Football notes: Eller Working on Short FGs

Illinois began preparations Monday for the latest biggest game of the season -- Saturday's home showdown with vastly improved Minnesota. So as Ron Zook's team gets set to play a team that would love nothing better than to break the Illini's heart on homecoming, here are some news and notes to start your week.

-- Illini freshman kicker Matt Eller, who missed a short field goal on the same night he drilled a 40-plus yarder for the second game in a row, was in bright and early Sunday morning watching tape trying to correct his technique.

The walk-on has been one of team's pleasant surprises, making six of nine field goals in his first action as a collegian, including the ultimate winning points against Louisiana-Lafayette, plus one kick longer than 50 yards and two more in the 40s.

Yet, since all three of his misses have been in the 30-39 range, and all have come from the left hash, he is watching tape with coaches trying to identify any technical problems that exist.

"He's working very hard at all of this," co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch said. "He knows they all have been about the same distance, all from the left hash. Like all of us, he is trying to be perfect."

Eller has the strongest leg on the team, which is why he also has been the primary kickoff guy. But Mike Chlamovsky kicks it higher, which is why he came into the game Saturday. Both will continue to be used to kick off.

-- Russell Ellington started the game in place of Martez Wilson and was listed first on the depth chart in the "base" formation, along with Brit Miller and Rodney Pittman. In nickel, however, when only two linebackers are on the field, the first teamers are Miller and Wilson. So Wilson played most of the game.

"He played a lot better," coach Ron Zook said. "Started a little slow, but really played well as the game got going."

Ellington, although he didn't play nearly as much, played well also.

Speaking of linebackers, reserve Dustin Jefferson had two very big plays on special teams. Does that mean he gets into the mix at linebacker?

"We'll see what happens at practice," Disch said. "But Dustin really needed that. Gave him some confidence, really did. Kids have to have confidence."

-- Troy Pollard has a little soreness, but he is, for the most part, completely healthy. But he has to work himself back into the mix because freshmen Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford have gotten more reps in practice.

Once Pollard has increased his practice reps, he will play more.

-- The general belief around Champaign is that Minnesota coach Tim Brewster wants this one as bad as any he will coach. And his team will play hard for him because of that.

Which is why the Illini have to be ready to play. They have to play hard, which they have done consistently under Zook.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories