Illinois head coach Tim Beckman made a mid-season change to his practice philosophy and it ended up paying off for the Illini. During the bye week before the Minnesota game, Beckman decided to give his players two extra days off.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - It probably comes as no surprise to those who have watched the last couple Illinois football games, but Reilly O'Toole will start for Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said today O'Toole has earned that opportunity. Cubit added that Wes Lunt will have to be ready because there's a good chance he will play in the game. It is only fitting, though, that O'Toole gets this opportunity - given all that he has been through as a career backup - to start his final college game. "It'll just be another opportunity to showcase ourselves as a team," O'Toole said. "I'm just glad to have the opportunity to go out there and try to help the team as best as I can."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois announced Wednesday the addition of eight football players who will join the team next season. These eight will enroll early - in January - to get a jumpstart on their Illinois careers. Those players include six junior college transfers and two high school seniors - including Centennial's Jimmy Fitzgerald. The quarterback was a three-star recruit, who chose Illinois over schools like Harvard and Yale. Fitzgerald was the leader of the state-ranked Centennial Chargers before his senior season was cut short due to a torn ACL.
For the first time in the Tim Beckman era, the Illinois football team was able to talk about a bowl game at their annual banquet Sunday afternoon. Senior quarterback Reilly O'Toole won the outstanding offensive player award.
Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said he wants his team to have fun the next few weeks but he also expects the Illini to put in plenty of work preparing for the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois freshman Mike Dudek earned a national honor Friday. The first year wide receiver was named a first team Freshman All-American by Scout.com. Dudek's 965 receiving yards were second most by any freshman nationally, and he was fourth among all freshmen with six touchdown catches. He put together the best freshman season ever by an Illinois wide receiver.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illini football team continued its bowl preparations Thursday, and that involved head coach Tim Beckman making a trip to Dallas in the morning. Representatives from Illinois and Louisiana Tech met for an introductory news conference at the Cotton Bowl stadium. Then Thursday afternoon they got back on the practice field. It was the first full-team practice in more than a week, and the seniors admit they were a little rusty. "Tired and not as mentally sharp as I was in the past few weeks," Donovonn Young said. "But it was fun to be back out here with my guys, getting ready for this bowl game."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illini football team had its back against the wall, needing two wins in the final two weeks to reach bowl eligibility. They got it done, sweated out the selection process, and are hoping to ride the momentum into Dallas for the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Louisiana Tech December 26. "I think any time you can go out and talk about building this thing as it happened for us, being able to talk about three out of the last five wins," said head coach Tim Beckman. "There's a buzz around, and this football team has definitely made the strides to get itself better."
The Illinois football team will play Louisiana Tech in the Zaxsby's Heart of Dallas Bowl December 26th at 12:00.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - It may not be a foregone conclusion that Illinois is guaranteed to be in a bowl game. There is a scenario out there in which the Big Ten could have too many bowl eligible teams - and not enough bowls for them all. Basically it all comes down to how many Big Ten teams are selected for the New Year's bowls. If three teams go, that would leave more Big Ten-affiliated bowls for Illinois. If only two conference teams are selected, that could leave one bowl-eligible Big Ten team in the cold.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois wide receiver Mike Dudek has been easily the team's most valuable offensive weapon this season, and Monday night the freshman was one of two Illinois players to earn all-conference recognition. Dudek was named second team all-conference. He was third best in the Big Ten in both touchdowns and receiving yards. He put together the best freshman season ever for an Illini wide receiver. His 69 receptions and 965 receiving yards put him among the top ten in school history in those categories. Punter Justin DuVernois was also named second team all-conference. He was second best in the league at nearly 45 yards per punt.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illini football team is a headed to a bowl game for the first time in 3 years. Illinois clinched bowl eligibility with Saturday's 47-33 win at Northwestern. Tim Beckman will be back next season after the Illini won three of their last five games. At 6-and-6, the Illini have improved record-wise each of the last two years under Beckman. And three Big Ten wins seem to be light years ahead of that 0-and-8 conference mark in Beckman's first season two years ago. "I asked these seniors two years ago that we at that time sophomores to step it up and to build this team for the future," Beckman said after Saturday's win. "Now we're back. We've got six wins underneath our belt. I don't think anybody in [the media] thought we'd win six."
Illinois Director of Athletics Mike Thomas announced Tim Beckman will return as head coach of the Illini football team for the 2015 season. The Illini finished 6-6 this year and are bowl eligible in his third season. Illinois won two games his first season and four in his second. Thomas issued this statement: "It was important to see improvement in our football program this season. Over the last month, we have won three of our last five games, including a pair of Big Ten wins over teams (Minnesota & Penn State) who are headed to the postseason. Our student-athletes have played their best football of the season down the stretch of a tough schedule that included nine bowl-eligible opponents. It’s my expectation that with the upcoming bowl and another off-season of development, that Tim’s continued leadership will keep Fighting Illini Football moving forward and even more competitive in the conference and nationally.”
Illinois forced five turnovers, scored a season high 47 points and became bowl eligible for the first time since 2011 with a 47-33 win over Northwestern at Ryan Field Saturday afternoon.
The Illinois football team faces a must-win game at Northwestern Saturday. Both teams need to win to become bowl eligible.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Saturday's game at Northwestern is a must-win for the Illinois football team - and their opponent is in a similar situation. Both the Illini and Wildcats come into Saturday's regular season finale with identical 5-6 records. Tim Beckman has tried to emphasize the rivalry with Northwestern during his three years at Illinois, and rarely is so much on the line when these two square off. "This is it," said Beckman. "I mean this is almost like the playoffs. You gotta win to keep playing, and so do they. That's what it's about. It's a great rivalry, and it's one very well respected."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Tim Beckman said Monday he has not decided which quarterback will start this week's must-win game at Northwestern. Wes Lunt started Saturday against Penn State, but after struggling through the first quarter he was sent to the bench in favor of Reilly O'Toole. O'Toole completed 18-of-25 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, leading Illinois to a 16-14 victory. Lunt was still listed No. 1 on the depth chart Monday, but Beckman says it will be a competition this week in practice. He says he could use two or even three quarterbacks against Northwestern.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - David Reisner said he had a dream Friday night that he would attempt four field goals against Penn State, but not even in his wildest dreams could he have imagined a moment like this - kicking the game-winning field goal with :08 left to lift Illinois to a 16-14 victory over the Nittany Lions. "I went out there," Reisner said. "Coach Cubit lightened the mood up a little bit. He was making some jokes, and I felt calm. Calmer than I have ever been on a field goal. It was nice that everybody believed in me, and I ended up making the kick."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - When Reilly O'Toole is honored before his final game at Memorial Stadium Saturday, it will be bittersweet. "It hasn't hit me," O'Toole said. "I'm sure it will in the next couple of days. Just leaving these guys and all the memories we've made and the good times we've had, it will be emotional for sure."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Tim Beckman and company are still searching for answers on the defensive side of the ball after Saturday's 30-14 loss to Iowa. So far this season Illinois has given up more points than any other Big Ten team. Eight of their ten opponents have scored at least 30 points against the Illinois defense, and Beckman says it just comes down to making plays when they've got the chance. "It's just getting beat," Beckman said of the reason for their struggles. "We were there for all those passes. You gotta make a play. If you watch that film, we're there. We've gotta create more pressure on the quarterback. We ask a lot of our [defensive backs]."
Pressure continues to mount on Tim Beckman in his third season in Champaign. The Illini are 4-6 (1-5) this year with two regular season games left. Beckman talked about the pressure at his news conference Monday.
Illinois football lost to Iowa 30-14 Saturday. The Hawkeyes outgained the Illini 587-235 in total yards. Illinois drops to 4-6 (1-5) with two games left (vs Penn State, at Northwestern) this season.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Wes Lunt could be back on the field for Illinois as soon as next Saturday when they host Iowa, but one of his key protectors on the offensive line won't be there. Starting offensive lineman Ted Karras will miss the rest of the season after tearing both his ACL and MCL in last week's loss at Ohio State. Karras was on crutches at the end of Saturday's game in Columbus, and head coach Tim Beckman confirmed the season-ending injury after practice Wednesday. Karras has started all but two games in his three years at Illinois.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Reilly O'Toole will get his third straight start at quarterback when the Illini visit Ohio State this weekend. The senior earned another start by leading Illinois to its first Big Ten home win in more than three years Saturday against Minnesota. "I thought we played really hard, came ready to go," O'Toole said. "We got off to a quick start, but really again we gotta be more consistent, put all four quarters together."
Illinois used a scoop and score from V'Angelo Bentley late in the fourth quarter and a strong defensive effort to upset Minnesota 28-24 Saturday afternoon on Homecoming at Memorial Stadium.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Tim Beckman said this week you will see both quarterbacks, Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey, in the game this Saturday against Minnesota. It has been an up-and-down season for O'Toole, who has completed 55 percent of his passes and thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. He wants to play, but he says he is prepared to share the snaps if that helps the team win.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Tim Beckman told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that both Aaron Bailey and Reilly O'Toole will get a lot of reps in practice this week, but he wouldn't say who will be the starter at quarterback when the Illini take the field in a week-and-a-half against Minnesota. Beckman did say Bailey will be a part of the game plan moving forward now that he isn't redshirting.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - What would've happened if Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had played his college football at Illinois? Well it turns out, that's exactly where he wanted to play. Rodgers told The Dan Patrick Show on Tuesday that Illinois was his first choice of schools, but they never offered. Instead he became an NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion as a product of Cal - instead of the Illini.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Almost nobody outside the Illinois locker room is giving the Illini any chance to win at Wisconsin this weekend. The Illini are 25.5 point underdogs against the Badgers. Talking to head coach Tim Beckman and the team this week, they're using their opportunity to show everybody everybody what they're made of. "I ask our players to play hard, and they're playing hard," Beckman said. "It comes down to me, and we've got make sure that our players are doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing and just keep playing hard because it'll all come if we're playing with enough effort."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – University of Illinois freshman receiver Mike Dudek (Naperville, Illinois/Neuqua Valley HS) was added to the watch list for the 2014 Biletnikoff Award on Tuesday. The Biletnikoff Award is given annually to the nation’s top receiver. Dudek is having a steallar freshman season, currently standing 19th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total receiving yards (539) and second among FBS freshmen.
Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman said 'it's all about the players' at his weekly press conference Monday afternoon. The response came after he questioned whether he feels the need to make a statement to the fans about his team.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Mikey Dudek has made an immediate impact on the Illini football team this season, and now the true freshman is being recognized among the best freshmen nationwide. Dudek has been named to the watch list for the freshman of the year award given by the College Football Performance Awards. He is among the Top 10 in the conference in receiving yards, and he has proven to be one of Wes Lunt's favorite targets especially late in games. Dudek has caught for 339 yards and three touchdowns in his first five career games. "I've had a great time. It's been fun," said Dudek. "Definitely a lot of stress leading up to the games wanting to perform well. Becuase you put in all that work, and you don't want to see that work not pay off for you."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Wes Lunt has declared himself ready to go this weekend vs. Purdue. Head coach Tim Beckman told reporters early Tuesday on a conference call that Lunt has been practicing as if he were 100% healthy; Lunt echoed that Tuesday night, and it looks like Illinois is moving forward with the hope that Lunt will be back under center against the Boilermakers.
Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt sat out Injured as the Illini fell to Nebraska 45-14.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - We'll find out later Thursday whether wide receiver Geronimo Allison will be cleared to play in Illinois' Big Ten opener at Nebraska Saturday night. Allison missed last week's game against Texas State with an injury, but he did participate with limited contact in practice this week. Of the guys that helped pick up the slack in Allison's absence Saturday was true freshman Mike Dudek, who got the start alongside fellow true freshman Malik Turner. Dudek caught seven passes for 90 yards and a touchdown against Texas State. Dudek ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 19 catches this season.
The Illinois defense got good news Monday. They'll need it as they prepare for a tough Nebraska team with the second leading rusher in the nation. Illini star defender Earnest Thomas has been cleared to play the entire game against Nebraska this Saturday. He was ejected from the Texas State game in the second quarter for targeting. That foul typically comes with a one game ejection (the second half of the Texas State game and first half of the Nebraska game), but the Big Ten will allow him to play after a misapplication of the rule.
The Illinois football team moves to 3-1 Saturday after defeating Texas State 42-35. Illinois had to come from behind to win and also sit through a 1:56 weather delay in the second quarter. Josh Ferguson rushed for a career high 190 yards. He had three total touchdowns as well. Illinois plays at Nebraska next week to open Big Ten play.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois football team isn't panicking after suffering their first loss of the season Saturday at Washington. In fact the Orange and Blue are keeping things positive as they look to pick up win No. 3 this weekend. Illinois ran into a buzz saw in Seattle, and some early mistakes were the difference. All things considered, they still feel like they sit in a pretty good position. "The first three games are done," said head coach Tim Beckman. "We're 2-and-1. I mean a lot of teams aren't 2-and-1, and we are. So we're happy to say that, yeah, we can make definite strides in everything we gotta do, but we've got 2 W's and we've got 1 L. So we're heading, at least moving in that direction we want to go."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois football team is dead last in the Big Ten in rushing offense through the first three games of the season. In fact the Orange and Blue are getting less than 20% of their offense on the ground. That's one of the worst in the country. Early on the emphasis hasn't exactly been on running the ball. Only two Big Ten teams have run less often, but the success hasn't been there. The Illini are averaging a little better than 70 yards per game on the ground, and it's not just a running back problem.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt has been one of the best in the Big Ten so far this year, but he will be the first to admit Saturday's game at Washington wasn't one of his best. Lunt threw an interception that got run back for a touchdown, and then later he had the ball stripped away, and it was run back for a Washington score - a couple mistakes in what has been an otherwise outstanding start to Lunt's season. He was proud of the way his team responded in Seattle after he says he put his team in a tough spot.
If the last few weeks are an indication of what's to come, Illinois is in for a high-scoring game when they visit Washington Saturday afternoon.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - One thing was missing from Justin Hardee's career performance Saturday - his mother. She passed away in December after a long fight with lung disease. "That was my best friend," Hardee said. "She really didn't know how football went, but she only watched it because of me. That was very special to me."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois defensive tackle Austin Teitsma put together the best individual performance on his Illinois career Saturday against Youngstown State, and he's hoping it's just the start of a huge senior season. Teitsma had a career-high nine tackles and two-and-a-half tackles for loss in Saturday's win, but he and the defense will be put to a different kind of test this week against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers ran 96 plays from scrimmage - and they play fast meaning Teitsma and his guys on the defensive line will be pushed to the limit.
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Could we see a revival of the Illinois-Missouri football series down the road? Missouri athletic director Mike Alden isn't shutting the door on that possibility. Alden told reporters Wednesday he is "all ears" when it comes to entertaining the idea of playing a neutral site football game, possibly against Illinois in St. Louis. The earliest that could happen would be 2019, but Alden says there hasn't been any in-depth discussion yet on renewing that series.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - One of the biggest knocks on Illinois' defense last year was their inability to force turnovers. The Illini were dead last in the Big Ten in takeaways a year ago, and they didn't force a single turnover in Saturday's win over Youngstown State. The Illini had their opportunities against the Penguins. Mason Monheim dropped a sure interception after a pass hit him right in the hands, and Taylor Barton stripped a ball loose before it rolled out of bounds. A couple close calls, but head coach Tim Beckman says they have to capitalize on those opportunities.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - During camp we heard a lot about the freshman wide receivers for the Illinois football team, especially Malik Turner and Mikey Dudek. They got their first taste of game action Saturday against Youngstown State, and it's not a stretch to say Illinois might not have won without them.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - If you look at just the numbers from Saturday, Wes Lunt put together the best debut for an Illinois quarterback in school history. He threw for 285 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Illini to a 28-17 win over Youngstown State. Lunt had to knock some rust off early Saturday, but he completed 10 of his final 12 passes and didn't throw an interception all day. Taking into consideration that was Lunt's first game in nearly two years, head coach Tim Beckman likes what he is seeing.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - It was supposed to be an easy win, but it proved to be anything but easy. Illinois trailed on two different occasions in the fourth quarter Saturday before surviving with a 28-17 win over Youngstown State. The players say first game jitters had a lot to do with their struggles. "First couple series we got out there, and it was a shock and [we] got away from what we practiced," said senior Donovonn Young. "Toward the end of the game we started getting back into the groove of things."
Illinois trailed Youngstown State 9-7 in the fourth quarter before rallying to win 28-17. Wes Lunt set Illini records for a new-coming starting quarterback after throwing for 285 yards and four touchdowns.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The non-conference games will be a critical time for Illinois running back Josh Ferguson to prove he can shoulder the load and be the go-to guy for Tim Beckman's offense. Ferguson took hold of the No. 1 job early in the season last year, but this will be his first season opener as the top running back. He says he gained ten pounds in the offseason and is ready to show what he can do. "I'm definitely ready to go," he said. "I put in a lot of work this offseason in order to do so. I'm excited. It's been a long offseason, and we're just ready to play." Ferguson racked up more than 1,300 total yards and 11 touchdowns last year.