Team Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

A look at the Tigers first opponent they face for the 2010 season

On Saturday at the Edwards Jones Dome in St. Louis (11:30 A.M., FSN), the Illinois Fighting Illini open their 2010 season against the Missouri Tigers. The Illini have dropped five in a row to Missouri in this series.

Illinois Head Coach Ron Zook hired two new coordinators, Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino, and Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning, in the off-season, and he is breaking in a new QB, as well. Nathan Scheelhaase, the red-shirt freshman starting QB, and junior running back Mikel Leshoure, will be the keys to the Illini's offensive success this season. The Illini have also installed new systems on both sides of the ball.

Petrino has indicated that he plans to utilize a committee approach at running back, although Leshoure wants to make it tough for Petrino to take him off the field. Junior Jason Ford is also working with the first team offense, and junior Troy Pollard, sophomore Justin Green, and red-shirt freshman Bud Golden are sharing time with the second and third teams.

"I understand where they're coming from as far as running back-by-committee," said Leshoure. "They'll get people in when they need 'em or if I need a break, but I definitely want to be the guy."

"I'd love to to see 20, 25 carries a game, if not more," said Leshoure.

Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel was asked on Monday what he remembers about the talented Scheelhaase, whom the Tigers recruited as an athlete."I remember he's a great athlete," said Coach Pinkel. "I'm very impressed with him athletically. And, I'm sure he's going to be a challenge for us, to have that kind of an athlete back there. We're certainly aware of that. He's a very smart guy, a great athlete, and I think he's very poised. So, we'll certainly have our challenges this first game."

Word came toward the end of fall camp that the Illini had lost sophomore starting CB Terry Hawthorne and junior starting safety Supo Sanni to injury.

Illinois Head Coach Ron Zook opened his game week press conference by alluding to the rash of injuries they've suffered of late.

"To my knowledge," began Zook, "No one's gotten hurt in the last thirty-six hours. We're good to go."

Hawthorne's a great talent, and is on his way to certain stardom. He'll be missed for the month or so that he'll be out. But, the Illini's defensive pantry isn't bare. Starting middle linebacker Martez Wilson is a hitting machine. The senior missed almost all of last season after suffering a neck injury against Missouri last year, and is itching to get in some licks.

There's no question that the Illini have talent, and with new coaches and systems in place, as well as with new players, especially a new QB, it's any body's guess as to what to expect from Coach Zook's team on Saturday.

I'm not sure last year's stats are relevant, but it's the only statistical comparison that might be. I think Illinois could be dangerous.

Comparative Statistics [2009 NCAA Ranking in Brackets

MIZZOU______________________ ILLINOIS 412.46 [32nd]___ Total Offense___ 393.50 [47th] 127.00 [85th]___Rushing Offense__ 200.42 [17th] 15___________TDs Rushing__________ 22 285.46 [14th]___Passing Offense__ 193.08 [87th] 139.11 [32nd]__ Passing Efficiency__ 122.10 [82nd] 26___________TDs Passing___________ 15 29.00 [49th]____Scoring Offense____ 24.17 [81st] 370.08 [64th]___ Total Defense___ 403.25 [91st] 118.62 [26th]__ Rushing Defense__ 154.42 [76th] 17________ TDs Allowed Rushing________ 22 251.46 [104th]__Passing Defense_ 248.83 [100th] 132.54 [74th]__ Pass Effic. Defense_ 142.77 [103rd] 20________ TDs Allowed Passing________ 19 25.38 [59th]____Scoring Defense___ 30.17 [96th] +0.31 [T-36th]_ Turnover Margin___–0.33 [83rd] 18 / 8_ ______Fumbles / Lost_______ 23 / 8 11________ Interceptions Thrown________ 12 8_________ Interceptions Gained_________ 5 20.87 [80th]___Kickoff Return Avg._ 19.32 [105th] 9.52 [53rd]____ Punt Return Avg.___ 4.17 [114th] 40.48 [4th]____ Net Punting Avg.___ 35.89 [58th] 2.31 [34th]_______Sacks By______1.58 [89th] 1.54 [39th]_____ Sacks Allowed_____2.42 [90th] 27:44 [109th]__ Avg. Time of Poss.___ 29:50 [64th] 36.8% [82nd]___3rd Down Conv.__ 39.1% [63rd] 55.0% [42nd]___4th Down Conv.__ 66.7% [19th]

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