Bobcats Invade Memorial Stadium on Saturday

When the Illini welcome the Ohio Bobcats to Champaign on Saturday night in Memorial Stadium, they will be looking to bounce back from last week's disappointing loss to the Indiana Hoosiers.'s Brad Leshyn previews the game in this article.

Here we go again ... Just when we thought we were getting out, they pull us right back in. The roller coaster ride that is Illinois football hit another nadir last Saturday thanks to a blown 25-7 lead, poor defense, and poor coaching decisions. All the momentum gained after the glorious victory over Michigan State was lost and now we are back to the drawing board. How the Illini rebound against Ohio will show what this team is made of. The Bobcats are hardly a powerhouse, so if the Illini attack them as they did the Hoosiers early on, they will likely get right back on track. But if three runs up the middle and a punt continue to be the offensive philosophy, then anything goes. My guess is the reins come off of Juice just a little more and the mistakes of last week are not repeated. For all of our sanity, let's hope that is the case, because for those few days, we all felt that Illinois football was no longer a national laughingstock. Now we took a few giant steps back. A win over Ohio may not bring us out of this (hopefully) temporary hole, but it's a start. While many are eagerly anticipating a football resurrection, we still have to resign ourselves to taking baby steps. A win this week is a step in the right direction, which is all we can really hope for right now.

When the Bobcats have the ball
An offensive juggernaut, the Bobcats are not. In fact, their offense is borderline anemic. After six games, they rank 110th in the nation in total offense (256.3 yards per game) and 91st in scoring (18.83 points per game). Not overly impressive, yet they still have managed a 3-3 record including 2-1 in the MAC. The running game showed plenty of life last week in their 27-20 win over Western Michigan. Led by Kalvin McRae's 120 yards, the Bobcats piled up a season best 257 yards against the Broncos. McRae's 120 yards marked his eighth career 100-yard game and he now stands ninth on Ohio's career rushing list. His two TDs gave him five on the year. The only other Bobcat to reach paydirt via the rush is QB Austen Everson, who is a threat with his feet as well as his arm. He is the second leading rusher on the club with 137 yards, 72 of which came on a single run a week ago. Everson, a senior, has started 17 straight games and his five TD tosses this year are already a career high. He has thrown for 802 yards through six games, but can be forced into a poor decision or two as his five picks suggest. Everson's backup, Brad Bower, is a familiar name to Illini fans. Last week was the first game of the year in which he did not take at least one snap. In 26 attempts this season, he has thrown three picks and no scores.

McRae's versatility shines in the passing game as he is tied for the team lead with 15 receptions and is second with 159 yards. Also with 15 grabs are TE Rudy Sylvan and WR Scott Mayle. Mayle did not touch the ball one time last week stopping a streak of 38 straight games where he got at least one touch either via rush, reception, or kick return. Freshman WR Chris Garrett has not made much noise offensively as he has only a single pass reception. However, he is a very dangerous kick returner. Last week, he set a school record with an 88-yard punt return (the longest punt return in the nation thus far this season), which boosted his NCAA-best 25.9 yards per punt return. He also averages 22.8 yards per kick return, so the Illini special teams will need to correct last week's coverage issues in a hurry.

When the Illini have the ball
The Bobcat defense is solid but unspectacular as they rank 51st in the nation, allowing 319.17 yards per game. Their strength is playing the pass as they are 18th overall in Pass Efficiency defense. Last week against Western Michigan they recorded seven tackles for loss and have forced 10 turnovers in their last four outings. Leading the way is senior LB Matt Muncy who is on the preseason watch lists for the Lombardi Award, the Ronnie Lott Trophy, and the Butkus Award. He leads the team with 7.0 TFL and is second with 39 tackles. With 23 more solos he will become Ohio's all-time leading tackler. He is also one of three Bobcat defenders with two interceptions. The leading tackler, with 51, is fellow LB Tyler Russ. His 12 stops against the Broncos led the way last week and he also recorded his second pick of the year. Rounding out the LB corps is Michael Graham. He, Russ, and Muncy have combined for 82 starts since 2003. Graham registered a season high four stops a week ago and has 17 on the year.

DT Landon Cohen is second on the squad with 5.0 TFL and leads all Bobcat linemen with 16 tackles. His linemate, DE Jameson Hartke paces the team with 2.5 sacks. The secondary is led by senior CB T. J. Wright. Wright also has two interceptions on the year (11 for his career) and last week broke up his 32nd career pass, which is two shy of the school record. On the other corner are Virginia Tech transfer Michael Hinton and Mark Parson, who has started the last two games opposite Wright. Tony Ward and Todd Koenig are the safeties. They have a combined 70 tackles and Ward's 24 solo stops are tops on the team.

Fun Facts
Ron Zook has never lost to Ohio. As a player, his Miami of Ohio teams went 3-0 against the Bobcats, and he won his only meeting as a coach when his Florida Gators won 34-6 in 2002.

Don Peden is a legendary figure in Ohio football annals. He began coaching the Bobcats in 1924 and stayed at the helm for a total of 21 seasons amassing a 121-46-11 record, making him the winningest coach in school history. He is also the namesake of their stadium. Why is this a fun fact? Peden lettered at Illinois in 1920 and 1921, and was first team All-Big Ten for legendary coach Bob Zuppke.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories