Nathan Scheelhaase has completed 67 percent of his passes in Illinois' six wins this year, throwing for 808 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception.
Nov. 29, 2010
Dec. 3, 2010 // 7:21 p.m. PT / 9:21 CT // ESPN2
Fresno, Calif. // Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
The Illinois/Fresno State game will be televised on ESPN2 with an air time of 9:21 p.m. CT. Carter Blackburn (play-by-play), Mike Bellotti (color analyst) and Brock Huard (color analyst) will call the action with Jim Zirolli producing.
The 41-station Illini Sports Network will carry the radio broadcast with the pregame show beginning at 8:45 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 Fresno on Thursday afternoon via charter flight. Coach Zook will meet with members of the media at the team's walkthrough at Bulldog Stadium (time TBA).
THE OPENING KICK
The Fighting Illini will finish the regular season Friday night when they travel to California for a non-conference battle with Fresno State. Illinois will be looking to avenge last year's wild 53-52 defeat to the Bulldogs in the season finale at Memorial Stadium.
Illinois has faced the 13th-toughest schedule in the nation thus far according to the official NCAA schedule strength rankings. Illinois' opponents have a combined record of 74-45 this season vs. Division I opponents (not counting their game vs. Illinois).
The Illinois offense has exploded in the last five games, averaging 46.8 points and 442.0 total yards per game. During the first six games this season, the Illini averaged 21.3 points and 320 yards per game.
Illinois is on pace to break the school record for points per game this season. Through 11 games, the Illini are averaging 32.9 points per game, slightly above the record of 32.5 set by the 2001 Sugar Bowl team.
The Fighting Illini defense has forced 16 turnovers in the last five games and has converted those miscues into 69 points (nine TDs and two FGs). During that span, the Illini offense has turned the ball over just five times. That has swung Illinois' turnover margin from -1.0 (108th in the nation) to +0.45 (30th in the nation).
The Orange and Blue defense has been stingy after turnovers all season. Following the 19 Illini turnovers, the defense has allowed just 39 points (three touchdowns and six field goals).
Opponents have started 21 regulation drives in plus territory this season, but the Illini defense has allowed just three touchdowns and 10 field goals on those 21 drives.
Offensively, Illinois ranks third in the nation in red zone scoring percentage, picking up points on 43 of its 46 trips inside the 20 this season (93 percent). The Illini have 30 touchdowns and 13 field goals in the red zone so far this season. Only Oklahoma State (56-of-59) and Memphis (18-for-19) have better percentages nationally.
Illinois is tied for fourth in the nation in fourth-down conversion percentage. The Illini are 8-of-10 (80 percent) on fourth-down tries this season, which trails only Florida State (6-for-6, 100 percent), LSU (11-for-12, 92 percent) and Ohio State (8-for-9, 89 percent), and equals East Carolina (20-for-25, 80 percent).
The Illini defense also has fared well stopping fourth downs. Illinois is tied for 11th nationally in defensive fourth-down efficiency with UTEP, allowing only five first downs on 14 opponent attempts (35.71 percent).
All-America candidate RB Mikel Leshoure led the Big Ten in rushing during conference games with an average of 121.6 yards per game, outgaining Michigan QB Denard Robinson (119.4) and Ohio State RB Dan Herron (109.5) to claim the Big Ten's rushing title.
Redshirt-freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase has been on fire in the last five games, completing 59-of-100 passes (59 percent) for 741 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception while rushing for another 396 yards and one TD on 86 carries (4.6 ypc). 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 LB Martez Wilson is having a break-out season, ranking third in the Big Ten and 40th nationally in tackles (9.1 tpg). He also ranks fifth in the conference in TFLs (10.5) and eighth in sacks (4.0). He has led the Illini in tackles in seven of the last nine games.
LESHOURE HAVING BREAKOUT SEASON
Junior RB Mikel Leshoure had a historic performance at Wrigley Field vs. Northwestern on Nov. 20, rushing for a school-record 330 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries. It not only broke Robert Holcombe's former Illinois record of 315 yards but also is the highest rushing total in the nation since 2008, is the fifth-most yards in a game in Big Ten history, and the fourth-most in a Big Ten conference game.
Leshoure has rushed for 1,371 yards for the season, which ranks second in school history behind only Rashard Mendenhall's school record total of 1,681, and he now has 2,231 yards for his career, which ranks 10th on the Illini all-time list. Leshoure needs 311 yards in Illinois' last two games to break Mendenhall's record.
Leshoure has been especially good lately, combining for 664 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns in the last three 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 received several national and conference player of the week honors after the historic performance vs. Northwestern.
Leshoure has scored 12 touchdowns in the last four games - nine rushing and three receiving - and has 16 total touchdowns this season, a total that ranks second on the Illinois single-season touchdown list. He needs four more touchdowns to break that school record, currently held by Rashard Mendenhall (2007, 19 TDs).
Leshoure's 124.6 rushing yards per game this season rank eighth in the nation and lead all Big Ten running backs. He's second overall in the conference behind only Michigan QB Denard Robinson, and led all rushers during conference games.
Leshoure has been a big-play threat throughout the year, racking up 19 plays (rushing and receiving) of 20-plus yards. He is one of only 11 players in the nation to have at least 19 plays over 20 yards. In addition, Leshoure has 14 rushes of 20 or more yards, second-most in the nation, and nine rushes over 30 yards, fourth-best in the country. Five of Leshoure's long plays came against Northwestern and he has nine plays over 20 yards in the last three games.
A native of Champaign, Ill., Leshoure had his seventh 100-yard rushing game of the season Nov. 20 versus Northwestern, which is the second-most in school history behind Rashard Mendenhall's eight 100-yard rushing games in 2007. Leshoure also has 10 100-yard games in his career, tied for third-most with Mendenhall (2005-07). Robert Holcombe has the school record of 16.
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. He'll be gunning for a fourth-straight 100-yard game again this week against Fresno State.
Leshoure has taken on a bigger load for the Illini offense this season. He had a career-high 33 carries for 330 yards against Northwestern and is currently averaging 21.2 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 six 20-carry games and is still averaging a healthy 5.9 ypc for the season.
Leshoure's 5.93 career yards per carry ranks ninth among all current Division I players with at least 300 carries.
FRESNO STATE SERIES NOTES
Friday's game will be just the second meeting between Illinois and Fresno State. The Bulldogs won the only prior meeting between the two teams, 53-52 at Memorial Stadium last year, when Fresno State offensive lineman Devan Cunningham caught a deflected pass and stumbled into the end zone for the winning two-point conversion.
HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE BULLDOGS
Mikel Leshoure ran for 184 yards on 11 carries (16.7 ypc) with three touchdowns as Illinois out-gained Fresno State 548-416. Leshoure also caught a 22-yard touchdown pass for 206 all-purpose yards.
Jason Ford ran for 65 yards on 15 carries (4.3 ypc) and a touchdown, and caught a 17-yard pass.
Eddie McGee caught a 48-yard pass in the fourth quarter.
Ian Thomas recorded a team-high 10 tackles in last year's game.
Tavon Wilson had seven tackles and 0.5 TFLs.
BYE WEEK FACTS
The Fighting Illini are coming off a bye weekend heading into Friday's game against Fresno State. It is the second of two byes for Illinois this season, marking just the third time in school history that the team has more than one open week in a season. The only other times were in 1989 and 2009.
Illinois has played 26 games after a bye weekend in the modern era and is 11-15 in those contests. The Illini have faced Ohio State eight times after an off weekend, going 4-4, including the 24-13 loss to the Buckeyes earlier this season.
ILLINI TURN IN HISTORIC PERFORMANCE AT WRIGLEY FIELD
A few notes on the 48-27 win over Northwestern at Chicago's Wrigley Field on Nov. 20:
After the 48-27 win over Northwestern this year, Illinois is now 2-0 all-time at Wrigley Field. The Illini also beat Northwestern 29-0 at the Friendly Confines in 1923.
Illinois also won the "Land of Lincoln" rivalry trophy for the first time with the win. Northwestern won the trophy in last year's inaugural battle after the two schools retired the "Sweet Sioux" Tomahawk in 2008.
The Illini had 519 yards rushing vs. the Wildcats, their most since posting a school-record 562 rushing yards against Illinois-Normal (Illinois State) on Sept. 16, 1944, and fourth-best total in the country this season. Illinois had an incredible 224 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in the first quarter and a school-record 303 rushing yards at halftime. The Illini also averaged 7.4 yards per carry and 24 of their 26 first downs came on rushing plays.
The Illini held the ball an amazing 41:16 compared to Northwestern's 18:44 time of possession, including over 10 minutes of possession in the first, third and fourth quarters.
Mikel Leshoure had a day for the ages, breaking the Illinois school and Wrigley Field records with a career-best 330 rushing yards. He ran for a whopping 153 yards in the first quarter on only 10 carries, an average of 15.3 ypc, with two touchdowns.
The game was first football game at the home of the Chicago Cubs in 40 years and was the first college game played there in 78 years.
The game will go down as one of the most interesting games in college football, with all offensive plays heading toward the west end zone due to the east end zone wall being too close to the end line.
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' six wins this season, Scheelhaase has been outstanding, completing 72-of-107 passes (67.3 percent) for 808 yards, 10 TDs and 1 INT. He also has rushed for 449 yards on 78 carries (5.8 ypc) and a TD in those six games.
Scheelhaase has run for 684 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 72 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.
ILLINI DUO CLIMBING ILLINOIS AND BIG TEN RUSHING LISTS
Junior running back Mikel Leshoure went over the 2,000-yard career rushing mark vs. Northwestern on Nov. 20 to move up to 10th on the Illinois career rushing list. He enters this weekend's contest with 2,231 yards, which puts him third among active Big Ten players. For the season, he has 1,371 yards, which ranks second in Illinois history behind only Rashard Mendenhall's school record of 1,681 in 2007.
Fellow junior Jason Ford also recently passed 1,200 career rushing yards, becoming the 31st Illini player to reach the mark with 86 yards during the Nov. 20 game vs. Northwestern. Ford now has 1,258 yards for his career, a total that ranks 12th among active Big Ten players and 28th in Illinois history.
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 202.4 yards per game (14,373 yards in 71 games) in the last six seasons tops Wisconsin's 198.2 ypg (15,262 yards in 77 games) during that same time span.
Illinois has topped 300 rushing yards three times this season (519 vs. Northwestern on Nov. 20; 319 vs. NIU on Sept. 18; 315 at Michigan on Nov. 6) and six games over 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 235.5 ypg on the ground, which ranks 13th nationally and third in the Big Ten. For some perspective, that average of 235.5 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.
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 three games after re-aggravating a foot injury that sidelined him for the first five games of the season. His playing status for the Fresno State game is unknown.
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. 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 returned to action against Northwestern.
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 17th in the nation, averaging 103.25 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 struggles against Michigan and Minnesota. The Illini currently rank 40th in total defense (342.4 ypg) 40th in passing defense (204.6 ypg), 41st in rushing defense (137.8 ypg) and 53rd in points allowed (24.2 ppg). 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 twice (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, especially during the second half of the year. 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 54 tackles and is second on the team with 8.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks to go along with a team-high 10 hurries and three PBUs this season, eclipsing his previous career-high of 36 tackles and 2.5 sacks and 8.0 TFLs.
Liuget and fellow DT Akeem Spence have combined for 98 tackles so far, the most combined tackles by a pair of Illini defensive tackles since Paul Marshall and Tim McCloud racked up 104 tackles in 1995.
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 5.7 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
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino's offense has shown great versatility all 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 11 games, Illinois has 30 scoring drives of 8+ plays and 25 scoring drives of 4+ minutes. On the flip side, the Illini have had 15 scoring drives of four plays or less and 17 scoring drives of less than two minutes.
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.
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 32 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 on Nov. 13, then scored his sixth touchdown of the season vs. Northwestern on Nov. 20. Jenkins has eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark three times in his career and twice this season. Jenkins leads the Illini with 44 catches for 619 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Junior RB Jason Ford scored three touchdowns against Northwestern on Nov. 20, matching his career high. Ford also had 17 carries for 86 yards against the Wildcats, pushing him over 1,200 career rushing yards. Ford has also done damage through the air this season, as he tossed a four-yard TD pass to Evan Wilson in the third quarter against Penn State. 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.
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 20-of-24 field goals, including two from over 50 yards, and 38-of-38 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 25-of-29 field goals and is a perfect 50-of-50 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 21 touchbacks and has a 61.8 yard average in 67 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 sixth in the nation with a 45.7 average on 54 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 45.7 so far this season. He currently ranks third in the Illinois record books in career punting average (40.9), second in career yardage (9,568) and second in career punts (234).
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 22.9 yards on 16 returns this season to rank ninth in the conference.
MISCELLANEOUS TEAM NOTES
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.
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
FRESNO STATE: OL Jeff Allen, RB Mikel Leshoure, DL Corey Liuget, WR Eddie McGee, LB Martez Wilson