Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Illinois Fighting Illini 2010 Review

I want to take a quick opportunity here to welcome Matt Chandik to a new venture here at the Report. Matt will be covering the Big 10 for our review session. You will know Matt's work here on the Bilo Report from our "Ask the Professors" series, as he is a founding member of the Professors roundtable of contributors. Matt is a sports writer for the Delaware County Times, and is as passionate a Michigan fan as you may ever come across. We welcome Matt to the team once more, and I hope you enjoy his work on the Big 10 reviews.

2010 Record: 7-6 (4-4), 5th Big 10
2010 Bowl Game: Texas Bowl, Defeated Baylor 38-14
2010 Schedule/Results
@ Missouri, L 23-13
Southern Illinois, W 35-3
Northern Illinois, W 28-22
Ohio State, L 24-13
@ Penn State, W 33-13
@ Michigan State, L 26-6
Indiana, W  43-13
Purdue, W  44-10
@ Michigan, L 65-67
Minnesota, L 38-34
@ Northwestern, W 48-27
@ Fresno State, L 27-25

385.8 yards per game

The Illini entered the season looking for playmakers after losing four-year starting quarterback Juice Williams (undrafted) and stud junior wide receiver Arrelious Benn (39th overall to Tampa Bay), and they found one in the backfield. In his second year as the starting running back, Mikel LeShoure exploded onto the scene en route to claiming the Big 10 rushing title. LeShoure racked up 1,706 yards on the ground to go with 17 touchdowns at a 6.05 yards per carry clip and will likely parlay his great season into a first or second-round selection in April’s NFL Draft. LeShoure also proved to be a reliable pass-catching option out of the backfield as he snagged 17 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns, and just scored another touchdown against Michigan on yet another wheel route. LeShoure’s finest hour was when he ran over, up and around Northwestern’s defense, racking up 330 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the Wrigley Field turf. LeShoure had nine games of more than 100 rushing yards and was held to less than 75 yards once.

Replacing Williams at quarterback was redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase, who acquitted himself well as he threw for 17 touchdowns and merely eight interceptions. Despite being coached by Ron Zook, Scheelhaase progressed well over the course of the season and proved to be a dual-threat option as he also rushed for 859 yards and five touchdowns. Scheelhaase cracked the century mark on the ground four times, including a 131-yard performance against Fresno State. Scheelhaase, like all freshmen, had trouble staying consistent, but his 58.7 percent completion mark figures to increase over the next few years as long as Zook does his best to not mess him up.

A year after picking splinters out of his butt, junior wideout A.J. Jenkins racked up 746 yards on 56 catches (13.32) and proved to be a red-zone nightmare for opposing defenses as he scored five of his seven touchdowns from inside the 20. Despite being on the receiving end of a ton of hype both in the recruiting process and in preseason practice reports, Florida transfer Jarred Fayson failed to register much of an impact. Fayson struggled to make plays down the field as he averaged only 9.34 yards per catch (38-355-1) and scored his lone touchdown of the year in a rout of Indiana.

It was a mixed bag for Illinois’ offensive line. The Illini finished 10th in the Big 10 with 81 tackles for loss allowed and 25 sacks allowed, but fourth in yards per carry and third in rushing touchdowns. Jeff Allen was Illinois’ best lineman and was named to the second team All-Big 10 by the media and honorable mention by the coaches.

344.2 yards allowed per game
New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning inherited a playmaker at the first two levels of his defense in defensive tackle Corey Liuget and linebacker Martez Wilson. Liuget, a Florida native, is a three-technique defensive tackle who feasted on interior linemen with his speed and quickness on the way to a 4.5-sack, 12.5-tackle for loss season. Liuget absolutely terrorized Baylor’s offensive line in the Texas Bowl as he racked up a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. Unfortunately for the Illini, Liuget wisely decided to declare for the draft and get compensated for his play instead of sticking around and getting his potential diminished by playing for Zook another year. Good call, Corey. Good call.

Wilson was one of the most physically gifted linebackers in the country, but at the same time, one of the most enigmatic. By “enigmatic”, I mean that he alternated, “Wow, that was pretty impressive” plays with “Wow, what in God’s name is that kid doing out there?”, plays. Wilson’s 112 tackles look better than his play was. He had a tendency to jump on piles after the play was over and walk away with a tackle to his name. On the flip side, Wilson basically camped out in opponents’ backfield and was rewarded with four sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss for his efforts. Wilson, as academically challenged as he is reported to be, also made a brilliant decision by cutting his losses with the Zookster and declared for the draft.

As a unit, Illinois’ defense was about as middle-of-the-pack as it could possibly get. The pass defense ranked sixth in the Big 10 at 220.5 yards per game, tied for fifth in touchdown passes allowed (20, Wisconsin) and the secondary failed to make many plays as they only grabbed seven of the 11 interceptions that the team tallied. On the ground, Koenning’s troops ranked fourth in the league ay 130.77 yards per game.

The Illini lose their top three tacklers and four of their top six, so they’ll need someone to have a breakout year to solidify the defense.

Junior kicker Derek Dimke took over the kicking job from Matt Eller midway through the ’09 season and since developed into one of the country’s finest. After nailing all five of his attempts as a sophomore, Dimke, a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, made 24 of his 29 attempted field goals and was perfect on his 43 extra point tries. Dimke’s 24 field goals were tops in the Big 10 and so were his 22 touchbacks as Illinois’ kickoff specialist.

Senior punter Anthony Santella led the Big 10 with a 44.78 yards per punt average and helped the Illini allow 8.20 yards per punt return, fourth in the Big 10. Santella also belted out a long of 67 yards against Northern Illinois.

Illinois was beyond dreadful on kickoff returns. They ranked 101st nationally (10th in the Big 10) with an average return of 19.76 yards and didn’t score a touchdown. Punt returns were even worse. All Zook’s men could muster, on average, was 3.16 yards and the punt unit also failed to score a touchdown.


In conclusion, it was more of the same for Ron Zook’s squad. No one’s ever disputed the man’s ability to recruit, but his on-field product is a mystery heading into every season. The Illini need to find a stud running back to complement Scheelhaase’s running ability and they’d love for a wide receiver to step up opposite of Jenkins. Defensively, they need to find someone to duplicate the good things that Wilson and Liuget did, minus the headaches that Wilson caused.

9/3 Arkansas State, 9/10 South Dakota State, 9/17 Arizona State, 9/24 Western Michigan, 10/1 Northwestern, 10/8 @ Indiana, 10/15 Ohio State, 10/22 @ Purdue, 10/29 @ Penn State, 11/12 Michigan, 11/19 Wisconsin, 11/26 @ Minnesota

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