Ron Zook guided the Illini to a three-win improvement from 2009 to 2010.
Dec. 26, 2010
Dec. 29, 2010 // Reliant Stadium (71,500) // 5 p.m. CT // Houston, Texas // ESPN
The 2010 Texas Bowl game will be nationally televised on ESPN with an air time of 5 p.m. CT and a kick-off time of 5:04 p.m. CT. The game will also be streamed live at ESPN3.com. Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Bob Griese (analyst), Chris Spielman (analyst) and Holly Rowe (sideline) will call the action with Bart Fox producing.
The Illini Sports Network will carry the radio broadcast with its pregame show beginning at 4:30 p.m. CT. The broadcast can be heard on the 41 stations on the Illini Sports Network. Brian Barnhart (play-by-play), Kurt Kittner (analyst) and Steve Kelly (pregame, halftime, postgame) will call the action.
The broadcast can also be heard on ESPN national radio and on Sirius & XM Satellite Radio. Todd Harris (play-by-play), David Diaz-Infante (analyst) and Shannon Spake (sideline) will call the action.
DID YOU KNOW?
Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure has the most runs of 30 or more yards in the nation this season. Leshoure has 11 rushes of 30+ so far, tied with Oregon's LaMicheal James and Hawaii's Alex Green for tops among FBS players.
THE OPENING KICK
The Fighting Illini earned an invitation to the 2010 Texas Bowl in Houston on Dec. 29, where they'll face the Baylor Bears. Illinois finished the regular season 6-6 overall, a three-win improvement from last season, and tied for fourth place in the Big Ten with a 4-4 conference mark.
The 2010 Texas Bowl marks Illinois' eighth December bowl game and first since the 1999 MicronPC.com Bowl on Dec. 30, 1999. It also marks the first non-BCS bowl appearance for the Fighting Illini since 1999 as their last two bowl games have been the 2002 Sugar Bowl and the 2008 Rose Bowl.
Illinois has faced the 14th-toughest schedule in the nation according to the official NCAA schedule strength rankings as this year's opponents have a combined record of 81-50 this season vs. Division I opponents (not counting their game vs. Illinois). Eight of Illinois' opponents are playing in bowl games this season.
The Illinois offense exploded in the second half of the season, averaging 42.8 points and 435.8 total yards over the last six games. During the first six games this season, the Illini averaged 21.3 points and 320 yards per game.
The Fighting Illini defense forced 17 of its 25 turnovers in the last six games and converted those miscues into 69 points (nine TDs and two FGs). During that same span, the Illini offense turned the ball over just five times. That has swung Illinois' turnover margin from 108th in the nation after six games (-1.0) to 26th after 12 games (+0.5).
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 23 regulation drives in plus territory this season, but the Illini defense has allowed just three touchdowns and 11 field goals on those 23 drives.
Offensively, Illinois ranks third in the nation in red zone scoring percentage, picking up points on 45 of its 48 trips inside the 20 this season (94 percent). The Illini have 31 touchdowns and 14 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 third in the nation in fourth-down conversion percentage. The Illini are 9-of-11 (82 percent) on fourth-down tries this season, which trails only LSU (11-of-12, 92 percent) and Ohio State (8-of-9, 89 percent).
The Illini defense also has fared well stopping fourth downs. Illinois is tied for 18th nationally in defensive fourth-down efficiency, allowing only six first downs on 15 opponent attempts (40 percent).
All-American 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) to claim the conference rushing title. He ranks second on Illinois' single-season rushing and touchdowns list with 1,513 yards and 17 TDs.
Redshirt-freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase has been extremely efficient during the second half of the season, passing for 802 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception while rushing for another 525 yards and two TDs on 110 carries (4.8 ypc) over the final six games. His pass efficiency rating improved from 110.24 during the first six game to 148.51 over the last six.
Junior LB Martez Wilson had a break-out season, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors after ranking third in the conference and 48th nationally in tackles (8.8 tpg). He also led Illinois with 10.5 TFLs and 4.0 sacks.
ILLINOIS BOWL HISTORY
This will be Illinois' 16th bowl appearance and its first in the five-year-old Texas Bowl. The Illini are 6-9 all-time when playing in bowl games. Illinois' coaching staff has a combined 55 games of bowl experience as coaches and nine games as players. Take a look at Illinois' bowl history:
1947 Rose Bowl UCLA W, 45-14 1952 Rose Bowl Stanford W, 40-7 1964 Rose Bowl Washington W, 17-7 1982 Liberty Bowl Alabama L, 15-21 1984 Rose Bowl UCLA L, 9-45 1985 Peach Bowl Army L, 29-31 1988 All-American Bowl Florida L, 10-14 1990 Citrus Bowl Virginia W, 31-21 1991 Hall of Fame Clemson L, 0-30 1991 John Hancock Bowl UCLA L, 3-6 1992 Holiday Bowl Hawaii L, 17-27 1994 Liberty Bowl East Carolina W, 30-0 1999 MicronPC.com Bowl Virginia W, 63-21 2002 Sugar Bowl LSU L, 34-47 2008 Rose Bowl USC L, 17-49
FACTS ABOUT THE TEXAS BOWL
This year's game will be the fifth installment of the Texas Bowl. The bowl has been affiliated with the Big 12 Conference since its inception in 2006, and 2010 is the first time it pairs teams from the Big 12 and the Big Ten. The Texas Bowl holds the fifth choice among both Big Ten and Big 12 bowls, after the BCS bowls are announced.
Previous Results of the Texas Bowl
2006 - Rutgers 37, Kansas State 10 (NFL Network)
2007 - TCU 20, Houston 13 (NFL Network)
2008 - Rice 38, Western Michigan 14 (NFL Network)
2009 - Navy 35, Missouri 13 (ESPN)
Junior RB Mikel Leshoure has rushed for 1,513 yards this season, which ranks second in school history behind only Rashard Mendenhall's school-record total of 1,681, and he now has 2,373 yards for his career, which ranks 10th on the Illini all-time list. Leshoure needs 169 yards in the Texas Bowl to break Mendenhall's record.
Leshoure has been named an All-American by five different outlets, including second team accolades by the Associated Press.
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 was especially good down the stretch, combining for 806 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns in the last four 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 been one of the top big-play threats in the nation this season, racking up 21 plays (rushing and receiving) of 20-plus yards. He is one of only 10 players in the nation to have at least 21 plays over 20 yards. In addition, Leshoure has 16 rushes of 20 or more yards, tied for second-most in the nation, and 11 rushes over 30 yards, tied for most in the country with Oregon's LaMichael James and Hawaii's Alex Green. Five of Leshoure's long plays came against Northwestern and he has 11 plays over 20 yards in the last four games.
Leshoure has scored 13 touchdowns in the last five games - 10 rushing and three receiving - and has 17 total touchdowns this season, a total that ranks second on the Illinois single-season touchdown list. He needs two more touchdowns to tie and three to break the school record currently held by Rashard Mendenhall (2007, 19 TDs).
Leshoure's 126.0 rushing yards per game this season rank eighth in the nation and lead all Big Ten running backs. He was second overall in the conference behind only Michigan QB Denard Robinson, and led all rushers during conference games.
A native of Champaign, Ill., Leshoure had his eighth 100-yard rushing game of the season against Fresno State, which is tied for the most in school history with Rashard Mendenhall's eight 100-yard rushing games in 2007. Leshoure also has 11 100-yard games in his career, behind only Robert Holcombe's school record of 16 from 1994-97 and Jim Grabowski's 12 from 1963-65.
Leshoure currently has four straight 100-yard games, a streak that ties him with J.C. Caroline, Robert Holcombe and himself from earlier this season for the most consecutive 100+ rushing efforts in UI history. He'll be gunning for a record fifth-straight 100-yard game against Baylor in the Texas Bowl.
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 21.0 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 six 20-carry games and is still averaging a healthy 6.0 ypc for the season.
Leshoure's 6.01 career ypc ranks seventh among all current Division I players with at least 300 carries.
BAYLOR SERIES NOTES
The Texas Bowl will be just the second meeting between Illinois and Baylor. The Bears won the only prior meeting between the two teams, 34-19, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign in 1976.
Illinois is 18-31-3 all-time against the Big 12 Conference.
Illinois is 0-1 all-time in bowl games in the state of Texas, with its appearance in the 1991 John Hancock Bowl in El Paso the only time the Illini have played a postseason game in Texas.
ILLINI CONNECTIONS TO BAYLOR AND HOUSTON
Illinois has several connections to Baylor University and the Houston area.
Illinois outside linebackers coach Ron West was an assistant coach at Baylor from 1993-96. He served as the offensive line coach from 1993-95 before adding the title of run-game coordinator for the 1996 season.
Assistant head coach and offensive line coach Joe Gilbert came to Illinois in 2009 after spending one season at the University of Houston, where he helped the Cougars rank second in the nation in total offense.
Illini strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez, a native of Alice, Texas, earned his bachelor's degree in exercise science from the University of Houston in 1992 and his master's degree in exercise and health-related fitness from Houston in 1994.
Former Illini greats Neil Rackers and Eugene Wilson play for the NFL's Houston Texans and play their home games in Reliant Stadium.
RECORDS TO WATCH
Junior RB Mikel Leshoure needs 169 yards to break Rashard Mendenhall's UI single-season rushing record of 1,681 yards in 2007. Leshoure currently ranks second with 1,513 rushing yards this season.
Leshoure needs two touchdowns to tie and three to break Mendenhall's single-season touchdowns record of 19 in 2007. Leshoure currently ranks second with 17 TDs.
Leshoure needs three rushing touchdowns to tie and four to break Mendenhall's single-season rushing touchdowns record of 17 in 2007. Leshoure currently ranks third with 14 rushing TDs. Howard Griffith is second on the list with 15 in 1990.
If Leshoure reaches 100 yards on the ground versus Baylor, he will claim sole possession of the UI record for most 100-yard games in a season. He is currently tied with Mendenhall for the record with eight.
Leshoure needs 312 all-purpose yards to break Mendenhall's single-season record of 1,999. Leshoure currently ranks second with 1,688 all-purpose yards on the season.
Redshirt freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase needs 28 yards rushing to break the UI freshman rushing record currently held by Buddy Young (842 yards in 1944). Scheelhaase already owns Illinois freshman records for passing yards (1,538) and touchdown passes (17) and owns the overall single-season school record for rushing yards by a quarterback (815).
Senior punter Anthony Santella has a shot a breaking the UI record for season punting average. Santella is averaging 45.2 yards per kick this season, just behind Steve Weatherford's school-record of 45.4 ypp in 2004.
Junior placekicker Derek Dimke needs three field goals to tie and four to break the Illinois single-season record for field goals made. Dimke has made 21 field goals on the season to rank third on the UI all-time list behind Chris White's 24 in 1984 and Mike Bass' 23 in 1982.
As a team, Illinois needs just six points to break the season record for points scored, which is currently held by the 2001 team (390) in 12 games. The Illini enter the Texas Bowl with 385 points in 2010.
The Illini also would break the school record for points per game if they scored 39 points against Baylor. Illinois is averaging 32.1 points per game this season, just behind the school-record of 32.5 in 2001 and the 1999 team's 32.3 average.
Illinois need 431 yards on the ground against Baylor to break the school record for season rushing yards and would break the school mark for season rushing TDs with four.
With postseason awards continuing to roll in, two Illini have been named to All-America teams, while two others have been selected to freshman All-America teams. Junior running back Mikel Leshoure has been named to five different All-America teams, including second-team honors by the Associated Press and third-team by Rivals.com and Phil Steele, while junior defensive tackle Corey Liuget was named a fourth-team All-America by Phil Steele and honorable mention by Pro Football Weekly. In addition, defensive tackle Akeem Spence was a first team All-America selection by Phil Steele and Rivals.com and second-team pick by CollegeFootballNews.com. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was named fourth-team All-America by Phil Steele and honorable mention by CollegeFootballNews.com.
SIX ILLINI NAMED ALL-BIG TEN
Junior RB Mikel Leshoure earned first-team All-Big Ten honors by both the conference coaches and media, junior LB Martez Wilson was a first-team selection by the media and second team by the coaches, and senior P Anthony Santella earned first-team honors by the coaches and second team by the media. Junior DT Corey Liuget was a second-team selection by both the coaches and media, junior OT Jeff Allen earned second-team honors by the media, and junior PK Derek Dimke was a second-team pick by the coaches. Senior LB Nate Bussey, junior FS Trulon Henry, sophomore C Graham Pocic and junior SS Tavon Wilson all earned honorable mention laurels by both groups, while Allen was honorable mention by the coaches and Dimke was honorable mention by the media.
ZOOK IN BOWL GAMES
Zook will take part in his 17th bowl game -- three as a player at Miami (OH), four as a head coach and 10 as an assistant coach. He was 3-0 as a player, 4-6 as an assistant coach and is 0-3 as a head coach. Here is a list of Zook's bowl appearances.
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 204.0 yards per game (14,691 yards in 72 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 four times this season (519 vs. Northwestern on Nov. 20; 319 vs. NIU on Sept. 18; 318 at Fresno State on Dec. 3; 315 at Michigan on Nov. 6) and has seven 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 242.3 ypg on the ground, which ranks 13th nationally and third in the Big Ten. For some perspective, that average of 242.3 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 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 2,373 yards. He needs 113 yards to pass Howard Griffith for ninth on the UI all-time list and could jump all the way up to sixth on the list with 185 yards against Baylor. He ranks third on the Big Ten active career rushing list behind Penn State senior Evan Royster and Wisconsin junior John Clay.
Fellow junior Jason Ford recently passed 1,300 career rushing yards, becoming the 25th Illini player to reach the mark with 50 yards during the Dec. 3 game at Fresno State. Ford now has 1,308 yards for his career, a total that ranks 12th among active Big Ten players and 25th in Illinois history.
SCHEELHAASE HAVING HUGE FRESHMAN SEASON
Redshirt-freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week six times this season, two times more than Wisconsin running back James White, who was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year by both the coaches and media. Scheelhaase was also named an honorable mention Freshman All-American by collegefootballnews.com and a fourth-team All-America choice by Phil Steele.
Scheelhaase was outstanding in Illinois' six wins this season, completing 72-of-107 passes (67.3 percent) for 808 yards, 10 TDs and 1 INT. He also rushed for 449 yards on 78 carries (5.8 ypc) and a TD in those six games.
Scheelhaase has run for 815 yards this season, a total that broke Juice Williams' Illinois record of 755 season rushing yards by a quarterback. Scheelhaase already ranks second on the UI career QB rushing list, trailing only Williams' career record of 2,557 yards.
Scheelhaase has topped the 100-yard mark four times this season and has turned in three of the top 10 QB rushing performances in school history. His career-best 131-yard performance against Fresno State ranks as the fifth-best QB rushing game in UI history and his 118 yards vs. Purdue and 115 yards vs. NIU rank seventh and ninth, respectively.
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 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.
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 missed the last four games after re-aggravating a foot injury that sidelined him for the first five games of the season. Becker is not expected to play in the bowl game. Junior LB Ian Thomas left the Fresno State game with an ankle injury but is expected to return for the bowl game.
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 after missing time. 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) returned the next week against Ohio State. 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 SHUT DOWN SEVERAL 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 20th in the nation, averaging 99.5 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. The Illini currently rank 29th in rushing defense, 38th in total defense, 53rd in points allowed and 54th in passing defense. At the end of last season, Illinois ranked 76th in rushing defense, 91st in total defense, 96th in scoring defense and 100th in passing defense.
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 five times this season (98 vs. Missouri, 46 vs. SIU, 65 at PSU, 93 at MSU, 60 at Fresno State) 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 58 tackles and is second on the team with 10.0 TFLs and 3.5 sacks to go along with a team-high 10 hurries and three PBUs this season.
Liuget and fellow DT Akeem Spence have combined for 103 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. Spence, a redshirt freshman, was named a first-team Freshman All-American by Phil Steele and Rivals.com.
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 (7.5).
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 5.5 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. Illinois has 22 scoring drives of 10+ plays, including two 17-play drives, and 16 scoring drives of 5+ minutes. On the flip side, the Illini have had 19 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 33 consecutive starts. Allen was key in limiting Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year, to just four tackles in the Oct. 30 meeting.
Junior receiver A.J. Jenkins has been Illinois top receiving threat all season. He had six catches for a career-high 137 receiving yards against Minnesota on Nov. 13 and has eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark three times in his career and twice this season. Jenkins leads the Illini with 50 catches for 694 yards and seven touchdowns this season, a total that ranks eighth on the UI single-season TD receptions list.
Junior RB Jason Ford scored three touchdowns against Northwestern on Nov. 20, matching his career high, and has seven touchdowns this season. 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 34 catches for 324 yards on the season.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Lou Groza Award semifinalist Derek Dimke has been outstanding this season, connecting on 21-of-26 field goals, including two from over 50 yards, and 40-of-40 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 26-of-31 field goals and is a perfect 52-of-52 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 sixth in the nation with an average of 1.75 made field goals per game.
Dimke also has excelled on kickoffs. He has booted 21 touchbacks and has a 61.9 yard average in 72 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 11th in the nation with a 45.2 average on 59 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 45.2 so far this season. He currently ranks fourth in the Illinois record books in career punting average (40.8), second in career yardage (9,763) and second in career punts (239).
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.
Illinois senior punter Anthony Santella was on the list of semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy - formerly named the Draddy Trophy - which is given annually to a senior or graduate student in his final year of eligibility who has outstanding football ability and has demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship. It the fourth-straight year that an Illini player has been named a semifinalist, as former Illini J Leman (2007), Ryan McDonald (2008) and Jon Asamoah (2009) all were named to the National Scholar-Athlete Class. Santella graduated with a bachelor's degree in sport management in May 2010 with a 3.54 GPA on a 4.0 scale and currently is pursuing a master's degree in the same field.
Seven Fighting Illini were named to the Academic All-Big Ten Team this fall. To be eligible for Academic All-Big Ten selection, student-athletes must be letterwinners who are in at least their second academic year at their institution and carry a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher. The Illini honored were Jeff Allen (Sport Management), Derek Dimke (Finance), Justin Green (General Curriculum), Aaron Gress (Natural Resources And Environmental Sciences), A.J. Jenkins (Communication), Anthony Santella (Sport Management) and Nathan Scheelhaase (Communication).