MadTown Badgers: Nine-Point Play(ers) for Week 8
This week’s foe is Illinois. They’re jumping on the “Hey! Let’s devise a monochromatic color scheme for our fans to wear for the big Wisconsin night game this week!” train. Arizona State and Ohio State have already been there, and done that. It’s flattering, though. Really, it is. It means that the opponent thinks highly of Wisconsin and recognizes that it needs to pull out all the stops and rally all the fans in order to beat back the big, bad Badgers.
The Illini have lost six straight and 15 of their last 16 against foes ranked in the AP poll since beating No. 1 Ohio State 28-21 on Nov. 10, 2007. The lone win during came on Sept. 17, 2011, over No. 22/18 Arizona State, 17-14. Illinois has lost its last two home games against ranked foes since beating ASU at Memorial Stadium. Let’s keep that streak alive.
REFRESHER: Article Background/Basis
Remember – it’s impossible to score nine points on one play in football. Some people are going to troll me and say that you can’t score seven or eight points on one play alone. The reality is that a touchdown directly leads to an extra point or two point conversion attempt, and there is no way for the offense to score three points on the post-touchdown conversion.
In baseball, people sometimes refer to hitters as “trying to hit a five-run homer” when they take huge swings that usually end up making little-to-no contact with the ball. Similarly, this segment is going to look at the nine players on the opposing team that will either try their hardest to, or be in the best position to score nine points on a single play and upend our beloved Badgers on the upcoming Saturday.
(1) Nathan Scheelhaase: Quarterback, Senior. Height: 6-3Weight: 205
Scheelhaase, #2, has been the starter at Illinois since his redshirt freshman season. He’s a dual-threat that reminds me some of Juice Williams (I will always wonder why he didn’t stick in the NFL at some position). He was the seventh-rated quarterback in the 2008 class, and became a Fourth-team Freshman All-American in 2010, which I guess is something to be really proud of if you’re an Illini supporter. Last season, Scheelhaase was the only, and I mean only, player that posed any sort of a threat to the Badgers in Madison. How Wisconsin gave up 14 points in that game is still a mystery to me. Scheelhaase had 84 yards rushing and a touchdown in the game, but only passed for 178 yards on 29 attempts.
Scheelhaase is having a nice little season in Champaign, ranking in the top three in the Big Ten and top 40 in the nation in passing efficiency (159.2, 2nd/17th), passing yards per game (259.4, 3rd/33rd) and total offense (267.8 ypg, 3rd/37th) through week seven. He’s punctuated this productivity by making several weekend trips to Home Depot. He’s bought some wallpaper, considered getting some flooring, stuff like that. Once in a while, he thinks that he’ll maybe go to Bed, Bath, & Beyond, but he doesn’t know if he’ll ever have enough time.
(2) Josh Ferguson: Running Back, Sophomore. Height: 5-10 Weight: 195
Ferguson, #6, is a valuable weapon for new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. Last season’s game against Wisconsin is one that Ferguson (I can’t help but pronounce it Fer-GOOSE-en) would like to forget. He only had seven carries for 11 yards because Illinois
didn’t deem him worthy sucked on offense and was wildly unproductive running the ball. He did, however, have 3 catches for 46 yards in the game – this is important to recognize because now he leads the nation in receiving yards by a running back with 344 on 20 receptions (17.2 ypc). He ranks third in the Big Ten and 17th in the nation in yards from scrimmage with 654 (310 rush, 344 rec.), after piling up 196 all-purpose yards (114 rush, 82 rec.) at Nebraska.
His favorite athlete is LaMichael James, which is kinda weird, since, you know, James is only a few years older than Ferguson and currently serves as the third-string running back in San Francisco.
(3) V’Angelo Bentley: Defensive Back/Kick Returner, Sophomore. Height: 5-10 Weight: 190
Bentley, the other #2 for Illinois, leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth in the nation in kick return average (32.1 ypr), including a 100-yard kickoff return for TD against Southern Illinois. He OKIE-DOKED THE HELL OUT OF SOUTHERN ILLINOIS’ KICKER. Bentley had a 50-yard punt return against Miami (Ohio), the longest for an Illini since Eugene Wilson’s 70-yarder at Southern Miss on Sept. 7, 2002. For the season, Bentley ranks third in the Big Ten and 14th nationally in punt return average (15.8 ypr). His 95 punt return yards this season are the most by an Illini since Arrelious Benn had 108 in 2008.
Man, is it just me or is all this name-dropping making you remember the good ol’ Ron Zook era when he could recruit the hell out of high school players but derped around on game days? I’ll never forget the disappointing loss at Illinois in 2007, when Rashard Mendenhall toyed with the Badgers all day. How was Wisconsin ever ranked 5th in the nation that year???
(4) Corey Lewis: Offensive Tackle, Senior. Height: 6-6 Weight: 315
Lewis, #70 is one the feel-good stories in college football. “After missing more than two-and-half years (34 games) recovering from three ACL tears and five different knee surgeries, Lewis saw his first game action in over 1,000 days at Ohio State on Nov. 3, 2012, and played in the season’s final four games. With a bachelor’s degree in communication already in hand and a sixth year of NCAA eligibility granted, Lewis made his first career start in the 2013 season-opener against Southern Illinois, more than five years after first setting foot on campus, and has started every game since, playing a huge role in Illinois’ offensive resurgence.”
Before back-to-back ACL injuries-
marred ravaged obliterated the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Lewis was a solid young contributor. He logged 94 offensive snaps as a true-freshman, playing in four games, and played in all 12 games as a sophomore whilst earning Academic All-Big Ten honors.
(5) Jonathan Brown: Linebacker, Senior. Height: 6-1 Weight: 230
Brown, #45, is one of the best linebackers in the entire country. He may mean as much, or more, to his team than Chris Borlandgasm does to Wisconsin. Brown was a 2012 Butkus Award semifinalist (for the nation’s top LB) and he has piled up 227 tackles, 35.5 TFLs and 10.0 sacks over the last two-plus seasons. This season, he leads the Big Ten with 60 tackles and ranks fourth in the nation at 12.0 tackles per game. He has led Illinois in tackles in every game this season. Two weeks ago, Brown had a monster game at Nebraska, racking up a game-high 13 tackles and tying his career-high with 4.0 TFLs. He now has 37.0 career TFLs at Illinois, which ranks seventh all-time.
What can Brown do
for to you? This. Seriously, though, Brown is a very good player that had 10 tackles, a career-high 4.0 TFLs, a 28-yard fumble return, one sack and one QB hurry against Wisconsin last time the teams met in Champaign. Montee Ball did this.
(6) Mason Monheim: Linebacker, Sophomore. Height: 6-3 Weight: 235
Monheim, #43, was one of the few shining stars on a comically awful Illinois team in 2012. He was named a 2012 Freshman All-American after he became the first true-freshman ever to lead the Illini in tackles and led all Big Ten freshmen with 86 stops last season. He had six tackles in Madison last season as the starting middle linebacker. Monheim has pretty decent athleticism, doesn’t seem to drop too many catchable balls thrown his way, and lacks a nose for the end zone.
This year, Monheim ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 67th nationally with 8.4 tackles per game. He has some real good flow going on, and looks like he’s 29 instead of 19. Monheim seems like one of those dudes that you see in the cafeteria just demoralizing several helpings of hot taco salad and cake with chocolate milk. Afterwards, he’ll step on the scale and be disappointed that he only gained three pounds of pure diamond-cutting muscle during the meal.
(7) Tim Kynard: Defensive End, Senior. Height: 6-3 Weight: 270
Kynard, #59, is one of only four returning starters from last year’s defense (Brown, Monheim, and Earnest Thomas are the others). He’s mainly on this list because he’s one of two seniors (Brown) on the first-or-second string defense for the Fighting Illini. This is a young bunch, and Kynard has been pressed into a leadership role. Kynard has 5.0 TFL’s this season, and he forced his first career fumble against Southern Illinois in September.
Last season, Kynard played n 11 games (missed one due to injury) and started six of those games. He totaled 18 tackles, three TFLs, one sack, two fumble recoveries and one pass break-up on the season, which was his first receiving significant playing time. He spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons in a reserve role after redshirting his freshman season. It’s interesting to note that he chose Illinois over Michigan State – it’s easy to wonder how much of a pleasure-wrecker he would have become with the defensive coaching going on in East Lansing.
(8) Earnest Thomas III: Safety, Senior. Height: 6-1 Weight: 210
Thomas, #9, ranks third on the team and ninth in the Big Ten with 39 tackles in 2013 after a breakout 2012, where he was fourth on the team with 69 tackles and ranked fourth in the Big Ten with three forced fumbles. Last season he had five tackles against Wisconsin as the defense struggled to contain Montee Ball, which meant that Thomas had to help out from his strong safety position on numerous occasions.
This Saturday will be Thomas’ 15th career start. He is one of only two upperclassmen in the secondary listed on the depth chart, and the only other junior is Zane Petty, a junior college transfer in his first season of Division I football. The best part of Thomas may be his player picture. He has predator dreads, combined with a smug-ass grin and squinty eyes. It is a thing of beauty, and Bob Ross would surely squirt paint all over his easel as he shrieked in delight over the opportunity to paint such a masterpiece.
(9) Tim Beckman: Head Coach, Second Year. 2012 Record: 2-10 (0-8) Overall: 26-28
When Beckman became Illinois’ head coach, I was worried. I had watched his Toledo teams defecate all over MAC teams on Tuesday nights, plus he nearly beat Ohio State and Syracuse. His teams have traditionally shown marked improvement from year to year: after inheriting a 3-9 team at Toledo, the Rockets went 5-7, then 8-5, and finally 9-4 in 2011 before Beckman left for Illinois. This year’s Fighting Illini have already surpassed last season’s win total (3 wins isn’t much to brag about, though.)
The problem is that Beckman is supposed to be a defensive coach. He was the defensive coordinator for two years at Oklahoma State (2007-2008) when the Cowboys were a middling 16-10, and he coached cornerbacks at Ohio State after stints as the defensive coordinator at Elon and Bowling Green. Beckman is 0-7 against AP-ranked ranked opponents in his 4+ years as a head coach. He will be 0-8 on Sunday.
Vegas Line: Opened at Wisconsin -10; currently Wisconsin -12.5
Paul’s Pompous Prediction: Wisconsin 38, Illinois 17