2009 Opponent Preview: Illinois

As always, highlighted players are returning for 2009. If something’s not right, let me know in the comments.

Illinois Offense


Juice Williams returns for his senior year, after an up-and-down career so far. His backup, Eddie McGee, is a junior, and got extensive playing time in 2006.

Illinois QBs Passing 2008
Name Comp Att % Yds TD Int Yds/Att
Juice Williams 219 381 57.48 3173 22 16 8.33
Eddie McGee 4 9 44.44 59 0 0 6.56
Illinois QBs rushing 2008
Name Rush Yds TD Yds/Rush
Juice Williams 175 719 5 4.11
Eddie McGee 14 83 0 5.93


Williams has progressively gotten better over the course of his career. He was awful as a freshman, and good (when healthy) as a sophomore. As a junior, however, his inconsistency probably cost the Illini a game or two – and ultimately a trip to a bowl game. McGee has a different skill set than Williams, and is often considered the slightly better runner.


Daniel Dufrene returns as the starter for his senior campaign, and he’ll again be splitting time with sophomore Jason Ford. Fellow sophomore Mikel LeShoure will also get a number of carries. Sophomore Zach Becker will start at fullback once again.

Illinois RBs Rushing 2008
Name Rush Yds TD Yds/Rush
Daniel Dufrene 117 663 0 5.67
Jason Ford 81 294 8 3.63
Mikel LeShoure 35 126 1 3.60
Troy Pollard 6 37 1 6.17
Illinois RBs Receiving 2008
Name Rec Yds TD Yds/Rec
Daniel Dufrene 30 271 2 9.03
Jason Ford 9 79 0 8.78
Mikel LeShoure 6 66 0 11.00
Troy Pollard 2 10 0 5.00
Zach Becker (FB) 1 2 1 2.00


A year after losing Rashard Mendenhall, the Illini had a few players step up and platoon to fill the void. They didn’t match his production (6.4 ypc!), but they did move the ball on the ground. The mobile quarterback certainly helps open up running lanes for RBs, and the group should continue to progress. Aside from Dufrene, this was a very young unit, so the other players may have improved dramatically.


Junior Arrelious Benn. Enough said. Oh, also enormous senior Jeff Cumberland, and talented senior TE Michael Hoomanawanui. Replacing Will Judson will be something of a task, but the Illini have a number of younger players ready to step up.

Illinois Receivers Receiving 2008
Name Rec Yds TD Yds/Rec
Arrelious Benn 67 1055 3 15.75
Will Judson 21 401 2 19.10
Jeff Cumberland 20 352 4 17.60
Michael Hoomanawanui (TE) 25 312 2 12.48
AJ Jenkins 11 287 3 26.09
Fred Sykes 12 156 1 13.00
Chris Duvalt 10 156 4 15.60
Hubie Graham (TE) 2 25 0 12.50
Alex Reavy 1 10 0 10.00
Chris James 1 1 0 1.00
Illinois Receivers Rushing 2008
Name Rec Yds TD Yds/Rush
Arrelious Benn 23 101 2 4.39
Jeff Cumberland 1 23 0 23.00
Chris Duvalt 1 -5 0 -5.00


The Illinois receiving corps could really start and end will Arrelious Benn. He’s so physically talented that it’s unfair. However, he only ended up catching 3 touchdown passes last year, which is at least partially due to Juice’s inconsistency. Hoomanawanui came in for some praise by television crews last year, and Cumberland is an enormous target who insists on remaining at wideout, despite his 6-5, 255-lb stature.

Offensive Line

Xavier Fulton and Ryan McDonald depart from the front lines at Illinois, and left tackle Fulton was drafted by the NFL. The aptly-named Eric Block will return for his fifth year, and he’ll man the center position. True sophomore Jeff Allen started at right tackle for most of last year, which is rather impressive if you ask me. Fellow sophomore Corey Allen also played last year as a true freshman, and he’s expected to be the starting left tackle. True senior Jon Asamoah and redshirt junior Randall Hunt will man the guard positions.


Fulton was good enough to get drafted, so losing him will hurt, especially replacing him with a relatively-inexperienced Corey Allen. The Illini have a really young OL, as their bookends will both be true sophomores. The line should take a slight step back from last year, but the results might not show on the field if Juice’s consistency can improve.

Offensive Analysis

The key to this offense is Juice Williams. If he can perform like the guy who ripped Michigan’s defense to shreds last year, the Illini should be able to put astronomical totals on many teams. If he plays like the guy who led his team to an embarrassing defeat to Western Michigan in Ford Field, the offense might be hurting. Arrelious Benn’s health could be important as well. He was outstanding as a freshman despite a chronic shoulder injury, and was perhaps even better last year, except for the ball actually getting to him most of the time. The run game is option-based, so the young offensive line won’t be as much of a liability as it would be for some teams, but it could still hold the offense back a bit. Still with all the playmakers on this team, if they can perform to expectations, it should be a pretty good year.

Illinois Defense

Defensive Line

Will Davis and Derek Walker depart from the defensive end positions, and Davis was god enough to earn a spot in the 6th round of the NFL draft. Those two will likely be replaced by redshirt junior Clay Nurse and redshirt senior Doug Pilcher. At tackle, David Lindquist has graduated, but true junior Josh Brent will still be manning the middle. He’ll likely be joined by true sophomore Corey Liuget in the starting lineup.

Illinois Defensive Line 2008
Name Tack TFL Sack Fum Int
David Lindquist 44 7.5 4 0 0
Will Davis 36 7 3.5 0 0
Josh Brent 34 8.5 1.5 0 0
Derek Walker 33 7 6 1 1
Corey Liuget 26 5 1.5 1 0
Doug Pilcher 21 6 2.5 0 0
Clay Nurse 9 1 1 0 0
Antonio James 5 1 1 0 0
Jerry Brown 4 0.5 0 0 0


This is a position group that lost 3 of its 4 starters, one of whom was good enough to be selected in the NFL draft, and another of whom was just outside that range. A step back can be expected. The new defensive ends are not likely to be nearly as explosive as at least Davis. At tackle, David Lindquist had a bunch of tackles (rare for an interior lineman), so replacing his production might be something of a task. However, Liuget had good guru approval, and performed well in his playing time last year, so he might be able to perform comparably.


Brit Miller, best known for playing alongside the American Flag Tie Guy (J Leman) two years ago, has departed, and takes with him by far the most tackles on Illinois’s team. Rodney Pittman and Sam Carson also leave the corps, giving the Illini only one experienced player: Martez Wilson. Sophomore Russell Ellington and redshirt junior Dustin Jefferson were next on the team in tackles, but they were so far behind the top 4 players that their experience doesn’t give them a huge advantage over any of the other players on the roster.

Illinois Linebackers 2008
Name Tack TFL Sack Fum Int
Brit Miller 132 15.5 6 1 1
Martez Wilson 73 5.5 3 0 0
Rodney Pittman 53 3.5 1 0 0
Sam Carson III 36 3 0 0 0
Russell Ellington 8 0 0 0 0
Dustin Jefferson 5 0 0 0 0
Ian Thomas 4 0 0 0 0
Conor Gillen 3 0 0 0 0
Tad Keely 2 0 0 0 0


Wilson was stabbed in a bar over the winter, so his conditioning probably didn’t advance as much as he wanted over the off-season. That said, he already started out as a very physically-gifted player, so it shouldn’t be a huge hindrance. The knock on him has been undisciplined play, so as the new leader of the linebacking corps, he’s going to have to be able to bring some consistency to the second level. The rest of the players are rather inexperienced, so Wilson might need to have an All-Big Ten type of year for the Illini to succeed, unless someone is able to step up and surprise.

Defensive Backs

Corner Vontae Davis departed early for the NFL, and replacing a first-rounder at corner is going to be a tough task for the Illinois defense. Redshirt junior safety Travon Bellamy will probably be the new leader of the Illinois defense, along with true senior Donsay Hardeman, who finished with the third most tackles in the secondary, despite missing 4 full games. Junior Bo Flowers will provide depth there. At corner, Dere Hicks will become the #1 guy as a true senior. The other corner spot us up for grabs, as there are almost no experienced players on the roster. I would assume sophomore Tavon Wilson is the guy there.

Illinois Defensive Backs 2008
Name Tack TFL Sack Int Fum
Vontae Davis 78 7 0 2 0
Travon Bellamy 53 0 0 0 0
Donsay Hardeman 44 0.5 0 1 0
Dere Hicks 43 4 1 1 1
Bo Flowers 23 1 0 0 1
Nate Bussey 21 0 0 0 0
Garrett Edwards 20 0 0 0 0
Tavon Wilson 11 0.5 0 0 0
Supo Sanni 9 0 0 0 0
Antonio Gully 3 0 0 0 0
Cody Stunkard 3 0 0 0 0
Miami Thomas 3 0 0 0 0


If the Illini can stay healthy, they should have a pretty good and experienced secondary, outside of the #2 corner. However, that could be an important position, as even with Vontae Davis last year the secondary was still subpar. Another year of experience should help, but the corner situation might be bordering on dire, unless one of the experienced safeties has the agility to play on the line of scrimmage.

Defensive Analysis

The Illini lost a lot on defense, and their two best players were both enough to make the NFL draft. The front seven was fairly decimated, and the secondary lost the player who was holding the whole thing together. Without a good pass rush, and without Vontae, the passing game could be a really serious achilles heel for this team. The linebacker situation also means it might not be particularly difficult to run on them, either, considering with seniors at linebacker and defensive line they were still well below average.

Special Teams

Placekicker Matt Eller was a redshirt freshman last year, and returns for another year booting field goals. Punter Anthony Santella will be a redshirt junior.

Illinois Kicking 2008
Name XPM XPA % FGM FGA % Long
Matt Eller 39 41 95.12 15 20 75.00 51
Illinois Punting 2008
Name Punt Yds Avg
Anthony Santella 53 2088 39.40
Matt Eller 1 35 35.00


Eller and Santella were both average last year, though Santella was probably a little less good, considering he was 8th in the Big Ten in punting. Eller actually seemed to be better on long attempts, and rounded into form over the course of the year. With another year of experience (and likely a better offense), both specialists could be in line to have better years.

Overall Analysis

Consistency is the name of the game with this Illinois team. If Juice can stay consistent, the offense will be capable of putting up some big numbers. On defense, they are likely to really struggle. The offense will have to carry this team, and give the defense some help. Regardless of any improvement in yardage totals or efficiency, the Illini could see an improvement in record, considering they had an unlucky string of games that they probably had no business losing (WMU, Minnesota, Northwestern).

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2 Comments so far

  1. Irish Boy says...

    A few corrections:

    Jason Ford is probably the starter over Daniel Dufrene at this point at RB.

    Transfer former 5* WR Jarred Fayson is almost certainly the #2 WR at this point, and, if nothing else, a huge factor in the passing game.

    The D-line situation is a little bit better than indicated, especially on the interior, as Sirod Williams returns from injury (he would have been a starter last year) and Joshh Brent, who may or may not be listed on the roster, will return.

  2. Irish Boy says...

    Also, one more correction: Miami Thomas was the starter at #2 CB last year, but was injured in the second or third game of the season. He’ll presumably be a starter again this season.

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