By Dave Revsine
Their 17-14 win over then-No. 18 Arizona State turned the nation on to something Howard, Gerry and I believed when we saw them in the pre-season: The Illini are for real.
The numbers I gave last week were related to their offense, but the real story of the game was the “D.” So that’s where we’ll begin this week.
32: The Illini have allowed just 32 points in their first three games. That’s the fewest Illinois has given up in its first three outings since the 1994 team with Simeon Rice and Dana Howard allowed just 20.
A win on Saturday against Western Michigan would have us digging even deeper in the record books.
1951: With a victory this week, Illinois would be (4-0) for the first time since 1951. Not only would that be the longest gap between (4-0) starts in the Big Ten – it’s not even close.
The next longest drought is Indiana, which last won its first four games in 1990. Every other team in the conference has done so at least once since 2007.
While the “D” gets most of the credit for getting the Illini win number three, the offense has still played a huge role in getting them to this point.
40.1: The Illini are averaging 40.1 points per game over their last 10 – that is 9th best nationally in that span. Wisconsin is first, by the way, at 46.7 points per game.
Montee Ball has been a huge part of that success. He ran for two touchdowns in last week’s win over Northern Illinois – his 7th straight regular-season game with multiple TD’s.
21: Ball has rushed for 21 TD’s since Nov. 6 of last year. For a little perspective, consider that Illinois is the only TEAM in the Big Ten that’s rushed for more TD’s in that span. Ball’s 22 rushing TD’s since October 23rd of last year are seven more than any other player in the nation in that time period.
Of course, he’s not the only Badger back putting up impressive numbers.
642: Wisconsin’s running backs have gone 642 consecutive touches without fumbling. That includes 570 rushes, 46 catches and 26 kickoff returns. And just to clarify – it’s not that they haven’t lost a fumble since then – it’s that they haven’t fumbled period. A Badger back last lost the handle on a ball in game two of last season.
The passing game isn’t bad either – thanks to Russell Wilson.
17.4%: Wilson is completing 75.8% of his passes so far this season. He completed just 58.4% last year at NC State. That jump of 17.4% is the largest in the nation.
While Wisconsin’s QB has flourished, Penn State’s have floundered.
3: The Nittany Lions are one of just 3 teams nationally that has played three games and has yet to throw a TD pass. The other two are Central Florida and San Jose State.
In contrast, Iowa’s James Vandenberg threw three TD passes in the fourth quarter last week, as the Hawks staged the biggest comeback in school history. One of those TD passes went to Keenan Davis, who finally seems to be living up to his immense promise.
15, 17: Davis has 15 catches in the last two weeks. He had 17 in 10 career games prior to that.
Nebraska’s opponents are also having success through the air.
1st, 49th: Coming into this season, the Huskers had ranked 1st in the nation in pass efficiency defense over the last two years combined. Early on this year, they are 49th in that category. They hope the return of Alfonzo Dennard will help bolster that number.
Minnesota is having defensive issues of its own – and these are nothing new.
9, 1: The Gophers had just 9 sacks last year – tied for last nationally. They have mustered just 1 in three games so far this year – again, tied for the fewest in the nation.
Indiana joins them among the one sack teams, but the concern for the Hoosiers last week wasn’t the defense as much as the flags.
20: The Hoosiers were called for 20 penalties last week in their win over South Carolina State. That is tied for the second most in college football in the last decade. UNLV had 22 in a 53-45 loss to Wyoming in 2004.
2004 might also become significant for Ohio State this week.
It’s been even longer since the Bucks have seen a running back have the kind of day against them that Miami’s Lamar Miller did last week.
1999: Miller rushed for 184 yards in Miami’s 24-6 win over the Buckeyes. It was the most for any opponent against OSU since 1999, when Penn State’s Eric McCoo went for 211.
The issue for Michigan State in its loss to Notre Dame was a low rushing total – it picked up just 29 yards on the ground against the Irish. This has been a bit of a theme with the Spartans of late.
4: Since the start of last season, MSU has lost three games. In those three games, they have averaged 4 rushing yards. Total. They’ve averaged 180.1 in their 12 wins.
History seems to be repeating itself for Michigan as well.
24, 4, 28: In their first three games, the Wolverines have beaten Western Michigan by 24, Notre Dame by 4 and Eastern Michigan by 28. In their first three games in 2009, the Wolverines beat Western Michigan by 24, Notre Dame by 4 and Eastern Michigan by 28. Michigan fans hope the similarities end there. The Wolverines lost 7 of their last 9 that season.
One reason for optimism – Michigan seems to have reversed its error-prone ways.
We have Michigan in action on BTN Saturday against San Diego State kicking off at noon ET. All the fun starts with the Auto Owners Insurance Pre-Game Show at 10:30 AM. See you then.