2011 Kraft Fight Hunger - Illinois 20 UCLA 14

Posted Dec 31, 2011

2011-2012 Bowls - CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

2011 Kraft Fight Hunger

Illinois 20, UCLA 14

- 2011-2012 CFN Bowl Central

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National Rankings
86th Total Offense 62nd
7th Total Defense 91st
91st Scoring Offense 85th
21st Scoring Defense 96th
42nd Rushing Offense 29th
41st Run Defense 95th
91st Passing Offense 81st
4th Passing Defense 70th
98th Turnover Margin 83rd
Position Rankings
relative to each other
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
I   U
4 Quarterbacks 3
3 RBs 3.5
4 Receivers 3
2.5 O Line 3.5
4 D Line 1.5
3.5 Linebackers 2
4 Secondary 2
1.5 Spec Teams 2
2 Coaching 2
Illinois 20 … UCLA 14
- CFN Thoughts on the Kraft Fight Hunger

Illinois: The Illini came up with five sacks and held UCLA to 18 rushing yards. … Nathan Scheelhaase completed 18-of-30 passes for 139 yards and a score with a pick. He also ran 22 times for 110 yards. … A.J. Jenkins caught six passes for 80 yards and a score. … Ian Thomas made seven tackles with a sack, a broken up pass, and two tackles for loss. … Whitney Mercilus made five tackles with 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss.

UCLA: The Bruins average 6.9 yards per pass attempt. … Kevin Prince completed 14-of-29 passes for 201 yards and two scores with a pick. … Derrick Coleman ran nine times for 39 yards. … Joseph Fauria caught five passes for 36 yards. … Jordan Zumwalt made ten stops with a pick and two tackles for loss. … Glen Love made eight tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Terry Hawthorne returned an interception 39 yards for Illinois' first touchdown late in the third quarter and the Illini snapped a six-game losing streak by beating UCLA 20-14 in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

Nathan Scheelhaase added a 60-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Jenkins midway through the fourth quarter to seal the first victory for Illinois (7-6) since beating Indiana 12 weeks ago. The game between two six-win teams who have already fired their head coaches matched the underwhelming expectations as there was little excitement before Hawthorne's third-quarter touchdown that gave Illinois its first lead.

UCLA (6-8) was held to 18 yards rushing in its third straight loss. Kevin Prince threw two TD passes, including one in the closing minute to Nelson Rosario after the game had been decided.

But it was an earlier pass by Prince that proved decisive and helped give Illinois its first bowl wins in consecutive seasons in school history. Three plays after Derek Dimke missed a 37-yard field goal for Illinois late in the third quarter, Prince dropped back and threw to his left looking for Shaquelle Evans.

Hawthorne read the play perfectly and stepped in front of the throw for the interception and had a clear path to the end zone for the score that gave the Illini a 10-7 lead.

Dimke added a 37-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and Scheelhaase and Jenkins combined on their big play to make it 20-7 with 5:36 to go. Scheelhaase finished 18 for 30 for 139 yards with 110 yards rushing to lead the Illinois offense.

Prince completed just 14 for 29 for 201 yards and the Bruins were held to a season-low in rushing, well below their 190.7 yard per game average, by the stout Illini front.

The matchup between Big Ten and Pac-12 teams on New Year's weekend at a picturesque setting in California conjures up memories of Rose Bowls past. But this game was played on San Francisco's waterfront instead of with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background in Pasadena and was between two teams that had little to celebrate this season.

Both teams fired their coaches after disappointing regular seasons with Ron Zook getting let go by Illinois after losing six straight games to end the season and Rick Neuheisel getting run out at UCLA after a 50-0 loss to rival Southern California in the regular season finale. Neuheisel coached the Bruins when they lost the Pac-12 title game at Oregon, leaving them as the first team to go to a bowl with a losing record since North Texas in 2001.

With their head coaches gone and new coaches Tim Beckman at Illinois and Jim Mora at UCLA not set to take over until January, interim coaches Vic Koenning and Mike Johnson ran the Illini and Bruins respectively.

The Illini, operating under interim offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm, opened up the playbook in the first half but still trailed 7-3 at the break. They called a throwback pass to Scheelhaase, a reverse, a fake field goal and went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own territory.

UCLA stuffed Donovonn Young for a loss on that run from the Illinois 45, setting up Prince's 16-yard TD pass to Taylor Embree for the first score of the game.

The Bruins were unable to capitalize after stopping the fake field goal. Holder Tim Russell flipped the ball over his head to Dimke, who was tackled by Shelden Price for a 4-yard loss.

UCLA then botched a shotgun snap on the ensuing drive, giving the Illini the ball at the Bruins 30. Illinois settled for Dimke's 35-yard field goal on the final play of the half.

The game, which is sponsored by Kraft, generated three meals for local food banks for each of the 29,878 tickets sold. Officials used an Oreo cookie for the opening coin toss.

Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7) Dec. 31, 3:30, ESPN

Here's The Deal … Yeah, it's tough to create a buzz when two floundering programs are pitted against one another in a second-tier bowl game. However, there are two soon-to-be individuals who'll treat the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl like a can't-miss event.

The struggles of UCLA and Illinois, particularly down the stretch, resulted in the ousters of Rick Neuheisel and Ron Zook, respectively. And while interim coaches will be in charge in San Francisco on New Year's Eve, both administrations have already decided on new captains to guide their vessels through the choppy waters. For new Bruins head coach Jim L. Mora and new Illini head coach Tim Beckman, this game will be their first good chance to scout the talent they've inherited.

In early October, it appeared as if Zook, a perennial hot seat resident, would avoid the hook. His Illini was 6-0, climbing in the polls and generating chatter about a Leaders Division run. It turns out that the team was living a lie, the product of a soft first-half schedule. As the competition grew stronger, Illinois sputtered to the finish line with six consecutive uninspired losses. The obvious culprit was a feeble offense that averaged just 11 points during the skid. Beckman has been hired to help.

Beckman is a defensive guy by trade, but his last two Toledo teams have had few problems scoring points. This latest edition of the Rockets has been especially potent, ranking No. 8 nationally in both total and scoring offense. He'll have plenty to prove to a skeptical audience that felt Illinois could have done a better job of attracting a more proven head coach. Near the top of Beckman's to-do list will be to surround himself with a staff of assistants that can help the program narrow the talent gap on the rest of the Big Ten.

Almost from the moment he returned to his alma mater four years ago, Neuheisel seemed to be living on borrowed time. Despite being handed a gift in 2010, NCAA sanctions levied on USC, UCLA was never able to close the divide on its hated crosstown rival. The Bruins ended up capturing this year's Pac-12 South by default, but lost six games by at least 18 points and needed a special exemption in order to become bowl-eligible at 6-7. Neuheisel never stood a chance of surviving, wrapping up a dreadful tenure with one bowl win and a 21-29 overall mark.

The hiring of Mora was a surprise … to say the very least. Few outside of AD Dan Guerrero's office could have seen this development coming. The son of the longtime NFL coach by the same name has not held a college position of any kind since he was a graduate assistant on Don James' staff in 1984. He's worked for five different NFL organizations, most recently as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 2009. In desperate need of a new course, UCLA is hoping Mora evolves into its version of Pete Carroll, the former USC head coach, who ironically succeeded Mora in Seattle.

Players to Watch: When pointing fingers in Champaign, be sure to leave the defense out of the rant. The unit deserved a much better fate, closing the regular season No. 7 in the country. The Illini is flush with physical, top-tier talent, especially along the front seven. A mediocre UCLA offensive line will have its hands full with ends Whitney Mercilus and Michael Buchanan, DT Akeem Spence and linebackers Jonathan Brown and Ian Thomas. Mercilus, Brown and Buchanan were breakout stars in 2011, combining for an incredible 51 stops for loss and 27 sacks. Mercilus was, well, merciless on opposing quarterbacks, blossoming into one of the nation's breakout stars, and setting a new Big Ten record with nine forced fumbles. From anonymous to All-American in one year, he could be preparing for his final game as an unpaid player.

Rather than to avoid the assertive Illini defenders, the Bruins plan to run right at them. The north-south approach has worked for UCLA over the past two seasons, accentuating its talent in the backfield. Don't expect too many fancy wrinkles or inventive play-calling out of the reconfigured. When you've got a pair of no-nonsense veteran runners, like soon-to-be 1,000-yarder Johnathan Franklin and 240-pound sidekick Derrick Coleman, you ride them until the other guys hang up the white flag. The Bruins will also unleash the Jake Locker-like Kevin Prince on Illinois, a team that had problems in the fall with mobile quarterbacks. A passer with a fullback's frame, he showed flashes down the stretch as both a runner and a short-range thrower.

While UCLA's juggling act behind center has ceased, Illinois' might be just beginning. Sophomore Nathan Scheelhaase began the year as the unrivaled face of the offense, but became a part of the problem in the second half. Over the final six games, he threw just a pair of touchdown passes, regressing enough to open the door for true freshman Reilly O'Toole to pick up some reps. Both are expected to see the field for interim coach Vic Koenning. And both will be looking to unlock the enormous ability of First Team All-Big Ten WR A.J. Jenkins, especially since top rusher Jason Ford and starting FB Jay Prosch are not expected to play.

One of the underlying problems with the necrotic Illini offense has been the performance of the line. Even the darting moves of Scheelhaase weren't enough to escape the onslaught of opposing pass rushes. UCLA would love to keep the unit reeling, but has had its own problems up front. The Bruins are 112th nationally in sacks, notching an average of just one per game. It's no wonder that the secondary has yielded 27 touchdown passes over the course of 13 games. The program's best bet for pressure could come from junior DE Datone Jones, who'll be looking for a springboard into his final year. The 6-5, 275-pounder currently leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.

Illinois will win if … the presence of O'Toole brings out the best in Scheelhaase.

While the Illini's offensive problems certainly cannot all be pinned on the quarterback, that won't prevent anyone on the staff from asking No. 2 to elevate the level of his play. His decisions have to be better, and his throws need to be tighter, regardless of what's happening at the point of attack. The running game depleted, Illinois will need a big effort out of Scheelhaase now more than ever. Jenkins is the best offensive player in this game, so it's imperative that he's put in a position to flourish. No, it won't require an explosion of points to beat UCLA, but the Illini must find a way to get beyond the teens for the first time in almost three months.

UCLA will win if … it grinds out at least 170 yards on the ground.

For the Bruins to finish the season at break-even, they'll have to control the tempo of the game with Franklin, Coleman and Price. During the regular season, the team was 6-1 when it reached its magic number in rushing. When beneath it, the team lost all six times. This is a one-note squad that's sporadic through the air, and so-so on defense. UCLA needs to find ways to keep Price out of third-and-long situations, which will be asking for Mercilus and his mates to pounce. If the Bruins succeed on first and second downs, the dynamic of their offense changes dramatically. If not, no one at AT&T Park will be busier than P Jeff Locke.

What Will Happen: Now that there's been a change at the top in Champaign and Westwood, who'll make the most of this opportunity to impress the new boss looking on?

The rosters of this year's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl combatants aren't terribly different, making the intangibles ultra-important to the outcome. With both staffs in flux and the venue unlikely to inspire, focus and motivation will need to be monitored. Illinois and UCLA will engage in a low-scoring affair that hinges heavily on field position and turnovers. In a scrum involving sketchy offensive attacks, one crucial mistake could be the difference between a win and a loss. The Illini boasts the best unit in this one, its defense. It'll dominate the line of scrimmage, stacking the box with physical athletes in order to halt the Bruins ground game. Although Scheelhaase won't exactly recapture his early-season form, he will connect with Jenkins, providing the difference in an overall sloppy game.

CFN Prediction: Illinois 20 … UCLA 16
- Click For Latest Line From ATS: Illinois -3   OU: 46.5
Confidence Picks
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Yeah, everyone wants to dump on this bowl game between two loser programs in the midst of huge changes, but the Illinois running game will finally kick it into gear now that the pressure of the Ron Zook job watch is done.

By Richard Cirminiello 
The Bruins are below .500. The Illini haven't won a game in two months. Good luck selling tickets, Hunger Bowl staff.

By Matt Zemek
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA! Oh, and another thing: HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! This truly is the feel-good holiday comedy of the year, a long movie you can show to the kids without having to pay for gas, parking, overpriced concession-stand food and beverage, or anything else.   

By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee  
So ... are you interested in coaching this one?

By Terry Johnson
This game should provide plenty of surprises as both teams have made coaching changes. UCLA and Illinois have played great football at times this year, and are capable of beating anyone – if the right team shows up! 

By Phil Harrison
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN
Somebody has to win. It's a 6-7 team in UCLA going against a team in Illinois that has lost 6 in a row.
Best Bowl Moments
Best Bruin Bowl Moment: UCLA was almost unbeatable in the 1980s, winning seven of eight bowl games, including three Rose Bowls. However, the 1960s were home to its most unforgettable postseason victory. Before 1964, the Bruins had played in five Rose Bowls, losing each one. The 1965 squad blessedly ended that futility in a thriller with No. 1 Michigan State that ended when three Bruin defenders stopped a game-tying two-point try by the Spartans with under a minute left in the game.

Best Fighting Illini Bowl Moment: Big Ten teams make memories in the Granddaddy, and this was certainly true for Illinois in the 1964 Rose Bowl. Taking the field in Pasadena as the No. 3 team in the AP poll, the Illini polished off Washington, 17-7, to complete one of the best seasons in school history. A fellow you might have heard of – Dick Butkus – led Illinois's bonecrushing defense, while running back Jim Grabowski carried the load for the Illini on offense.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl History
2011 Nevada 20, Boston College 13
2009 USC 24, Boston College 13
2008 Cal 24, Miami 17
2007 Oregon State 21, Maryland 14
2006 Florida State 44, UCLA 27
2005 Utah 38, Georgia Tech 10
2004 Navy 34, New Mexico 19
2003 Boston Col 35, Colorado St 21
2002 Virginia Tech 20, Air Force 13

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