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2008 Illinois Fighting Illini Season
Illinois RB Daniel Dufrene
Illinois RB Daniel Dufrene
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Feb 4, 2009


2008 Illinois Fighting Illini Season, Game Recaps, Scores and Reviews

2008 Illinois Fighting Illini

Nov. 22
Northwestern 27 … Illinois 10
Northwestern took a 13-0 lead into halftime as Stephen Simmons ran for a one-yard score and Ross Lane caught a 14-yard touchdown pass for all the points the team would need. Illinois came out of the locker room and put together its best drive of the day, finishing with a one-yard Jason Ford touchdown run, but that would be it for the end zone. The Cats put it away with an 18-yard Eric Peterman catch as part of a run of 11 unanswered points in the final 9:08.
Player of the game: Northwestern DT Kevin Mims made seven tackles, two sacks, and forced a fumble
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 20-36, 212 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Juice Williams, 25-94. Receiving: Daniel Dufrene, 6-51
Northwestern - Passing: C.J. Bacher, 22-33, 230 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Stephen Simmons, 22-69, 1 TD. Receiving: Eric Peterman, 8-111, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The disappointing season ended on a true down note as Illinois never got the offense going against Northwestern in yet another puzzling performance. Juice Williams was fine, but he didn’t provide the spark needed with his legs, and the fantastic receiving corps didn’t do nearly enough against the mediocre NU secondary. The defense couldn’t come up with a game-changing stop over the last three weeks, and now, to see the year finished up by losing four of the last five isn’t going to sit well for the next nine months.

- 2008 Illinois Preview
- 2007 Illinois Season

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
6-6
2008 Record: 5-
7

Aug. 30 Missouri (St. L.) L 52-42
Sept. 6 Eastern Illinois W 47-21
Sept. 13 UL Lafayette W 20-17
Sept. 20 OPEN DATE
Sept. 27 at Penn State L 38-24
Oct. 4 at Michigan W 45-20
Oct. 11 Minnesota L 27-20
Oct. 18 Indiana W 55-13
Oct. 25 at Wisconsin L 27-17
Nov. 1 Iowa W 27-24
Nov. 8 WMU (Detroit) L 23-17
Nov. 15 Ohio State L 30-20
Nov. 22 at Northwestern L 27-10

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
5-7
2007 Record: 9-4

Sept. 1 Missouri (St.L) L 40-34
Sept. 8 Western Illinois W 21-0
Sept. 15 at Syracuse W 41-20
Sept. 22
at Indiana W 27-14
Sept. 29 Penn State W 27-20
Oct. 6 Wisconsin W 31-26
Oct. 13 at Iowa L 10-6
Oct. 20 Michigan L 27-17
Oct. 27
Ball State W 28-17
Nov. 3 at Minnesota W 44-17
Nov. 10 at Ohio State W 29-21
Nov. 17
Northwestern W 41-22
Rose Bowl
Jan. 1 USC L 49-14

Nov. 15
Ohio State 30 … Illinois 20
Ohio State cranked out 305 yards of rushing offense with Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor each going over the 100-yard mark. Pryor started out the scoring with a one-yard run in the first quarter, but Illinois responded with a brilliant fingertip catch from Jeff Cumberland from seven yards out. The Buckeyes responded with the next 16 points helped by a three-yard Wells run and 20-yard catch from Dane Sanzenbacher. Illinois tried to come back with two field goals late in the first half, but Dan Herron put it away for OSU early in the second on a 12-yard run.
Player of the game: Ohio State RB Beanie Wells ran 24 times for 143 yards and a touchdown
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 17-26, 192 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Daniel Dufrene, 8-79. Receiving: Daniel Dufrene, 5-42
Ohio State - Passing: Terrelle Pryor, 6-10, 49 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Chris Wells, 24-143, 1 TD. Receiving: Dan Sanzenbacher, 2-22, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Illinois did a good job of spreading the ball around to several different players against Ohio State, both in the passing game and on the ground, and it put up 455 yards of total offense, but mistakes by the special teams and a few turnovers proved to be a problem. That and the lack of run defense against Terrelle Pryor and Beanie Wells. Brit Miller did his best to get in on every tackle, he made 14, but the D couldn’t come up with any game-changing plays or takeaways. Now the Illini has to beat Northwestern to be bowl eligible.

Nov. 8
Western Michigan 23 … Illinois 17
Western Michigan stunned Illinois by holding on late after Juice Williams drove the offense down to the Bronco 18, while Tim Hiller did his part early on. The Bronco offense was stuffed in the second half, managing just a 45-yard John Potter field goal, but got two Hiller touchdown passes in the second quarter to go along with two other Potter field goals. Illinois kept pace with a Jason Ford one-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and a five-yard Jeff Cumberland scoring catch in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough. Brit Miller made 17 tackles and forced a fumble for Illinois.
Player of the game: Western Michigan WR Jamarko Simmons caught 11 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 20-45, 328 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Juice Williams, 12-68. Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 7-111
Western Michigan - Passing: Tim Hiller, 28-40, 301 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Brandon West, 18-57. Receiving: Jamarko Simmons, 11-174, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Illinois didn’t appear to take the game seriously. It wasn’t physical enough on the offensive front and Juice Williams didn’t pick up the blitz nearly as well as he needed to. There were chances to make a statement early on, but a pick six was negated by a holding call, and the team never seemed to get its rhythm on either side of the ball. 6-6 might not get it done for a bowl; the Illinois might have to beat both Ohio State and Northwestern to get a 13th date after the clunker this week.

Nov. 1
Illinois 27 … Iowa 24
Illinois rallied with Matt Eller hitting a 46-yard field goal with 24 seconds to play after almost blowing a 24-9 lead. Iowa came up with 13 straight points in the fourth quarter with Andy Brodell catching a 29-yard touchdown pass, followed up by a two-point conversion, and Shonn Greene added a five-yard touchdown dash on the way to a 24-24 tie before Juice Williams led the Illini on the game-winning drive. Trent Mossbrucker his three field goals for the Hawkeyes, but the Illini took the early lead on a one-yard Jason Ford run and a 50-yard Fred Sykes touchdown catch.
Player of the game: Illinois QB Juice Williams completed 22-of-37 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions, and hr ran 12 times for 30 yards.
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 22-37, 272 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Juice Williams 12-30. Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 7-96
Iowa - Passing: Richard Stanzi, 11-29, 191 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Shonn Greene, 21-103, 1 TD. Receiving: Andy Brodell, 3-81, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... All of a sudden, the team knows just how important Daniel Dufrene is. After missing the Iowa game due to personal reasons, Dufrene needs to get back into the mix to breathe some life into the Illinois running game that only averaged 2.1 yards per carry and gained 60 yards. There weren’t any big plays. Juice Williams wasn’t great, but he was great when he had to be and hit the throws he needed to make. Now that the losing streak is over, and a bowl game is still in sights, getting by Western Michigan, in Detroit, is a must before facing Ohio State. The Illini don’t want to get into the Northwestern game needing a win for a bowl game.

Oct. 25
Wisconsin 27 … Illinois 17
Wisconsin scored 17 unanswered points in the second half on David Gilreath touchdowns from 49 and eight yards out along with a 38-yard Philip Welch field goal. Illinois got two Juice Williams touchdown passes, including a 14-yard strike to a wide open A.J. Jenkins, but three interceptions proved costly. Brit Miller made 16 tackles for the Illini.
Player of the game: Wisconsin WR David Gilreath caught three passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 17-32, 221 yds, 2 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Jason Ford, 12-47. Receiving: A.J. Jenkins, 3-61, 1 TD
Wisconsin - Passing: Dustin Sherer, 12-22, 174 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: John Clay, 25-88. Receiving: Garrett Graham, 6-79

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Illinois isn’t playing well and the team, at least the Ron Zook and the coaching staff, isn’t happy. The running game did next to nothing against Wisconsin, failing to find any openings and not breaking off any big runs. Juice Williams hit on a few big pass plays, but his three interceptions proved costly. Brit Miller appeared to make every play on defense, but the entire front seven did a nice job. There were some defensive breakdowns, but this loss is on the offense.

Oct. 18
Illinois 55 … Indiana 13
Illinois rolled for 563 yards with freshman Jason Ford scoring three times including a 41-yard dash early in the third quarter. Indiana, who was without an injured Kellen Lewis, struggled to get the offense moving with a 25-yard Bryan Payton touchdown dash in the first quarter doing little to stop the momentum. Juice Williams got the Illinois passing game involved with three touchdown passes to go along with an eight-yard scoring run. The special teams added the finishing touch answering a fourth quarter Austin Starr field goal with a A.J. Jenkins kickoff return for a score.
Player of the game: Illinois RB Jason Ford ran 19 times for 172 yards and three touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Indiana - Passing: Ben Chappell, 12-29, 172 yds
Rushing: Marcus Thigpen, 17-69. Receiving: Andrew Means, 4-67
Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 16-22, 271 yds, 3 TD
Rushing: Jason Ford, 19-172, 3 TD. Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 7-130, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Illinois was in desperate need of a breather. Even the supposed layup games this year weren’t easy, and to rip apart Indiana with ease was a big boost after the painful loss to Minnesota. The more weapons, the better as Jason Ford now adds a new element to the mix to go along with Juice Williams, who was razor-sharp. Arrelious Benn came up with another huge day, catching seven passes for 130 yards to help balance out the running game. Now the team has to use this to come up big during a tough finishing kick.

Oct. 11
Minnesota 27 ... Illinois 20
The Minnesota defense gave up 462 passing yards to Juice Williams, but it stopped him just short on a fourth and goal run and forced a late fumble, which Simoni Lawrence returned nine yards for a touchdown with just over five minutes to play. The Illini tried to come back as A.J. Jenkins caught a 35-yard touchdown pass, to go along with a 54-yard touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter, but a final Hail Mary attempt got knocked away. DeLeon Eskridge ran for touchdowns from one and 54 yards out for the Gophers, and Eric Decker caught a 25-yard scoring pass. The two teams combined for eight sacks.
Player of the game: Minnesota LB Simoni Lawrence made nine tackles with a sack, two tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery for a score.
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 26-41, 462 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Juice Williams, 18-41. Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 12-181
Minnesota
- Passing: Adam Weber, 18-26, 184 yds, 1 TD
Rushing:
DeLeon Eskridge, 26-124, 2 TD. Receiving: Eric Decker, 9-86, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Juice Williams was brilliant against Minnesota. He was in total command of the passing game, he ran for 41 yards, and he and Arrelious Benn, who caught 12 passes for 181 yards, and A.J. Jenkins were tremendous. But the three turnovers and the lack of a run defense turned out to be a killer. Minnesota kept coming with a decent balance and the key plays in the fourth quarter that Illinois couldn't come up with. The offensive line had one of its worst games of the year, getting little for the running game while allowing four sacks.

Oct. 4
Illinois 45 … Michigan 20
Michigan took a 14-3 lead into the second quarter as Greg Mathews caught an 11-yard touchdown pass. And then it was all Juice Williams as the Illinois quarterback ran for a six-yard score, swing a pass to Daniel Dufrene for a 57-yard touchdown, and connected with Jeff Cumberland for a 77-yard touchdown as part of a 28-point run to put the game away. Williams closed out the scoring with a two-yard run. In all, Williams accounted for 431 yards of total offense, the most by any player ever at Michigan Stadium. Illinois outgained Michigan 501 yards to 319.
Player of the game: Illinois QB Juice Williams completed 13-of 26 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns, and he ran 19 times for 121 yards and two scores.
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 13-26, 210 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Juice Williams, 19-121, 2 TD. Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 6-122
Michigan
- Passing: Steven Threet, 18-35, 250 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Sam McGuffie, 19-70, 1 TD. Receiving: Martavious Odoms, 7-129
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Juice Williams carried the team on his back and made everyone around him better in the win over Michigan. The team didn’t panic after the Wolverines got off to a hot start and calmly and coolly made the big plays needed to not only get back in the game, but to also blow the doors off. Williams averaged a whopping 23.8 yards per completion, and the defense came through with stop after stop to allow the scoring run to continue. The defensive front came up with four sacks, while the O line held the great Wolverine D line out of the backfield.

Sept. 27
Penn State 38 ... Illinois 24
Derrick Williams was the first player under Joe Paterno to run for a touchdown, catch a touchdown pass, and return a kick for a score in the same game. Illinois hung around with two touchdown catches from Arrelious Benn, the first a twisting, brilliant 33-yard grab which was ruled incomplete, and then reversed, and the second a 54-yard pass play to pull the Illini within seven in the fourth quarter. But Penn State always had an answer with Daryll Clark leading a seven play, 77-yard drive culminating with a 17-yard Andrew Quarless touchdown catch to put the game away. Navorro Bowman and Mark Rubin each made ten tackles for Penn State.
Player of the game: Penn State WR Derrick Williams caught six passes for 75 yards and a touchdown, ran six times for 33 yards and a score, and returned three kickoffs for 133 yards and a touchdown.
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 13-24, 183 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Daniel Dufrene, 14-96. Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 4-110, 2 TD
Penn State
- Passing: Darryl Clark, 14-20, 181 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Evan Royster, 19-139. Receiving: Derrick Williams, 6-75, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Penn State has a serious defense, and Illinois was able to get the offense moving. 189 rushing yards and 183 passing yards didn't do enough to overcome the Nittany Lion explosiveness, but Arrelious Benn did his part. The defense couldn't come up with the one big stop needed for the offense to take over. Penn State was always one step ahead and the Illini couldn't do anything to slow the machine down. If the Illini offense plays as well as it did this week at Michigan next week, the season will get back on track.

Sept. 13
Illinois 20 ... UL Lafayette 17
Brit Miller stole the ball away from ULL QB Michael Desormeaux and took it 27 yards for a touchdown and Daniel Dufrene took a pass ten yards for a score, but the Illini had to hold on for deal life. Desormeaux an for a 34-yard score with 5:30 to play to pull the Ragin' Cajuns to within seven, but Illinois was able to get up by ten with a 27-yard Matt Eller field goal with 1:36 left. Erik Jones made a fingertip catch for an 11-yard score with 18 seconds to play to make it a three point game, but Illinois recovered the on-side kick.
Player of the game: Illinois RB Daniel Dufrene ran 19 times for 126 yards, and had three receptions for 24 yards and a touchdown.
Stat Leaders: UL Lafayette- Passing: Michael Desormeaux, 25-35, 200 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Michael Desormeaux, 14-42, 1 TD. Receiving: Tyrell Fenroy, 6-52
Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 13-25, 147 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Daniel Dufrene, 19-126. Receiving: Michael Hoomanawanui, 5-74
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Illinois defense did a decent job of keeping Michael Desormeaux and the UL Lafayette running game under wraps, but the offense didn't exactly turn on the juice to put the game away. The running game only came up with 194 yards and Juice Williams struggled both as a passer and to get the running game going. With a week off, the team needs to sharpen up the passing game and get the timing down on the ground attack before dealing with Penn State.

Sept. 6
Illinois 47 .. Eastern Illinois 21
Juice Williams ran for 174 yards and two touchdowns and threw for two scores as Illinois took a 47-7 lead into the fourth quarter. Eastern Illinois tied it at seven with a five-yard Desmin Ward touchdown run, but didn't get back on the board until late in the fourth with two garbage touchdowns. Arrelious Benn caught touchdown passes from four and 13 yards in the third quarter, and Troy Pollard added a 25-yard touchdown run in the fourth. Illinois outgained EIU 533 yards to 378.
Player of the game: Illinois QB Juice Williams went 16-of-25 for 124 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, adding 174 yards and two scores on 16 carries.
Stat Leaders: Eastern Illinois
- Passing: Bodie Reeder, 7-17, 102 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Rushing: Travorus Bess, 15-183. Receiving: Charles Graves, 2-36
Illinois
- Passing: Juice Williams, 16-25, 124 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Rushing: Juice Williams, 16-174, 2 TDs. Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 7-36

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Last week Juice Williams threw well against Missouri, and this week he ran over Eastern Illinois. However, there were too many turnovers with two interceptions and three fumbles, two from Williams, to keep the game from being even uglier. Daniel Dufrene ran for 99 yards while the team finished with 399 rushing yards and five scores. Expect more of the same next week against UL Lafayette.

Aug. 30
Missouri 52 ... Illinois 42
Missouri cranked out 549 yards of total offense, but had a hard time putting Juice Williams and the Illini away. Williams threw for 451 yards with five touchdown passes, but the Illinois defense didn't have an answer for the Tiger passing game, either. Chase Daniel threw three touchdown passes including two in the third quarter to Tommy Saunders, while the special teams and defense also came through with Jeremy Maclin answering an Illinois 34-yard interception return for a touchdown by Derek Walker with a kickoff return for a score. Sean Weatherspoon killed the Illinois fourth quarter comeback with a 35-yard interception return for a score with 3:18 to play.
Player of the game: In a losing cause, Illinois QB Juice Williams completed 26 of 42 passes for 451 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions, and he netted 10 yards rushing.
Stat Leaders: Missouri - Passing: Chase Daniel, 26-45, 323 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Derrick Washington, 19-130, 2 TD. Receiving: Chase Coffman, 9-120, 1 TD
Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 26-42, 451 yds, 5 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Daniel Dufrene, 13-75. Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 7-92
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Missouri game was all on Juice Williams' shoulders. Get used to it. The lack of a Rashard Mendenhall running back didn't seem to be that big a problem, Daniel Dufrene ran well, but Williams has to carry the offense and be a steady leader throughout. The offensive line had problems at times allowing five sacks, and going forward, it needs to be far better in pass protection with Penn State coming up in a few weeks.

2008 Recruiting Class

Star of the Class

Graham Pocic OL 6-7 316 Lemont, IL
Enrolled at the University of Illinois in January, 2008 ... PrepStar Magazine Dream Team ... Named to the Chicago Sun Times All-Area team ... Earned first-team All-State honors by the Chicago Tribune ... Named to the Rivals250 team ... First-team All-State by the Champaign News-Gazette ... Four-star recruit by Scout.com ... Named to the Midwest Hot100 list by Scout.com ... Team broke 6A record for rushing yards in a playoff game vs. Highland Park ... Also broke school records for points per game (35), points in a season (490), total offense in a season (4,863) and rushing yards per game (295.2) ... Listed as the 16th-best offensive tackle in the nation by Scout.com ... SuperPrep All-American ... Led Lemont team to the school's first appearance in the Illinois state finals in 2007 ... Named team captain ... Had 26 scholarship offers ... Played in the Offense-Defense All-Star game in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., after his senior season ... Bench presses over 350 pounds and squats 450 ... Chose Illinois over Michigan, Florida, Penn State, Tennessee and Wisconsin


Potential Instant Impact Players

Donsay Hardeman DB 6-2 220 Milledgeville, GA

Four-star recruit by Scout.com ... Helped lead Georgia Military College to a 9-2 record and a No. 9 national junior college ranking in 2007 ... Team's defense ranked fourth in total defense and No. 1 against the rush ... Earned honorable mention All-America honors by JC Gridwire ... Posted 28 tackles, two tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, four interceptions, including an 85-yard touchdown, and five pass breakups ... Had five interceptions, including a 84-yard return for a touchdown, and a 95-yard fumble recovery for a score in his first year of junior college ... Posted 15 catches for 300 yards and five touchdowns, while recording 80 tackles and seven interceptions as a high school senior in 2005 ... Chose Illinois over Alabama, Miami and South Carolina

Corey Liuget DT 6-3 260 Hialeah, FL

Four-star recruit by Scout.com ... Ranked as the 25th-best recruit in the state of Florida and the seventh-best defensive end by Rivals.com ... Listed as the No. 8 defensive end nationally by Scout.com ... Listed among Florida's Top-25 by the Miami Herald ... Named to Scout's Florida Top-50 team ... Rated the No. 17 defensive end by ESPN.com ... Earned first-team 6A All-State honors ... First-team All-Area by the Miami Herald ... Registered 59 tackles and 11 sacks in 2007 ... Named to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Super Southern 100 as the seventh-best defensive end ... SuperPrep All-American ... Recorded 55 tackles and six sacks as a junior and 59 tackles and 11 sacks as a sophomore ... Also a member of the wrestling team ... Chose Illinois over Miami, LSU and Florida State

Rest of the Class

Jeffery Allen OL 6-4 324 Chicago, IL
Jacob Charest QB 6-4 192 Matthews, NC
London Davis TE 6-4 255 Cahokia, IL
Russell Ellington LB 6-2 203 Homewood, IL
Reggie Ellis DT 6-2 278 Washington, DC
Jason Ford RB 5-10 209 Belleville, IL
Glenn Foster DE 6-4 223 Chicago, IL
Evan Frierson LB 6-2 217 Washington, DC
Hubie  Graham TE 6-4 227 Scranton , PA
Alfred Jenkins WR 6-0 170 Jacksonville, FL
Mikel LeShoure RB 6-0 220 Champaign, IL
Corey Lewis OL 6-6 278 Cresco, PA
Whitney Mercilus DE 6-3 225 Akron, OH
Patrick Nixon ATH 5-10 180 Jacksonville, FL
Nate Palmer LB 6-3 228 Chicago, IL
Jack Ramsey ATH 5-11 182 Chicago, IL
Tyler Sands OL 6-5 290 Boyertown, PA
Supo Sanni LB 6-3 197 Homewood, IL
Cordale Scott WR 6-3 200 Cleveland, OH
Ryan Sedlacek OL 6-4 292 Westport, CT
Justin Staples LB 6-4 215 Lakewood, OH
Fred Sykes WR 6-0 175 Tampa, FL
Ugochukwu Uzodinma DE 6-4 240 Washington, DC
Ashante Williams DB 5-10 191 Mayfield, OH
Tavon Wilson DB 6-0 179 Washington, DC

2008 Early Lookahead
Why to get excited: There's a good nucleus of players coming back, led by QB Juice Williams, WR Arrelious Benn, and CB Vontae Davis, to challenge for yet another trip to the Rose Bowl. There's a boatload of young talent waiting in the wings from Ron Zook's first two recruiting classes, and while this might be a bit of a transition year, the overall skill level is there to prevent a big dip. It'll be an absolute shock if this isn't one of the four best teams in the league.
Why to be grouchy: Missouri (in St. Louis), at Penn State, at Michigan, at Wisconsin, Ohio State. Uh-oh. Illinois might be happy to win two of those five. While there's talent ready to shine through, you don't get better by losing certain first round pick Rashard Mendenhall out of the backfield, tackling-machine LB J Leman, all-star OG Martin O'Donnell, and unsung DT rock Chris Norwell.
The number one thing to work on is: The passing game. It was far, far better than it was in 2006, but teams still didn't respect Williams when he had to put the ball in the air. He made Ohio State pay, but couldn't do the same against USC. Benn might grow into the Big Ten's best receiver, and there will always be single coverage with everyone selling out to stop the run, so if Williams can be a little more efficient, the offense should explode.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Rashard Mendenhall
Biggest defensive loss: LB J Leman
Best returning offensive player: QB Juice Williams, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: CB Vontae Davis, Jr.

2007 Recap
2007 Recap: When the Illini lost to Missouri, 40-34, on opening day, who would have guessed that both schools would play bowl games on New Year’s Day?  In Illinois’ case, it copped a spot in the Rose Bowl, its first since 1983, after winning nine games, finishing in a second place tie in the Big Ten, and authoring the nation’s biggest turnaround after going 2-10 in 2006.  More than anyone in Champaign, the storybook season was vindication for Ron Zook, a respected recruiter, who proved that he can coach a little as well.    

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Rashard Mendenhall

Defensive Player of the Year: LB J Leman

Biggest Surprise: The Illini knocked off three ranked teams during the season, none bigger than its upset of No. 1 and unbeaten Ohio State on Nov. 10.  Using a shrewd offensive gameplan to get QB Juice Williams into space, Illinois held off the eventual Big Ten champs, beating a top-ranked opponent for the first time since 1956. 

Biggest Disappointment: Although Illinois’ Cinderella season was safe no matter what happened in Pasadena, getting embarrassed by USC left many wondering if the Illini ever belonged in a BCS bowl game.  The Trojans toyed with the Illinois defense, scoring seven touchdowns and racking up a Rose Bowl-record 663 yards of total offense.   

Looking Ahead: Mendenhall’s early defection to the NFL hurts, but Illinois has been recruiting so well, and has so much returning talent that another nine-win season will catch no one off guard in 2008.  Williams needs to tighten up his consistency as a thrower, or else Eddie McGee will see his role increase next fall.     

  

Related Stories
Zook Excited About Latest Recruiting Class
 -by IlliniPlaybook.com  Feb 4, 2009
Ohio Cornerback Drawing National Interest
 -by IlliniPlaybook.com  Feb 6, 2009
Top Junior Kentuckian Likes Illinois
 -by IlliniPlaybook.com  Feb 2, 2009








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