, racking up seven sacks and eight tackles for loss while holding the Gophers to just 50 rushing yards on 36 carries.
WR A.J. Jenkins has performed well against the Gophers, hauling in nine catches for 254 yards and three TDs in two games against Minnesota. He had six catches for a then career-high 137 receiving yards last year against the Gophers and in 2008 as a true-freshman, Jenkins caught three passes for 117 yards and two TDs against Minnesota. He did not play in the 2009 game due to a knee injury.
WR Spencer Harris caught his first career TD pass, a 17-yard strike from Nathan Scheelhaase, in last year's game as a true-freshman.
CB Terry Hawthorne had a pick-six in the 2009 win over the Gophers as a true-freshman, returning his first career interception 44 yards for a score, and also had five tackles and 2 PBUs in that game.
RB Jason Ford had a game-high 82 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries against the Gophers in 2009 and scored on a four-yard TD run in the 2010 meeting.
CB Justin Green, who played running back as a true-freshman in 2009, scored the second rushing touchdown of his career on a two-yard run in the 2009 win at Minnesota. In last year's game after moving to defense, Green had a career-high 10 tackles against the Gophers.
Illinois has had five games decided by one score this season, tied for the 11th-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 also has two 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 left. 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.
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) 122.18 (23) Total Def (ypg) 403.3 (91) 351.3 (38) 288.0 (9) Points Allowed (ppg) 30.2 (96) 23.5 (48) 19.5 (16) Pass Eff. Defense 142.77 (103) 128.6 (61) 117.6 (27) Passing Def (ypg) 248.83 (100) 220.5 (61) 165.8 (7) Illinois has forced at least one turnover in 25 of its last 26 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 have forced at least one turnover in four straight games.
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 13 teams in the nation with at least four 90+ scoring drives.
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 over 400 rushing yards this season and no one has more than 557.
Freshman tight end Jon Davis had five catches for 53 yards against Wisconsin, both career highs. He has emerged during the second half of the season, hauling in 17 of his 20 receptions in the last five games.
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 45 consecutive starts, tied for the sixth-most in school history.
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 8-of-9 FG attempts and all 31 PATs. For his career, Dimke has hit 37-of-43 field goals in his career (.860), 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 86-of-86 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.
With 55 points in 2011, Dimke has raised his career total to 197, which ranks eighth in UI history, just ahead of NFL veteran Neil Rackers (194) and college football legend Red Grange (186), and just behind Howard Griffith and Dan Beaver (198). Dimke's 37 career field goals rank seventh in Illinois history.