Illini End Season at Michigan State
Illinois looks to end year on two-game winning streak -11/16/98
Illinois (3-7, 2-5) closes the 1998 regular season at Michigan State (5-5, 3-3) with kickoff set for 1 p.m. eastern/Noon central at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan. UI also wrapped up the 1997 season vs. MSU. The Spartans have one game remaining vs. Penn State.
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET/Noon CT. . . Site: Spartan Stadium (72,027, Turf), East Lansing, Mich. . . . Expected Attendance: 70,000.
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.
CAPTAIN KIRK DELIVERS THIRD WIN
Making his second consecutive start and third of his career (Purdue, 1997), jr. QB Kirk Johnson hit 21 of 28 passes for 165 yards and one TD to lead Illinois to a 31-16 victory over Indiana. For the season, Johnson, already named the starter vs. MSU, has hit 41 of 66 passes (62.1%) for 331 yards and 2 TDs (111.22 QB %).
FOUR ILLINI EARN ACADEMIC HONORS
Illinois has placed four student-athletes on the national ballot for CoSIDA/GTE Academic All-America honors, more than any other school in District V (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin). Named to the all-District V team are sr. C Tom Schau (3.2, Speech Communication), sr. S Ivan Benson (3.5, Advertising), sr. S Mike Gusich (3.7, Business) and soph. DE Fred Wakefield (3.2, Kinesiology).
A quick look at the coaches
RON TURNER 3-18 in second season at Illinois, 10-22 overall in three seasons as a college head coach, 0-1 vs. MSU. 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.
NICK SABAN 24-21-1 in his fourth year at Michigan State, 33-23-1 in his fifth season overall. Saban has led MSU to three consecutive bowl games (1995 - Independence; 1996 - Sun; 1997 - Aloha). Saban came to MSU after spending four seasons as defensive coordinator with the NFL's Cleveland Browns. Saban was head coach at Toledo (1990) and serving two seasons as secondary coach with the NFL's Houston Oilers. Saban was a three-year letterman at DB at Kent State. Saban is 3-0 vs. UI.
ILLINI-SPARTANS MEET FOR 36TH TIME
Illinois and Michigan State meet for the 36th time with MSU leads 17-16-2. MSU leads the series, 9-7-1, in East Lansing and has won the last three games in the series. The Spartans won, 27-17 in Champaign last fall to close the regular season. MSU romped 42-14 in the last meeting between the two schools in East Lansing in 1996. Nick Saban is 3-0 vs. Illinois. Illinois won six in a row in the series from 1980-85. The series dates to 1955 with Illinois shocking No. 1 MSU, 20-13 in 1956 and the Illini defeating the Spartans, 13-0 in 1963 to win the Big Ten title and advance to the Rose Bowl.
Overall series record: MSU leads 17-16-2
in Champaign: Illinois leads 9-8-1
in East Lansing: MSU leads 9-7-1
Ron Turner vs. MSU: 0-1
Nick Saban vs. Illinois: 3-0
Longest UI streak: 6 (1980-85)
Longest MSU streak: 4 (1965-72; 1976-79)
Last 10 years: MSU 5-3
First game: MSU 21-7 (10/22/55 at East Lansing)
Last game: MSU 27-17 (11/22/97 in Champaign)
MSU QUICK FACTS
1997 record: 7-5 (4-4/6th Big Ten)
1997 final ranking: None
1997 bowl game: Aloha, Washington, L, 23-51
1998 record: 5-5 (3-3/6th)
Current ranking: None
Offensive system: Pro Set
Defensive system: 4-3
Lettermen returning: 38
Starters returning: 15 (5 offense, 9 defense, 1 kickers)
Last week: Lost to Purdue, 25-24 in East Lansing, Mich.
By the Numbers . . .
1 - Olympic Gold Medalists to sing the National Anthem prior to the an Illinois football game. 1998 U.S. women's skier and Super G gold medalist Picabo Street sang the anthem prior to the 31-16 victory ove Indiana.
+ 3 - Win improvement from 1997 to 1998 with one game to play, Illini will rank among teams in win improvement in 1998.
3 - Interceptions by Asim Pleas in 1998, for 100 yards, including an 89-yarder for a TD vs. Middle Tennessee State.
5 - Touchdowns scored by Rocky Harvey and Steve Havard this season to lead the team.
5.5 - Team-leading QB sacks by senior DT Garrett Johnson for 40 yards. Johnson also has a team-high 11 TFLs.
10 - Number of first-year starters for Illini on 2-deep roster.
12 - Interceptions by Illinois defense this season for 200 yards, including 3 by Pleas and 2 each from LB Danny Clark and FS Mike Gusich.
17 - First-year Illini competing in 2-deep roster.
41 - Pass completions for Kirk Johnson in 2+ games for a 62.1 % (66 attempts).
46 - Career-long FG by Neil Rackers vs. Washington State. Rackers is 6-9 on FGs in 1998.
52 - Stations around the state of Illinois on the Illini Sports Network with Jim Turpin and Jim Grabowski calling the action.
71 - Punts for frosh Steve Fitts this season, good for 6th on all-time UI single-season punt attempts list.
77 - "The Galloping Ghost" Red Grange, also the number of solo tackles for Danny Clark and a length of Rocky Harvey's kickoff return vs. Louisville.
94 - Steve Havard's kickoff return for a touchdown vs. Indiana November 7, the first UI kickoff returned for a TD since James Coleman went 98 yards for a score vs. Michigan State on October 29, 1977.
98.7 - Multi-purpose yards per game for Rocky Harvey.
"RON TURNER SHOW" on the road...
The "Ron Turner Show" nears the conclusion of its second season on the 52-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. Locally, the show can be heard on WDWS-AM 1400. The show is open to the public and features a ticket trivia contest and an appearance by an Illini player. Here is the schedule for the rest of the season:
Nov. 16 Farmhouse fraternity
Nov. 23 Assembly Hall (prior to UI men's bkb game)
"RON TURNER TV SHOW" AIRS SUNDAYS
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.
BIG TEN ROOKIE RAVES
Illinois will be nominating three freshmen for Big Ten rookie honors, HB Rocky Harvey (127 carries, 586 yards, 4.6 average, 5 TDs rushing, 1 receiving); QB Kurt Kittner (69-152, 45.4 %, 730 yards, 1 TD, 8 games); P Steve Fitts (71 punts, 41.3 avg., Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week).
OUT -- LB Eric Guenther (knee), DE Tim McGill (knee); WR William Loyd (leg); TE Mike Craciunoiu (knee); DOUBTFUL -- None; QUESTIONABLE -- None; PROBABLE -- None.
75 PERCENT IN THE RED ZONE
Illinois is 12-16 (75%) in the Red Zone this season, scoring 10 touchdowns and two field goals. The Illini were 2-3 vs. WSU, 3-4 vs. MTSU, 0-0 vs. Louisville, 1-2 vs. Iowa, 2-2 vs. Northwestern, 0-1 vs. OSU, 0-0 vs. Wisconsin, 1-1 vs. Purdue, 0-0 vs. Penn State and 3-3 vs. Indiana (2 TDs, 1 FG).
Neither team is ranked.
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.
OFFENSIVE LINE -- Five starters combined for 36 starts last season (R. Schau & Sullivan, 11; Redziniak 7; Machado 4, T. Schau 3) and have started all 10 games with Machado, R. and T. Schau making their final appearances vs. MSU . . . All backups have seen some game action, including juco transfer Matt Carlton at LG, jr. OT Chip Nicastro (entire 2nd half vs. NU) 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, but missed PSU trip with a virus. . . Nicastro, Kulaga, Carlton and Butkus joined Sullivan in 4th quarter vs. OSU. . . R. Schau sprained ankle vs. NU but returned full speed for OSU.
QUARTERBACK -- Jr. Kirk Johnson made his 3rd career start and played in his 5th career game vs. Indiana, hitting 21 of 28 passes for 165 yards and one TD . . . Johnson also started vs. Penn State, hitting 13 of 26 passes for 91 yards . . . Johnson was 7-12 for 75 yards and one TD vs. Purdue . . . Fr. Kurt Kittner set career-highs for attempts (43) and completions (19) vs. Ohio State . . . Kittner was 13-20 for 124 yards with one TD and one interception vs. NU and chucked 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 . . . Mark Hoekstra started vs. Washington St., Middle Tennessee State and Louisville and played the 4th quarter vs. Wisconsin (8-22, 80 yards) and 3rd/4th quarter vs. Purdue (4-13, 50 yards).
RUNNING BACK -- Jr. Steve Havard has made two consecutive starts at # 1 tailback with 146 yards and two TDs on 26 carries vs. Indiana, also returning a kickoff 94 yards for a TD . . . Havard returned to # 1 spot vs. Penn State with 56 yards on 15 carries . . . Havard had back-to-back 100+ yard games to open season but had been slowed with hamstring . . . Fr. Jameel Cook gained 80 yards on 19 carries vs. Purdue, setting career marks in both categories. He had not carried the ball that much since 8 attempts vs. Iowa and 42 yards vs. WSU in season opener . . . 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 -- Jr. Elmer Hickman caught 5 passes for 45 yards vs. Indiana, giving him 11 catches for 74 yards in last 2 games . . . Hickman set career-highs with 41 yards rushing on 14 carries, along with six catches for 29 yards vs. Penn State . . . Hickman lumbered for 37 yards on 3 carries at Purdue, including a 24-yarder . . . Converted LB Chris Hoffman caught 1 pass for 8 yards vs. Purdue.
SPLIT END -- Sr. George McDonald-Ashford caught his first TD of 1998, a three-yarder from Kirk Johnson vs. Indiana . . . Jr. Larry Davis caught 2 passes for 49 yards vs. Penn State, including a 34-yarder . . . Davis caught 4 passes for 41 yards vs. Wisconsin. . . He 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 leads the Illini in yards per catch at 15.0. . . Michael Dean has 18 catches for 242 yards but DNP vs. Purdue and Penn State . . . McDonald-Ashford had 3 catches for 30 yards vs. PU.
FLANKER -- Sr. Rob Majoy hauled in a career-high 7 catches for 44 yards vs. Indiana with jr. Lenny Willis catching three passes for 21 yards . . . Majoy and Willis combined for 4 catches for 22 yards vs. Penn State . . . Majoy caught 3 fourth-quarter passes for 50 yards vs. Purdue, including a 2-yd. TD pass from Kirk Johnson on the game's final play . . . Jr. Lenny Willis caught 20 passes in 4 games but DNP vs. Purdue due to missing practice with an illness . . . Willis leads the Illini with 25 catches for 288 yards (11.5 avg.). . . 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 had 5 catches for 28 yards vs. Wisconsin . . . Willis started at flanker vs. Northwestern and teamed with Kittner on three consecutive catches on a 77-yard TD drive. . . Willis led Illini with 6 catches for 39 yards vs. OSU. . . Rob Majoy made 3 catches for 34 yards vs. Wisconsin and has 8 catches for 94 yards in last 3 games.
TIGHT END -- Soph. Josh Whitman pulled in a career-best 4 passes for 43 yards vs. Indiana and fr. Brian Hodges caught a 9-yarder . . . Whitman caught 2 passes for 19 yards at Purdue and hauled in a 25-yarder vs. Wisconsin . . .Whitman and Hodges started in two tight end set vs. MTSU, catching a combined three passes for 27 yards . . . Whitman has a 3.96 GPA in Business.
DEFENSIVE END -- So. Fred Wakefield led the DEs with 5 tackles and one TFL vs. Purdue . . . Sr. Jeff Weisse earned the start alongside Rameel Connor vs. Purdue . . . Sr. Ryan Murphy made a surprise start at DE in place of Jason Eberhart vs. Wisconsin . . . Murphy had 6 tackles, including a TFL vs. Badgers . . . Jr. Rameel Connor had 4 stops and one TFL vs. UW and picked up 2 sacks vs. OSU , ranking 2nd on UI in TFLs with 9 for 34 yards . . . Connor leads the team with 5 QB hurries . . . Connor had one TFL and one PBU vs. Purdue . . . Sr. DE Jeff Weisse set a school record with six TFLs vs. MTSU and has 5 QB sacks . . . Jason Eberhart started first 6 games at DE 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.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE -- Sr. Garrett Johnson had 4 stops, one TFL and one QB sack vs. Penn State and also had 4 tackles vs. Purdue . . . Jr. Mike McGee had a big day vs. Indiana with 3 TFLs for 11 yards and one QB sack . . . Johnson has 58 tackles, good for 3rd on UI squad with 44 solos, team-leading 11 TFLs for 49 yards and 5.5 QB sacks. . .Johnson, whose father, Herschel was a DL at Illinois from 1966-68, had six solos and 7 tackles vs. Wisconsin . . . Johnson had 7 stops with 1 QB sack vs. OSU, he was MVP vs. NU with 6 tackles, 3 TFLs and 2 QB sacks . . . Karleton Thomas made his first start of 1998 vs. NU with three tackles and a TFL. . . McGee has started 6 games, making 21 tackles and team-leading 5 QB sacks. . . Brandon Moore, a true frosh, has started vs. Penn State and Indiana and has 12 tackles in 9 games.
LINEBACKER -- Clark has racked up 100+ tackles with 10 TFLs, 2 interceptions, 7 break-ups, 2 QB hurries and a fumble recovery . . . Clark had 10 solos vs. Penn State and one TFL . . . Franklin and Clark led Illini with 8 tackles vs. Purdue with Franklin adding a TFL and Clark making his 2nd career interception . . . Clark, Franklin and Young all made 12 stops to lead Illini vs. Wisconsin . . .Franklin replaced Eric Guenther at MLB 4 games ago . . . Franklin had 15 stops vs. OSU and has 81 stops, including 66 solos, good for 2nd on UI squad behind All-Big Ten pick Danny Clark, who also had 15 stops vs. OSU . . . Clark, who would like to become a sports broadcaster or actor, took a theatre class this summer and is an outstanding interview. . . Clark was all over the field vs. NU with 12 tackles, including 8 solos and a team-high 3 TFLs . . . 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. Mike Young recorded his first QB sack of the season with a nine-yard drop of NU QB Hoffman . . . Soph. Eric Garrett, who played FB last fall, returned to LB this year and saw extensive playing time vs. OSU with 3 tackles . . .Soph. Mondrian Long is an accomplished sketch artist who showed his art at Krannert Art Museum last year, had a career-best 7 stops vs. Wisconsin, including 5 solos in extended action.
DEFENSIVE BACK -- Jr. Asim Pleas missed Indiana game with groin pull but is 100% for Michigan State . . . Pleas had 7 stops vs. Purdue after a career-high 10 stops vs. Wisconsin, including 7 solos and 3 PBUs . . . Pleas, who leads Illini with 3 picks for 100 yards, including an 89-yard TD vs. MTSU, had 9 tackles and 1 PBU vs. OSU . . . Pleas also 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 had career-best 8 stops vs. OSU with 7 solos . . . Francis is tallest UI DB and had 3 PBUs vs. Penn State . . . Francis 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.
SAFETY -- Soph. SS Bobby Jackson picked off his first pass of 1998 vs. Indiana . . . Jackson also had 8 tackles, including 7 solos vs. Hoosiers . . . Sr. Mike Gusich had 4 tackles and 2 PBUs vs. Penn State is his 2nd start since returning from knee injury . . . Gusich made his first start in 4 weeks after injuring his knee vs. Louisville and responded with his 3rd career interception, returning a pick 24 yards early vs. Purdue . . . Gusich also had 7 tackles vs. Boilers in his 4th start of 1998 . . . True frosh Muhammad Abdullah, who started 4 games in Gusich's absence, made first career fumble recovery vs. Purdue and had career-high 10 tackles vs. Wisconsin, including 7 solos . . . Abdullah replaced injured Mike Gusich vs. Louisville . . . True soph. strong safety Bobby Jackson had a busy day vs. Penn State with 7 solos, 2 TFLs, one QB sack and 1 PBU. . . Jackson had career-high 10 tackles vs. OSU, including 5 solos . . . 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 . . . Abdullah added 6 stops vs. OSU . . . Veteran sr. 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 -- Fr. P Steve Fitts is 6th in all-time UI single-season list with 71 punts for 41.3 yd. average . . . Jr. Neil Rackers has hit 6 of last 8 FGs, including 28-yarder vs. Indiana, 39-yarder vs. Purdue and 38-yarder vs. Wisconsin . . . Rackers hit a career-best 46-yard FG vs. WSU and is 6-9 on FGs in 1998, including 2-3 from 40-49 yards.