60.5 – completion percentage for Illinois quarterback Isiah ‘Juice' Williams. That might not be that staggering a percentage, but it's a huge improvement from a year ago. As a freshman, Williams completed just 39.5 percent of his throws (103-of-261) last season, and had only two games where he completed 50 percent of his passes (9-of-16 against both Syracuse and Michigan State). By contrast, Williams is 31-of-51 this season and has completed at least 50 percent of his throws in all three games. While some of Williams' improved accuracy is likely a result of a year of experience and a summer of work with his wideouts, the Illini are also relying a great deal on underneath routes. Williams averaged nearly 15 yards per completion last season (1,489 yards on 103 completions), and this season that number has dipped to 9.0 per completion (271 yards on 31 completions.
1 – Big Ten ranking for Illinois senior linebacker J. Leman in tackles. Leman has 39 tackles in the Illini's first three games, putting him 10 tackles ahead of his closest pursuer in the Big Ten, Penn State's Dan Connor (29). Leman also leads the Illini with 4 ½ tackles for loss this season and ranked seventh nationally a year ago with 19 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. This is nothing new for Leman, who led the Big Ten and ranked third nationally with 152 tackles (12.7/game) a year ago. That sort of productivity earned the 6-3, 243-pounder first-team All-Big Ten honors and honorable mention All-America accolades.
8 – true freshmen who have played thus far for Illinois. Much was made about Illinois' 2007 recruiting class, and Coach Ron Zook is making good use of it. The biggest name of the bunch is wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who has started all three games and leads the team with 13 receptions and 152 yards. Fellow frosh wideout Brian Gamble ranks second with seven receptions, while running back Troy Pollard has played in two games and is averaging 59.0 yards/game. On defense, defensive tackle Josh Bent, linebacker Martez Wilson and defensive backs Nate Bussey, Bo Flowers and Marcus Thomas have all played as well. Wilson is the top tackler of the group with eight stops.
2 –Big Ten games Illinois has won in the last four years. Former Illini coach and current Chicago Bear offensive coordinator Ron Turner was 1-15 in conference games during his final two seasons in Champaign, and Zook has compiled an identical 1-15 Big Ten record in his first two seasons in charge. Zook's lone league win came at Michigan State a year ago, 23-20. But Austin Starr's last second field goal the next week lifted IU to a 34-32 win over Illinois the following weekend and Zook's team lost its final seven games of the '06 season. Despite their struggles, it's been apparent Illinois is getting better. In 2005 Illinois lost all eight of its Big Ten games by at least 17 points and were beaten by at least 34 four times. Last season, every league loss was by 17 or less, and three were by seven points or less.
-4 – Illinois' turnover differential thus far, ranking them 10th in the Big Ten. Zook's team turned the ball over five times in its season-opener against Missouri, which played a big part in their 40-34 loss. They turned it over only twice combined in wins over Western Illinois and Syracuse, but they've been ineffective in forcing turnovers as well. In three games, Illinois' foes have only three giveaways – two fumbles and one interception. Contrast that to Indiana, which leads the Big Ten with a +6 turnover margin. Indiana has come away with five interceptions and five fumbles in three games.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
ILLINOIS: Five Days and Counting
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