UI Welcomes Top-Rankend OSU to Memorial Stadium
Kickoff: 11:10 a.m. CT . . . Site: Memorial Stadium (70,904, Turf), Champaign, Ill. . . . Expected Attendance: 45,000-50,000.
Illini Sports Network, 54 stations (WDWS-AM 1400/WHMS-FM 97.5 in Champaign, WSCR-AM 1160 in Chicago, WFUN-FM 95.5 in St. Louis) . . . Jim Turpin, play-by-play; Jim Grabowski, color analyst; David James, sideline.
ESPN-Regional . . . Wayne Larrivee, play-by-play; Randy Wright, color; Jim Barbar, sideline.
A LOOK AT THE COACHES
RON TURNER 2-14 in second season at Illinois, 9-18 overall in two seasons as a college head coach, 0-1 vs. Ohio State. Turner was the offensive coordinator of the NFL's Chicago Bears for four years before coming to Illinois. Prior to Chicago, Turner was head coach at San Jose State and served as an assistant coach at Stanford, Texas A&M, USC, Pitt, Northwestern, Arizona and Pacific. He was a two-year letterwinner as a WR at Pacific.
JOHN COOPER 90-32-4 in his 11th year at Ohio State, 172-72-6 in his 22nd season as a collegiate head coach. Cooper has led OSU to 10+ wins in four of the last five seasons, winning Big Ten titles in 1993 and 1996 and finishing second four times. Cooper has led OSU to four consecutive New Year's Day games and has had nine consecutive winning seasons. Cooper was 25-9-2 at Arizona State from 1985-87, guiding the Sun Devils to a 10-1-1 mark and the 1987 Rose Bowl. Prior to ASU, Cooper was 57-31 in eight seasons at Tulsa (1977-84). Cooper played at Iowa State, graduating in 1962. He spent time as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Oregon State and UCLA under legendary Tommy Prothro, Kansas and Kentucky.
ILLINI-BUCKEYES BATTLE FOR ILLIBUCK
With one trophy (Sweet Sioux Tomahawk) already in the Trophy Case, Illinois resumes the "Trophy Month", playing Ohio State for the Illibuck, a wooden replica turtle that the teams have been competing for since 1925. Illibuck was a real turtle when the series started between the two junior honor societies (Bucket and Dipper at OSU and Sachem at Illinois) in 1925. The real turtle died in 1927 and was replaced by the current trophy. Ohio State leads the Illibuck series 51-20-2 and has won the last three meetings, including a 41-6 win last year in Columbus.
Overall series record: Ohio State leads 55-27-4
"Illibuck" record: OSU leads 51-20-2
in Champaign: OSU leads 28-12-0
in Columbus: OSU leads 25-15-4
in Cleveland: OSU leads 2-0
Ron Turner vs. OSU: 0-1
John Cooper vs. UI: 5-6 (4-6 OSU; 1-0 ASU)
Longest UI streak: 5 (1988-92)
Longest OSU streak: 15 (1968-82)
Last 10 years: UI leads 6-4
First game: Tie 0-0 in Columbus (1902)
Last game: OSU 41-6 (11/15/97 in Columbus)
OHIO STATE QUICK FACTS
1997 record: 10-3 (6-2/2nd Big Ten)
1997 final ranking: # 12
Current ranking: # 1 in every poll
1997 bowl game: Sugar Bowl, L, Florida State, 14-31
Offensive system: I Formation
Defensive system: 4-3
Lettermen returning: 51
Starters returning: 19 (9 off./8 def./2 kickers)
Last week: Beat # 7 Penn State, 28-9
Illinois is 6-4 vs. Ohio State during the last decade, winning five in a row from 1988-92 . . . True frosh QB Kurt Kittner tossed his first career TD pass (and first UI TD pass in 1998), a 6-yarder to Rocky Harvey vs. Northwestern . . . True frosh HB Rocky Harvey, third in Big Ten rushing, was Mr. Everything vs. Northwestern with 40 carries for 132 yards, one TD rushing and one TD receiving, 72 yards in punt and kickoff returns and his first career interception on a NU trick play punt . . . The Illini picked off 3 NU passes . . . Jr. Lenny Willis had 0 catches in first 3 games, 9 catches in last 2 games.
THE QB: KITTNER
QB Kurt Kittner, the first true freshman to start at QB at Illinois since Bernie Krueger vs. Northwestern (11/23/46), threw for 245 yards in his debut vs Iowa two weeks ago, the highest passing total in two seasons. Kittner was steady at the wheel vs. Northwestern, hitting 13 of 20 passes for 124 yards and a TD pass to Rocky Harvey. Kittner is 1-1 as a starter and has completed 35 of 80 passes for 443 yards in 2+ games.
AND KURT HITS THE DEEP PASS . . .
Kittner has hit seven passes for 20 or more yards in 2+ games, including a 22-yarder vs. Louisville, 26, 32, 40 and 50 yards vs. Iowa and 26 and 37 yard completions to Lenny Willis to set up the first UI TD vs. Northwestern.
ROCKY THE ROCKET
True freshman HB Rocky Harvey continues to post impressive numbers, accounting for 215 yards in total offense and two touchdowns vs. Northwestern. Harvey was a workhorse vs. the Cats, gaining 132 yards on 40 carries (his 2nd 100+ game), catching four passes for 10 yards, including a TD pass from Kittner, four punt returns for 36 yards and one kickoff return for 36 yards. Rocky the Rocket also made his first career interception on a NU trick punt play late in the first half, outjumping two NU receivers to make the play. Harvey set an Illinois freshman single-game record with 215 yards and three TDs in 24 carries vs. MTSU. In five games (he played two plays against Washington State), Harvey has 498 yards on 92 carries (5.4 yds/carry).
AND HE RETURNS KICKS, TOO . . .
"Rocky the Rocket" is also returning kicks for an amazing average, adding a 36-yarder on his lone kick return vs. NU. He adds the 36-yarder to a 77-yard effort vs. Louisville and a 47-yard return vs. Iowa. He also returned four punts for 36 yards vs. NU.
ABDULLAH RECORDS 1ST PICK
The third true frosh starter for the Illini, free safety Muhammad Abdullah enjoyed his 2nd consecutive big game with seven tackles, including five solos with his first career interception, a goalline catch ending a 2nd quarter NU scoring drive. Abdullah made his first start vs. Iowa with six tackles, including four solos. Abdullah replaced injured starter Mike Gusich during the 2nd half of the Louisville game.
FITT TO PUNT
True frosh punter Steve Fitts was solid vs. NU with eight punts for a 41.8 yard average, including a 51-yard effort. Fitts has averaged nearly 40 yards per boot in his first five games as the starting punter.
NOBODY YOUNGER THAN ILLINI . . .
There's been plenty of talk around the Big Ten about having young teams, but no squad features as many first-year starters as the Orange and Blue with 10 Illini starting for the first time in 1998 (TE Brian Hodges, LG J.P. Machado, SE Larry Davis, QB Kurt Kittner, FB Chris Hoffman, HB Rocky Harvey, FL Terrance Smalls, DE Jason Eberhart, FS Muhammad Abdullah, P Steve Fitts).
That's nearly half of the starting lineup receiving on-the-job training!
YOUTHFUL 2-DEEP CHART
In this week's two-deep depth chart, Illinois features 17 players who are completing their first season wearing the Orange and Blue, including four true freshman (QB, HB, FS, P).
LET'S GET RID OF THESE STREAKS
The 13-10 victory at Northwestern snapped the following streaks:
* A 15-game Big Ten losing streak dating to a 46-43 OT
win over Indiana, Oct. 5, 1996.
* A 13-game road winless streak dating to a 26-7 win at Iowa, Nov. 4, 1995. The Illini were 0-12-1 (T at Wisc., 11/25/95).
* A 19-game (0-18-1) winless streak on TV dating to a 48-14 win over Minnesota, Nov. 18, 1995.
* A 3-game NU streak in the "Sweet Sioux Tomahawk" series. UI leads the series, 28-22-2.
* First Big Ten win for Ron Turner.
vs. Number One
Illinois is 3-12 against No. 1 ranked teams. Illinois knocked off three consecutive No. 1 teams from 1950-56, including consecutive upsets of top-ranked teams in 1955 and 1956. Illinois has not faced the nation's top-ranked team since opening the Gary Moeller Illini era with a 37-9 loss to top-ranked Michigan Sept. 10, 1977. The Illini lost 35-31 to No. 2 Penn State in 1994 and 41-3 to No. 2 Ohio State in 1995. Illinois is 1-5 vs. OSU when the Buckeyes have been ranked # 1.
Oct. 11, 1941 L at Minnesota 6-34
Oct. 23, 1943 -- L -- at Notre Dame (0-47)
Oct. 30, 1948 -- L -- at Michigan (20-28)
Nov. 18, 1950 -- W -- Ohio State (14-7)
Nov. 5, 1955 -- W -- Michigan (25-6)
Oct. 27, 1956 -- W -- Michigan St. (20-13)
Oct. 1, 1966 -- L -- Michigan St. (10-26)
Oct. 25, 1969 -- L -- at Ohio State (0-41)
Oct. 24, 1970 -- L -- Ohio State (29-48)
Oct. 16, 1971 -- L -- Michigan (6-35)
Sept. 23, 1972 -- L -- USC (20-55)
Nov. 3, 1973 -- L -- Ohio State (0-30)
Nov. 2, 1974 -- L -- at Ohio State (7-49)
Nov. 8, 1975 -- L -- Ohio State (3-40)
Sept. 10, 1977 -- L -- Michigan (9-37)
BIG "D" FOR THE BIG U.
The Illini defense was stifling against Northwestern, yielding 271 total yards, just 85 on the ground in 35 attempts. The UI defense held NU without a TD until the final two minutes and forced three interceptions and three fumbles, recovering one fumble. The Illini were a solid +3 in the turnover ratio.
LENNY WILLIS, JR. MAKING NOISE
After catching no passes in the first four games of 1998, starting flanker Lenny Willis has nabbed nine catches for 187 yards in the last two games, including four catches for 100 yards vs. Iowa and a team-leading five receptions for 87 yards vs. NU, including back-to-back 37- and 26-yard receptions that set up the go-ahead Illini TD in the second quarter. Willis led the Illini with 33 catches for 354 yards in 1997 but was hampered by a leg injury during training camp. Lenny is the son of two-year OSU letterwinner Lenny Willis, Sr. (1974-75).
ANOTHER INTERCEPTION, PLEAS!
Junior Asim Pleas, who hails from Youngstown, Ohio (Cardinal Mooney H.S.), was moved from safety to cornerback during spring practice. The move continues to pay off as Pleas picked off his third pass of 1998 vs. NU, returning it 11 yards. Pleas returned a pass 89 yards for a TD vs. Middle Tennessee, the second TD of Pleas' career. Pleas now has eight career interceptions for 141 yards and two TDs in his career.
"RON TURNER SHOW" on the road...
The "Ron Turner Show" continues its second season on the 54-station Illini Sports Network from 6:05-7 p.m. with host Jim Turpin. The "Ron Turner Show" will move to a different campus location each week with Monday's show at Beta Sigma Psi fraternity. Locally, the show can be heard on WDWS-AM 1400. The show is open to the public and features a ticket trivia contest. Here is the schedule for the next several weeks:
Oct. 5 Beta Sigma Psi
Oct. 12 Kappa Delta
Oct. 19 Alpha Tau Omega
Oct. 26 Sigma Alpha Mu
Nov. 2 4-H House
Nov. 9 Farmhouse
"RON TURNER TV SHOW" AIRS SUNDAY
The "Ron Turner Show," a half-hour weekly television highlights show featuring Coach Turner and host Chris Widlic, airs locally Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WCIA, Channel 3. The show can also be seen on Fox Sports Chicago Tuesdays at 3 p.m. and Friday mornings. Consult your local listings.
OUT -- LB Eric Guenther (knee), DE Tim McGill (knee); WR William Loyd (leg); DT Joe Lauzen (mono); TE Mike Cracioniou (knee); DOUBTFUL -- None; QUESTIONABLE -- None; PROBABLE -- LT Ryan Schau (ankle); FS Mike Gusich (knee).
OSU is ranked No. 1 in AP and USA Today/ESPN Coaches polls.
ILLINI & BIG TEN ON-LINE
For the latest information about Fighting Illini athletics, media members can access the Illinois athletics home page at www.fightingillini.com
The Big Ten Conference also has an active home page, featuring information on all Big Ten institutions at: http://www.bigten.org.
TV/RADIO QUICK FACTS
OFFENSIVE LINE -- Five starters combined for 36 starts last season (R. Schau & Sullivan, 11; Redziniak 7; Machado 4, T. Schau 3) and all have started first 5 games . . . All backups have seen some game action in first 4 games, including juco transfer Matt Carlton at LG, jr. OT Chip Nicastro and a trio of redshirt frosh in C (Luke Butkus, nephew of Hall-of-Famer Dick Butkus), RG (Jay Kulaga), and RT (Dan Cutter). . . Kulaga also blocks on extra points and field goals. . . Nicastro replaced injured LT Ryan Schau during the 2nd quarter of the NU game and played the rest of the way. Schau did return for the final series.
QUARTERBACK -- Fr. Kurt Kittner was 13-20 for 124 yards with one TD and one interception vs. NU in his 2nd college start. Kittner threw for 245 yards vs. Iowa in his first college start, including 8-16 for 211 yards in the fourth quarter . . . Kittner tossed his first career TD pass, a 6-yard strike to Rocky Harvey vs. NU . . . Kittner was 9-27 vs. Louisville after replacing Hoekstra on first play of second quarter . . . Kittner also has a 61-yard TD run and has rushed for two TDs . . . Kittner is 35-80 for 443 yards and one TD and has 7 passes of 20+ yards . . . Kittner is from Schaumburg H.S. and threw for more than 1,200 yards in 3+ games as a h.s. senior before breaking his thumb . . . Kittner returned to play LB for remainder of senior season . . . Kittner made UI debut with one-yard kneeldown vs. MTSU.
RUNNING BACK -- Fr. Rocky Harvey, a candidate for frosh post-season honors, is averaging a staggering 5.4 yards per carry through his first 4 games, leading the Illini in rushing for the last month. . . Harvey rushed for 132 yards on 40 carries vs. NU with one TD rushing and one TD receiving . . . Harvey also racked up 72 yards in kick returns and intercepted a pass . . . Harvey gained 66 yards on 11 carries vs. Iowa, including a 25-yard TD gallop . . . He gained 86 yards on 17 carries vs. Louisville to lead UI for 2nd straight game after record-breaking 215-yard, 3 TD performance vs. MTSU . . . Harvey was the 1997 Chicago Sun-Times Illinois Prep Player of the Year . . . Harvey rushed for 7,395 yards and 107 TDs in three varsity seasons at Dunbar H.S., gaining 2,129 yards with 26 TDs as a sophomore, 2,636 yards with 41 TDs as a junior and 2,630 yards and 40 TDs as a senior. He ended his Dunbar career as the all-time IHSA leader in career rushing and TDs.
FULLBACK -- Illinois opened with Steve Havard in the same backfield as Rocky Harvey vs. Louisville, but also look for converted LB Chris Hoffman, a ferocious blocker who also caught two passes vs. Louisville and jr. Elmer Hickman. Hoffman is a two-year letterman at LB who moved to FB during spring drills. . . Hoffman missed the NU game after injuring his head and neck in practice.
SPLIT END -- Juco Larry Davis became first UI receiver since Ken Dilger (11/5/94 vs. Minn.) to top 100 yards in a game with 116 on four catches (40,50 yds) in his first career start vs. Iowa. . . Davis made a clutch 6-yard catch late in the NU game on 3rd down.
FLANKER -- Jr. Lenny Willis joined Davis in the 100-yard club vs. Iowa with 100 yards on four catches, including a near-TD reception in the 4th quarter. . . Willis has 9 catches for 187 yards in last 2 games after catching 0 passes in first 4 games . . . Willis started at flanker vs. Northwestern and teamed with Kittner on three consecutive catches on a 77-yard TD drive.
TIGHT END -- Redshirt frosh and converted QB Brian Hodges is the starter at tight end, backed up by soph. Josh Whitman, who played in all 11 games as a true frosh . . . Hodges made a 9-yard catch vs. NU . . . Soph. Mike Cracioniou (pronounced "Crass-ih-noy") injured his knee vs. Iowa . . . Whitman and Hodges started in two tight end set vs. MTSU, catching a combined three passes for 27 yards . . . Whitman is Academic A-A candidate with 3.96 GPA in Business. . . Hodges made his first UI start vs. WSU.
DEFENSIVE END -- Jr. Rameel Connor leads DE with 20 tackles, including 11 solos with 6 TFLs and a team-leading 4 QB hurries . . . Senior DE Jeff Weisse set a school record with six TFLs vs. MTSU and shares team lead with Garrett Johnson with 4.5 QB sacks . . . Jason Eberhart has started all 5 games in place of Fred Wakefield, who was slated to start at DE but missed first 3 games with virus . . . Wakefield made first 1998 appearance vs. Iowa, with 4 tackles and 2 TFLs . . . Eberhart had 4 solos vs. UL and 1 TFL vs. Iowa.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE -- Sr. Garrett Johnson leads the Illini front four with 29 tackles, including 20 solos, along with a team-leading 10 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. . . Johnson shared MVP honors with LB Danny Clark vs. NU with six tackles, three TFLs and 2 QB sacks . . . Johnson led the Illini defense vs. MTSU with nine tackles, including six solos, four TFLs and two QB sacks . . . Johnson also had seven solo tackles in WSU game with three TFLs and a fumble recovery . . . Karleton Thomas made his first start of 1998 with three tackles and a TFL.
LINEBACKER -- '97 honorable mention All-Big Ten "Will" LB Danny Clark was all over the field vs. NU with 12 tackles, including 8 solos and a team-high 3 TFLs . . . Clark leads Illini with 45 stops, including 34 solos, along with 6 TFLs, 4 PBUs and an outstanding strip and recovery vs. WSU. . . Clark had 7 tackles, including 4 solos vs. Iowa & 12 tackles, including 9 solos vs. UL. . . Clark had eight solos, one TFL and forced and recovered a fumble vs. WSU . . . Senior MLB Eric Guenther, a three-year letterwinner, had a career-high 15 tackles, including 9 solos vs. UL but is out for the season with a left knee injury. . . Guenther has lettered his first three seasons and has not used a medical redshirt season. . . Soph. Robert Franklin, who can play any of the 3 spots, had two tackles vs. WSU and six vs. MTSU, is now the starter at MLB and had career-high 11 tackles vs. Iowa . . . Soph. Mike Young recorded his first QB sack of the season with a nine-yard drop of NU QB Hoffman . . . Young, the starting "Sam" LB, has 16 tackles, including 3 TFLs and 2 PBUs . . . Soph. Eric Garrett, who played FB last fall, returned to LB this year and had three tackles and one TFL vs. MTSU . . . Soph. Mondrian Long is an accomplished sketch artist who showed his art at Krannert Art Museum last year.
DEFENSIVE BACK -- Jr. Asim Pleas enjoyed a huge game vs. NU with seven stops and his third theft of the season and eighth of his career . . . Pleas also had 7 solos and 2 PBUs vs. Iowa . . . Pleas (pronounced "Ah-seam Plez") led the Illini with nine tackles vs. WSU, including seven solos . . . Pleas made five stops vs. MTSU and scored the 2nd TD of his career with 89-yard interception return, the fifth-longest in Memorial Stadium history . . . First name, Asim, is Swahili for "Protector & Defender" . . .6-2 jr. Tony Francis is tallest UI DB and had INT vs. Iowa and 4 tackles vs.NU . . . Johnny Rogers made the play of the game vs. NU, recovering a fumble on a punt early in the 4th quarter that led to the clinching UI TD . . . Rogers also had 2 tackles.
SAFETY -- True soph. strong safety Bobby Jackson had 5 stops vs. Iowa and NU and Muhammad Abdullah, a native of Barnegat, New Jersey, made 1st start with 6 tackles vs. Iowa . . . Abdullah came up big vs. NU with 7 tackles, including 5 solos, and a TD saving interception early in the game, his first career interception which he returned 18 yards . . . Veteran jr. Ivan Benson is capable backup at safety spots . . . Benson is also an outstanding UI scholar (3.5 in Advertising, Arthur Ashe Scholar-Athlete).
PUNTER/KICKER -- True frosh and South Carolina native Steve Fitts is averaging 39.4 on 38 punts. . . . Fitts had a 43.6 yard average in eight kicks vs. WSU, including a 53-yarder. . .Fitts has put 7 punts inside the 20 . . . His father, Steve, was kicker at Clemson . . . Jr. Neil Rackers hit a career-best 46-yard FG vs. WSU and is 3-5 on FGs in 1998, including a perfect 2-2 from 40-49 yards.