Mascot: Fighting Illini
Stadium: Memorial Stadium (60,670)
2011 Record: 7-6
2012 Record: 2-6
Head Coach: Tim Beckman (1st year at Illinois, 2-6; 23-22 overall)
Letterman Returning: (41; lost - 16)
Returning Starters: Offense - 7; Defense - 7; Specialists - 1
Base Defense: 4-3
Base Offense: Ace (3 receivers)
Robert Ebert & Gene Shalit - Film Critics
Red Grange - Charter member of Pro Football Hall of Fame
Chief Illinwek (Before he got banned due to political correctness)
Gene Hackman - Academy Award winning actor
Dan Fogelberg - Singer, songwriter
Dick Butkus - NFL Hall of Fame linebacker
Donna Mills - Actress
Steve Stricker, PGA golfer
Cheerleader Scouting Report:
Impressive as a freshman and sophomore, when he led the Illini to back-to-back bowl games, Scheelhaase has struggled this season with a new head coach. He has also been banged up, and has shared time with Reilly O'Toole. Despite his problems he can be dangerous, and is hitting 61.3% of his passes for 839 yards, and has rushed for 161 yards and 3 TD's despite often running for his life.
Young got his feet wet last season when he rushed for 451 yards and 6 TD's as a true freshman, and the Illini had high hopes for a big year in 2012. Poor line play hasn't helped his cause, but Young does lead the team with 400 yards, and averages 4.2 yards per carry. He has good size and isn't afraid to stick his head down and fight for tough yards.
One of the few pleasant surprises in Champaign this year, Lankford played only sparingly in 2011 and wound up with just 12 catches. However he has emerged as their go to receiver this season, although he isn't going to make anyone forget A.J. Jenkins. Still, Lankford has nice numbers through eight games (29, 413, 5), despite having to work with two quarterbacks.
Working opposite first round pick Whitney Mercilus, Buchanan had a fine 2011 season, winding up with 13.5 tackles for loss, including 7.5 sacks. This year the going has been tougher as he is the guy getting double teamed, but Buchanan has still provided some pressure, and comes into the game with 32 stops, with 5 for loss, including 2.5 sacks. He also has an interception and a forced fumble.
Moving from the middle to the outside of the Illini defense, Brown is a talented senior who led the team a season ago with 108 tackles with a whopping 19.5 tackles for loss. While his numbers aren't quite as impressive this year, he is still a force, and leads the team with 55 tackles, with 8,5 for loss, including 2.5 sacks. He is a prototypical big, physical B1G linebacker who can lay the wood.
A native of Berea, Ohio, Beckman coached the cornerbacks at OSU back in 2005-6, before moving onto Oklahoma State, and then to Toledo as the head cocah. His Rocket teams were strong offensively, and won 8 games both of the past two seasons. Most thought he would be a good fit at Illinois, where the offesne needed some help, but so far it has been tough sledding.
Limping into Columbus after giving Indiana their first conference victory in two years come the Fighting Illini of Illinois, and most of the fight seems to be out of this team. Coming into 2012 the Champaign natives knew they would miss first rounders A.J. Jenkins and Whitney Mercilus, and left tackle Jeff Allen who was a second round pick. However, with seven returning starters on both sides of the ball, most expected another 6 or 7 win season. But it has been a struggle for new coach Tim Beckman, with only two non-conference victories, and the team has had an especially tough time on the road. Now they face a 9-0 OSU team coming off what may have been their best performance of the season at Penn State. While all that sounds like a perfect recipe for a blowout, most Buckeye fans need only think back two weeks ago to the Purdue contest to realize that games aren't played on paper or by computers.
Illinois is led by veteran Nathan Scheelhaase, a dual-threat quarterback, who has enjoyed a nice career but has been banged up a great deal in 2012, missing two games, and not playing as well as expected even when healthy. Splitting time with him has been sophomore Reily O'Toole, who got some valuable action last year. His numbers throwing the ball are impressive, as he is hitting 74.7% of his passes, with 6 TD's and 3 INT's. He isn't the runner that Scheelhasse is, but he can scramble some and has 60 yards and a TD on the ground. Look for both players to see action Saturday.
Lacking a game-breaking running back, Illinois has used solid Donovonn Young, who has nice size, and the smaller Josh Ferguson, a redshirt freshman. Between them they average just over 80 yards per game, and overall the Illni are only rushing for 132.5 per contest. Interestingly the pair also has 50 catches between them as Illinois throws a lot of screens and short passes.
The receiving corps has been pretty solid in the post-Jenkins era. Besides the previously mentioned Lankford, the Illini use Spencer Harris (17, 187, 2), Darius Millines (14, 143, 0) and true frosh Justin Hardee (12, 153, 0). Tight ends are not featured in the passing game but Jon Davis does have 6 catches, one of which went for a touchdown.
On paper the offensive line looks pretty strong with three returning starters led by Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton. Still, when a team is averaging 317.4 and 18 points per game you have to figure they aren't winning the battle in the trenches. Of particular concern to Beckman is the 30 sacks they have surrendered, so expect the OSU d-line to be salivating this week.
Defense hasn't been a strength this year as it was in 2011. Last year's squad only gave up 286 yards per game, and sacked opposing quarterbacks 41 times. So far this season, the Illini are surrendering 366 yards per contest, and have only 12 sacks. The d-line is led by end Michael Buchanan, and tackle Akeem Spence who has 37 tackles with 3 for loss. The other starters are Glenn Foster and Justin Staples, and in spite of good experience this group has underwhelmed.
Illinois has had some great linebackers through the years, and the 2012 squad is led by Johnathan Brown, who moved from middle linebacker where he played last year, to the outside, and he is pretty good. Patrolling the middle is true freshman Mason Monheim, an Orville, Ohio native, and despite his youth, has 52 tackles, an interception and a couple of forced fumbles.
Most of the time Illinois employs five defensive backs, and the best of the lot may be the Star, Ashante Williams, who is a bit of a hybrid, playing like a safety or linebacker depending on the situation. Williams has 52 tackles and an interception that he returned 60 yards for a touchdown. The corners are Justin Green (who seems to be in his 6th season in Champaign) and Terry Hawthorne, both of whom are seniors. Neither has played great this year and neither has an interception to this point. Steve Hull and Supo Sanni are the starters at safety. Hull has 17 tackles and a couple of picks, while Sanni, who has missed a big part of the year due to injuries, has 13. He is huge at 6'3", 220, and his presence is a lift especially in stopping the run.
Special teams have not been overly kind to UI as they are averaging 16.2 on kick returns and 1.8 on punt returns. Josh Ferguson has the potential to break a big one, but hasn't found success so far in 2012. Punter Justin DuVernois is a good one, averaging 42.4 per punt with 0 blocks. Illinois uses two kickers, Nick Immekus and Taylor Zalewski, and between them they are 4-8 on field goals. It would appear OSU has a big advantage in this area, so long as they remember to block for punter Ben Buchanan.
A year ago Ohio State went to Champaign 0-2 in the conference to meet a 6-0 Illini team that was on top of the world. Taking advantage of finishing +3 in turnovers the Buckeyes left town with an unexpected 17-7 victory. Just as OSU derailed Illinois a season ago, you know the Illini would love to get some payback in 2012. While they have been a terrible disappointment thus far, it is not as if Illinois doesn't have talent. On defense, in particular, there is excellent experience, and while they are giving up 30.8 points per game, much of that is due to a struggling offense that has turned it over 20 times. The boys in orange will hit you, and if the Bucks think it will be a walk in the park, they may be in for a surprise.
Offensively, Ohio State has seemed to become more and more of a running team, allowing their improving line to wear opponents down. The Illini are decent against the run, giving up 152.6 per game, and will no doubt stack the box and see if Braxton can beat them with his arm. If he stays calm, and remembers to set his feet, there is no reason Miller can't find some big plays in the passing game, and if that happens, the run will come naturally as the game progresses.
Illinois is still searching for an identity on offense, throwing tons of short passes, while still trying to establish the run. Even though they throw 30 passes a game, amazingly they are only averaging 4.6 yards per play. The Illini are actually winning the time of possession battle 32-28, but their inability to make big plays has cost them, to say nothing of losing 10 fumbles and throwing 10 interceptions. To have any chance at Columbus they must hold onto the ball, and find a way to come up with a few big plays.
Truth be told this Illinois team isn't a whole lot worse than Purdue, so Urban should have some motivational material. Considering how slowly OSU has started this year it wouldn't surprise me for this to be a game early on, maybe even through the first half. But in the end, the Buckeyes have better players and better coaches, in my opinion. And, of course, they also have #5, and if he is on his game it could be a long day for Illinois. However, Ohio State is beat up, coming off a big win, and looking ahead to two huge challenges, so watch out for another "trap" game.
Father vs. Son Prediction Battle:
Dave: OSU 38, Illinois 17
Drew: OSU 45, Illinois 20