Pregame Intel: The Fighting Illini

Illinois started out so well - wins against Rutgers and San Jose State - it looked like Ron Zook was working his magic down in Champaign and the surprising Illini were going to be a force in the Big 10.

Its easy to cast this one as a "former team mate" game...
Illinois Coach Ron Zook played with NU Coach Randy Walker at MIami of Ohio,
Randy was on offense and I was on defense. So we probably did have a lot of collisions, particularly in the spring, because we used to go a lot of one-on-one. So I'm sure there were a lot of collisions involved. - [Illinois Coach Ron Zook media Lunch]
But you also have to take note of the Illinois Seniors who are playing their last game Saturday.

This was a class that tasted the heights, with a #12 ranking, 10-2 record, a visit to the Sugar Bowl and had high hopes,
"When I first got here, there was the Sugar Bowl and all that," said Ryan Matha, [in the Trib today] a redshirt during that 2001 season, `We're going to have five bowl rings by the time we leave.'
But things have a way of going south fast in College Football, as most Cat fans know...
It has been a tough time around here the last couple of years [Ron Zook - fightingillini.com]
...as the Illini have seen their #12 ranking vanish into battles with Indiana for the bottom of the Big 10 and head coaching changes. The new Head Man has even apologized to the Senior class for all the changes, and for the failures.

The 2005 Illini season started off so well, good wins against Rutgers and San Jose State, and a close loss to #15 California was almost as impressive as the Notre Dame resurgence. Folks thought Ron Zook was going to produce an instant turn around.

But the wheels fell of against Michigan State at home, where the MSU spread carved up the Fighting Illini D 61-14. They don't seem to have recovered.

The weather hasn't cooperated with Illinois this week, but Ron Zook likes the indoor practice facility and unlike Randy Walker [who prefers to practice outside almost any time] will use the Illinois facilities to further develop his team.
Its more important you get work done, timing and all those things - you don't have guys worrying about having to have so many clothes on...you got a great faciltiy, [why not use it.] - [Ron Zook - fightingillini.com]
Offense:
We're going to have to come up with some way to put points on the board, to stay in the game. [Ron Zook - fightingillini.com]
And you shouldn''t expect a lot of new things from the Illini this week, as Zook sticks to his long term plan. Tim Brasic will start and try to get some points. For what its worth, Illinois is playing a lot of young guys on offense, with some pretty experienced receivers and running backs.

FB Jason Davis, WR Kendrick Jones are seniors, The center, Matt Maddox, Running backs E.B. Halsey and Pierre Thomas and backup WR Franklin Payne are all Juniors.
Obviously, we'd like to throw as many points on the board as we can, but I don't know that we're to the point where we can get outside our realm of what we do [Ron Zook - fightingillini.com]
Then there are the freshmen, LB Britt Miller, WR Kyle Hudson, and at RB, Evanston's  Rashard Mendenhall.

Pierre Thomas is the team rushing leader but only averages 56.7 yards a game. QB Time Brasic is the #2 rusher with 36.7 yards a game.

Passing, its Brasic - with 173.8 yards per game, but only 9 TDs in 10 games. Top receiver is E.B. Halsey with 35 catches but only 17 yards a game. The big guys here is Kyle Hudson, averaging 46.1 yards per game.

Cat fans have to remember some of the past games with Illinois - games where Halsey ran rings around the defense, and punter Steve Weatherford pinned us back a few times.

The key to this one is that the NU defense doesn't take anything for granted.
Defense:
Our defense is going to have to have a stellar effort.

Their problem is that no Big 10 team has scored less than 35 on the Illinois defense.

Mr Matha is just one of the guys who will have to try to get pressure on Baz and the Wildcats. He has one sack and one hurry from his DT slot.

Their Tackles leader is Strong Safety Kevin Mitchell [64], and OLB J. Leman [61]. All told there are 14 Illini with more than 20 tackles on the year. Leman was the top tackler in the last game, but a team where a d-back leads in tackles suggests problems up front.

One player who could also be in the spotlight for the Illinois D will be senior corner James Cooper.
He's a team guy, I'm sure its been a hard year for him, but he's given us everything he's had , played an awful lot, he's been a leader on the field, he's been a captain for us and I'm proud of him and what he's done. [Ron Zook - fightingillini.com]
Cooper has one interception on the year, and a QB hurry along with 2 fumble recoveries, but only one tackle for loss.

Against Big 10 Spread offense teams, the Illini have given up 61 points to MSU and 37 to Purdue, Penn State hung 63 on the boys from Champaign too.

The Illini defense averages less than a sack per game [9], 28 breakups, and 18 QB Hurries. They average about 5 1/2 tackles for a lost per game.

The two big stats - they allow 221.8 yards rushing per game, and 234.8 yards passing. They've given up 25 TDs passing, and 24 TDs rushing.
Special Teams
NU has shown some flashes of brilliance on returns, both punts and kick offs, but the last 3 teams have had kickers who nullified our abilities here.

This all comes down to Kicker Jason Reda and punter Steve Weatherford's ability to place the ball and the weather Saturday, which calls for 11-16 mph winds.

The Illini have no return TDs on the season.
Injuries:
Left tackle J.J. Simmons remains questionable [game time] for the Northwestern game with an ankle injury - Simmons suffered knee and ankle sprains in the loss to Purdue. ... His injury has caused a few shuffles up front, but the coaches think the O-Line will work just fine.

Redshirt freshman Billy Garza will play if quarterback Tim Brasic can't finish the game. Chris Pazan is out with a mild concussion.
Overall:
But there is something we can do: we can go out of this place a winner and feeling good about ourselves. We need to go and do that." [Ron Zook - fightingillini.com]
But this is going to be a game between two teams that essentially are rebuilding parts of their game. The Wildcats are definitely looking to next year for a better defense, with only 3 starters on track to graduate. On the other side, the Illini are only losing a handful of Seniors on offense.

On the Illinois Defense, the depth chart shows mostly underclassmen - NU's depth chart shows 3 major losses, QB, Right Tackle and WR.

And despite the season, and the desire to send the seniors off as winners,
We're not going to change, we're going to continue to do what we know are right, and coach the we we feel is the right way for our program, and that's what we've done. [Ron Zook - fightingillini.com]
Whether its the right way to win in the Big 10 this year will come down to the Sweet Sioux battle Saturday.
They [the Seniors] are excited about this game. They know its an important game - its an opportunity for us to go out as a winner....They're the foundation of this program...and we are under construction. [Ron Zook - fightingillini.com]
Watch the Seniors come out in hardhats before the game.

What the Cats Have to Do:
  • Play D like its Iowa or Michigan State - or the 2nd half against Michigan.
  • Don't forget that this is another "Senior Day" game - the Illinois Seniors are going to be pumped up to try to go out a winner.
  • Run Tyrell Run / Pass Baz Pass
  • NU Can't look past this game - a decent bowl bid is still on the line and a big offensive show, combined with a decent defensive effort could move the Cats up on a few bowl lists. Maybe.

TV - The Game is on ESPN+, Gameplan and Channel 2 in Chicago starting at 11 AM [Wildcat Time] with Wayne Larrivee, play-by-play, Randy Wright, analyst and Quint Kessenich on the sidelines.

Radio - It will be on
WGN, WNUR, and XM Satellite
Dave Eanet and Ted Albrecht are the WGN radio guys.
We'll be chatting at the same spot

You can send your comments or "back door" information
to Coach Roy
Go Cats
Beat 'em All!
Talk about it on the Purple Boards
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Copyright 2005 by PurpleWildcats.com/Purple Reign

Purple Wildcats Top Stories

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