Sep 22, 2012; Champaign, IL, USA; A general view of Memorial Stadium before the game between the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and the Illinois Fighting Illini. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE

Penn State Preview: Who Are the Illinois Fighting Illini?

Penn State at Illinois
September 29, 2012
12:00 EST

Illinois University

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois

Head Coach: Tim Beckman (23-18 career)

2011 Record: 7-6

2012 Record: 2-2

Returning 14 starters; 7 on offense, 7 on defense.

Key Players: 

QB #2 Nathan Scheelhaase: In the offseason, I named Nathan the third best quarterback in the conference. Coming off a season that saw him throw for 2110 yards and run for another 624 yards, I expected big things from the mobile junior. So far, Sheelhaase has battled injuries and has amassed just 215 yards in two games played. Make no mistake about it, however, this kid is dangerous and will look to give the Penn State defense fits.

RB #6 Josh Ferguson: The redshirt freshman has stepped up, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and hauling in an additional 14 catches for 106 yards. Illinois will use two running backs, but Ferguson is the home run threat.

WR #12 Ryan Lankford: After catching 12 balls in all of 2011, Lankford has hit his stride in Beckman’s spread attack. Thus far in 2012, he has 16 catches for 243 yards and 4 touchdowns.

LB #45 Jonathan Brown: After a 108 tackle campaign in 2011, Brown is filling up the stat sheet in 2012. Through four games, he has 26 tackles, including 5 TFL and 2.5 sacks.


Expectations were high heading into 2012 but losses to Arizona State and Louisiana Tech have people re-assessing those expectations. Over the last few years, talent has never been the issue for the Illini, as they have sent several players to the NFL in that span. After the firing of head coach Ron Zook and subsequent hiring of Beckman from Toledo, fans hoped that the coaching issue would be fixed.

An injury to starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase forced sophomore Reilly O’Toole into action on the road against Arizona State in what would be a 45-14 loss. Scheelhaase returned last week against Louisiana Tech but was pulled after an ineffective first quarter. Nathan is the leader of this team and I fully expect him to return back to form this week .

The Illinois defense is having a strong season against the run thus far, but is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 62% of their passes for 224 yards per game. Keep in mind, those stats include a 44-0 beating of Charleston Southern, whose quarterbacks went a combined 5-17 for 29 yards. Outside of that, Illinois is allowing an average of 289 yards passing per game. Expect Bill O’Brien to spread out the offense and let Matt McGloin sling it around a bit.

Fun Facts:

  • Illinois has lost three of their last four Big Ten openers.
  • Illinois has forced 1o turnovers through 2012 but have turned the ball over 11 times, including 6 last week.
  • The Illini are converting less than 40% of their 3rd downs on offense.
  • Through four games, Illinois is outscoring opponents by a total score of 106-014.
  • Louisiana Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton had 6 catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns against Illinois last week.
  • Following this week’s game against Penn State, Illinois travels to Wisconsin and Michigan the next two weeks.


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