Opponents preview: Illinois overview

Part one of BadgerNation.com's look at the 2005 Illini

Illinois Scout.com site

How the Illini fared in 2004: 3-8 overall, 1-7 Big Ten

2004 results
(Links to USA Today game stories)

Sept. 4 – ILLINOIS 52, Florida A&M 13
Sept. 11 – UCLA 35, ILLINOIS 17
Sept. 18 – ILLINOIS 30, Western Michigan 27
Sept. 25 – Purdue 38, ILLINOIS 30
Oct. 2 – WISCONSIN 24, Illinois 7
Oct. 9 – MICHIGAN STATE 38, Illinois 25
Oct. 16 – Michigan 30, ILLINOIS 19
Oct. 23 – MINNESOTA 45, Illinois 0
Oct. 30 – Iowa 23, ILLINOIS 13
Nov. 6 – ILLINOIS 26, Indiana 22
Nov. 20 – NORTHWESTERN 28, Illinois 21

2005 schedule
Sept. 3 – RUTGERS
Sept. 17 – at California
Oct. 1 – at Iowa
Oct. 8 – at Indiana
Oct. 22 – PENN STATE
Nov. 5 – at Ohio State
Nov. 12 – at Purdue

Starters returning: 15 – 7 offense, 6 defense, 1 kicker, 1 punter

Coach Ron Zook: Entering his fourth season as a head coach, and first at the helm of the Illini, Zook is 23-14 (Florida).

Stadium: Memorial
Turf: Artificial
Capacity: 69,249

Versus Wisconsin: When these teams met in 2004 in Madison, the Badgers' defense was on a roll, holding the Illini offense to only 206 yards of total offense. Dontez Sanders had a game-high 13 tackles and two sacks. Tailback Anthony Davis amassed 213 rushing yards on 27 carries, including three touchdowns. The last time Wisconsin headed down to Champaign, Dwayne Smith rushed for 193 yards and three touchdowns, helping Wisconsin jump out to 21-0 lead early in the second quarter en route to a 38-20 win. Illinois leads the all-time series 35-31-7.

Badger Nation 2004 coverage

Defense dominates yet again

Wisconsin 24, Illinois 7

Wisconsin/Illinois post-game notes

Bucky vs. Ras (premium)

Badger tailback, defense dominate in win

Wisconsin/Illinois photo gallery 1 (premium)

Wisconsin/Illinois photo gallery 2 (premium)

Wisconsin/Illinois photo gallery 3

Illini 2004 in brief

It was a rough campaign, the third straight losing season after winning 10 games and a Big Ten title in 2001. The Illini went 2-1 in their non-conference set and then posted a dreadful 1-7 mark in conference play, only beating fellow bottom feeder Indiana.

Illinois' defense was particularly tough to bear, with the exception of some real bright spots in the secondary. The pass rush was sad and the rush defense was the worst in the Big Ten, giving up more than 200 yards per conference game. The Illini were the second worst team in the league in pass efficiency defense and third-down conversion defense and were ranked No. 7 in pass defense.

The bright spots? Cornerback Kelvin Hayden was a good one, particularly in his first year at the spot after converting from receiver. Strong safety Justin Harrison emerged after three-year starter Travis Williams went down with an injury. Safety Morris Virgil and corner Alan Ball also showed promise.

Offensively, quarterback Jon Beutjer was very productive early in the season, with 589 passing yards and five touchdowns in his first 2 ½ games. But injury and ineffectiveness caught up with him, and he finished with 1,082 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions, completing 107 of 188 passes in eight games.

Running backs Pierre Thomas and E.B. Halsey were not quite Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney, but they were an excellent tandem that could have truly thrived with a decent passing game and defense to compliment their considerable talents. As it was, the sophomores combined for 1,354 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing.

Receiver Kendrick Jones enjoyed a breakout season, catching 47 passes for 687 yards and five scores.

Punter Steve Weatherford may have been the best player on the team at times, averaging an exceptional 45.4 yards per punt, though he did out-kick his coverage on occasion.

Looking ahead to 2005

The Illini have serious talent deficiencies that will keep them from being competitive in the Big Ten for at least one more year. The secondary may actually be one of the better corps in the conference, but the rest of the defense is still a big sore spot and decent rushing teams will have field days against Illinois. The pass rush must improve dramatically.

Offensively, Illinois is breaking in inexperienced quarterback Tim Brasic with new coach Ron Zook's varied offensive sets. Jones is a very good No. 1 target at receiver and the running back tandem is excellent. Fullback Jason Davis is another good option. But the offensive line is adequate at best and there is not enough depth to get excited. As Brasic gets his feet wet, opponents may be able to load up the box against the run, making the Illini's task very difficult.

The special teams should be strong, especially if sophomore kicker Jason Reda settles into his role in year two as a starter.

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