Illinois Fighting Illini 2012

Illinois 2011 Statistics

(Big Ten) The Fighting Illini play on artificial (FieldTurf) at Memorial Stadium (seats 62,670)

  • Tim Beckman is in his 1st year as head coach at Illinois. He takes over after Ron Zook was fired following another mediocre regular season (the team finished 7-6 afer winning the bowl game without Zook). The Illini fans have seen just one successful season in the past 10 years (in 2007 they went 9-4 and represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, although that was a 17-49 embarrassment to USC).  Last year they started off 6-0 and finished the regular season 0-6.

    Head Coach Tim Beckman

  • Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase passed for 2100 yards and also led the team in rushing with 624. His completion percentage was a very respectable 63%, but his TD-INT ratio declined to just 13-8 TD-INT.  That will certainly need to improve.  He will be learning a completely new scheme as this team will return to the spread offense (instead of a run first).  It doesn’t help that last year’s top receiver A.J. Jenkins is gone (1st round NFL draft pick).  The other guys didn’t come anywhere close to having his experience and combined still don’t match his receptions.  This may make the transition even more difficult.
  • Perhaps that’s because of the loss of Mikel Leshoure at running back (2nd round NFL draft pick). Without him as a ground threat, and without anyone who really stepped up at running back, the pressure was completely on Scheelhaase, which is why he accounted for the majority of the offense.   (In 2010 Leshoure provided a huge distraction for defenses to focus on as he rushed for almost 1700 yards and scored 20 touchdowns).
  • This year the top two running backs are gone, but given their lack of production, it shouldn’t be a problem. Donovonn Young is expected to be the starter and gained experience last year with 87 carries.
  • Illinois’ success consistently relies on a strong running game and therefore, a strong offensive line. But last year this unit gave up 36 sacks and ranked 102nd in that category.  This year they return three starters and with a new offense (new offensive coordinators), the most important factor will be how they adjust to the new scheme.
  • This team had gotten a complete makeover in 2010 coming off of a 3-9 2009 season when Zook hired new offensive (Paul Petrino) and defensive (Vic Koenning) coordinators. Incidentally, Petrino left Illinois to join his brother at Arkansas at the end of 2011 and even though his brother was fired, Petrino maintained his position with the Razorbacks.  They made some improvements on defense and finished 7th in the nation (thanks in large part to a passing defense that ranked 3rd in the nation).  This year they seem to be keeping the same defensive scheme and the defensive backs mostly return from that highly successful unit from 2011, so the passing defense should be in great shape.
  • Of the seven returning starters on defense, the most important is Nose Tackle Akeem Spence. He turned down the NFL to stay and help his team (and perhaps his draft stock).  He ranked 4th in tackles last year and as the NT, is the key to the 3-4 defense.
  • Also critical will be how Ashante Williams steps into the role of Star, the hybrid linebacker/safety position.
  • Beckman already has created a bit of controversy with his sending eight coaches over to Happy Valley for the recruitment of Penn State players.

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