The Illinois football team did poorly in most statistical categories when compared with other Big 10 teams during the 2009 season. Statistical comparisons have little meaning during the nonconference season as difficulty of schedule is not included in formulations. But the Illini are showing improvement in a number of areas, especially on defense.
The Illini are 4th in the conference in rushing defense behind Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State at 102.3 yards per game. Their pass defense is 7th at 230.7 yards per game. Indiana leads at 154.5, followed by OSU. Penn State is 4th.
Overall, they are 5th in total defense, giving up an average of 333 yards a game. OSU leads at 236.3 ypg, followed by Iowa and PSU at 300.3. They are tied for third in Red Zone defense behind OSU and Iowa. And they are second behind Purdue in sacks with 7 for 55 yards in losses. These are major improvements over 2009.
Offensively, the rushing attack is gaining notoriety again. The rushing offense is averaging 229 yards a game, which is third behind Michigan at 286.3 ypg and MSU 241.7 ypg. Mikel Leshoure is second in individual rushing at 132.7 yards a game, behind Michigan's Denard Robinson at 186.3. Nathan Scheelhaase ranks 8th at 68.0 yards a game.
Unfortunately, the passing offense fares poorly compared with its conference brethren. Yards per game passing average for the Illini is 130, 68 yards a game below the tenth place team. They are also last in passing efficiency. Of course, Scheelhaase is a freshman and is being brought along slowly. Penn State with their freshman Rob Bolton are also at the bottom of the conference.
Thus, Illini total offense ranks tenth at 359 yards a game. UM leads at 510, OSU is second at 460.7, and MSU third at 442.3. PSU trails the field. Illinois is 9th in scoring offense. Indiana leads OSU and MSU in that category. In first downs per game, the Illini rank 10th.
The Illini are a surprising first in one important offensive statistic. They lead the league in Red Zone offense, scoring all nine of their chances inside the opponent's 20 yard line. This is a complete reversal of 2008. However, they are one of only three teams with a negative turnover margin after three games. And they are 10th in penalties with 61.3 yards per game.
The Illini behind Anthony Santella are clear conference leaders in total punting and net punting. However, they are ninth in punt returns at 3.3 yards per return. Iowa leads the conference with an average of 13.7 yards per return.
Kickoff man Derek Dimke leads the conference in most touchbacks and is third in total yards, and the kickoff coverage team is 1st in net kickoffs. Dimke is tied for first with kickers from UM and Purdue, having converted all his attempts. But he is not among the scoring leaders as he has only four attempts.
Individually, Scheelhaase is 9th in total offense at 194.7 yards a game. Of course, this can't compare with the UM dynamo Robinson at 410 ypg. Northwestern's Dan Persa averages 299.3, and OSU's manchild Terrelle Pryor is third at 293.3. Scheelhaase is not among the top ten in passing yardage per game or pass efficiency.
Receiver A.J. Jenkins averages 4 catches a game, good for 8th place. He is seventh in receiving yardage per game at 63.3. Leshoure has 135.7 all purpose yards, good for third place. There are no Illini among the top ten in touchdowns scored or total scoring.
Defensively, Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson are tied for 7th in the conference in total tackles. Outstanding MSU linebacker Greg Jones is 1st. Illini Travon Bellamy is tied for 9th, while Justin Green and Nathan Bussey are tied for 18th, and Trulon Henry is tied for 24th.
In tackles for loss, Bellamy and Thomas are tied for 4th. Tavon Wilson leads the conference in fumbles recovered with two. And Green and Tavon Wilson are tied for third in passes defended. The Illini have no interceptions on the year, placing them last in that category.
The Illini are good in some areas and not others. Upcoming opponent Ohio State is near the top in most offensive and defensive categories. Penn State has a stout defense, and Michigan State has a powerful running game. Those games will determine whether the Illini go up or down in the statistical rankings.