California comes into Saturday's contest with a 1-3 record. The Golden Bears started their season defeating Southern Mississippi in a lopsided 34-2 win followed by two tough losses. One to a speedy Kansas State team and the other by a disappointing two-point margin to Colorado State Lady Luck was not on the Bears gridiron when they met with Utah last week.
The Golden Bears are still trying to rebound from losing talented first round draft pick, Kyle Boller to the NFL last season. The Bears camp will again turn to junior college transfer Aaron Rodgers to get back on the winning track before the PAC Ten season begins.
Illinois comes into Saturday's showdown with a 1-2 record. Turner's troops were defeated by Missouri to open their season followed by a win over the Redbirds of Illinois State. A disappointing lost to UCLA last week left the Illini in a must win situation for today's game.
Key Players for the Illini:
Jon Beutjer – Averaging over 235 yards a game and completing 67% of his passes, when is this quarterback not a key player to the game? In last weeks game he had a hard time, throwing 3 interceptions, but look for the Big Ten Leader in passing to find some holes in the young Golden Bear defensive-back field.
E.B. Halsey – This Freshman HB has been a bit of a surprise to Illini fans this year, since most expected Morris Virgil to be the starter in the backfield. With 288 yards in three games Halsey may have his eye on the school record of 842 yards (the most rushing yards by a freshman set in 1944 by Buddy Young).
Morris Virgil – It may seem strange to have two running-backs listed as keys, but Virgil is going to need to get more touches in this game to give Halsey a rest (something Coach Ron Turner specifically mentioned during his radio show). Virgil also adds a speed threat that Halsey has yet to exhibit.
The game may rest in the hands of the young defense of California. Junior college transfer Aaron Rodgers will be taking his first start in the unfriendly confines of Illinois' home field. The strong-armed quarterback has impressed coaches with his ability to pick up the offense quickly and deliver the ball. Beutjer may just be able to out score the Bears, especially with number one cornerback, Tim Mixon, out with a torn ACL. On a side note, the game is at 11 a.m. CST which would make it feel about 9 a.m. for the California boys, something that concerns head coach Jeff Tedford.
Key Players for the Golden Bears:
Geoff McArthur – This junior receiver has really gone above and beyond what was expected of him when he stepped in for injured wide-out Jonathan Makonnen. McArthur now leads the NCAA in receiving yards with 470, 5 touchdowns, and 25 catches.
Aaron Rodgers – In relief of former starter Reggie Robertson last week, Rodgers threw for 224 yards making 15 completions on 25 attempts. Reason enough for Rodgers to be named starter this week, but whether or not he delivers is a different story.
Donnie McClesckey – Cal's defensive-back field is running thin, McClesckey leads the team with 42 tackles and is in the top 15 in the nation in tackle for lost yards and sacks. He is the guy to watch out for on the Golden Bear Defense.
Jonathan Makonnen – Playing wide receiver, Makonnen hasn't done much this season since he has been out with an ambiguous injury to his thigh. Reported as healthy this week, it could spell trouble for the Illini defense. Makonnen led Cal in receptions last year with 54 catches which amounted to 682 yards and 7 TD's.
Hope from the Illini fans is that their Fighting Illini can prove there on the right track to Big Ten Football.