8 and counting
Illinois is on a roll when it comes to nonconference games at Memorial Stadium, its eight-game win streak tied for the longest in school history. Marcus Jackson breaks it down:
Sept. 11, 2010
Illinois 35, Southern Illinois 3
What happened: Mikel Leshoure rushed for 106 yards and scored twice while A.J. Jenkins caught five balls for 114 yards and a score as freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase picked up his first career win.
What we were thinking: Good win, but this team doesn't quite have what it takes to get to a bowl. But this freshman quarterback might be all right.
Sept. 18, 2010
Illinois 28, Northern Illinois 22
What happened: Mikel Leshoure (180 yards) extended his streak of 100-yard games to four and Nathan Scheelhaase added 115, including a high-flying touchdown leap over the Huskies defense.
What we were thinking: Maybe this Champaign kid (Leshoure) really is that good; he might be a draft pick. That Scheelhaase sure is fun to watch, but he might want to chill out with all the leaping for extra yards, he could get hurt.
Sept. 3, 2011
Illinois 33, Arkansas State 15
What happened: The Illini beat the heat — it was 96 degrees — and won their first season opener since 2006 behind Nathan Scheelhaase (267 passing yards), A.J. Jenkins (148 receiving yards, TD) and Darius Millines (119 receiving yards, TD).
What we were thinking: That 72-degree dome in St. Louis sure would have been nice today, but the Illini would have played in 120-degree weather to avoid another season-opening loss to Missouri. How is new athletic director Mike Thomas not sweating in that shirt and tie?
Sept. 10, 2011
Illinois 56, South Dakota State 3
What happened: Troy Pollard — yes, he's still in school — ran for a career-high 101 yards. The Illini defense held the FCS Jackrabbits to 96 yards of offense, the first time it held an opponent under 100 since 1998.
What we were thinking: Pollard wouldn't have got caught from behind on that long run if his hair didn't weigh 10 pounds.
Sept. 17, 2011
Illinois 17, No. 22 Arizona State 14
What happened: The Illini beat an opponent ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since knocking off No. 1 Ohio State in 2007. Defense shined behind Whitney Mercilus (two sacks) and Jonathan Brown (seven tackles, 3.5 for loss, interception).
What we were thinking: Was that really Phil Mickelson on the Arizona State sideline? Brock Osweiler is tall. What will the Illini be ranked next week?
Sept. 24, 2011
No. 24 Illinois 23, Western Michigan 20
What happened: Illinois trailed 13-10 at the half but got 133 yards on the ground from Troy Pollard and 100 more from freshman Donovonn Young.
What we were thinking: Mike Thomas, extend Ron Zook's contract right now!
Sept. 1, 2012
Illinois 24, Western Michigan 7
What happened: The Tim Beckman era got off to a rousing start as the Illinois defense had three interceptions, highlighted by Ashante Williams' pick-six.
What we were thinking: How many Michael Buchanans are there out there? Nathan Scheelhaase just rolled his ankle, he'll surely be back to lead the Illini at Arizona State next week.
Sept. 15, 2012
Illinois 44, Charleston Southern 0
What happened: Reilly O'Toole set a program record, completing 83.9 percent of his passes, for 333 yards and five touchdowns and the Illinois defense recorded its first shutout in five years.
What we were thinking: Whoa, Kendrick Nunn committed! What would the score have been if Urbana played Charleston Southern?