• Back to Chambana: After a 31-23 road victory over UConn, the Fighting Illini return to Champaign-Urbana with a 2-0 record, ready to face Eastern Michigan (1-1) at Memorial Stadium on Saturday (11 am CT on BTN). Illinois is looking to begin the season 3-0 for the first time since 2011, when the team got off to a 6-0 start.
• Boys of Summer: The Illini are 28-6 in Aug./Sept. home games dating back to the start of 2007.
• New Look D: This year’s Lovie Smith-led defense has been dominant in the first two victories. (More on the dramatic defensive improvement can be found on page 2).
» The Illini allowed just 10 rushing yards at UConn and rank seventh in FBS for the season at 37.0 ypg allowed.
» Illinois ranks third in FBS in both sacks per game (5.5) and TFLs per game (12.0).
» Illinois had 12.0 TFLs in both games this season. It is the first time since at least 2000 that Illinois had 24+
TFLs in the first two games of the season.
» The defense had six sacks in the opener and five sacks at UConn. Last season’s season-high for a game
» The Illini are allowing 238.5 yards per game this season to rank 18th in FBS, up 109 spots from their final
2019 rank of 127 (508.3 ypg).
• No Way, Wole: Junior DL Oluwole Betiku Jr., a graduate transfer from USC, has been the centerpiece of the
» Betiku leads the nation in both sacks (5.0) and tackles for loss (6.5) on the season.
» The 5.0 sacks already are more than or equal to Illinois’ season leader in nine of the last 20 seasons. He is one of only 12 players with 5+ sacks in the first two games of the season since 2000, including Elvis Dumervil
(LOU), Derrick Morgan (GT), Von Miller (TXAM), and Danny Shelton (WASH).
» His 3.5 sacks at UConn tied for the fifth-most sacks in a game in Illinois history and marked the first Illini
with 3.0+ sacks in a game since Whitney Mercilus (3.0) at Indiana 10/8/2011.
• Impact Transfers: As expected, transfers have made a huge impact on the field this season.
» Illinois started six transfers at UConn – QB Brandon Peters (Michigan), WR Josh Imatorbhebhe (USC),
WR Trevon Sidney (USC), OL Richie Petitbon (Alabama), DL Oluwole Betiku Jr. (USC), and LB Milo Eifler
(Washington) – after starting five in the opener (all except Sidney). Their production has been large.
» QB Peters – 390 passing yards, 7 touchdown passes, 52 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown
» WR Sidney – 7 catches, 51 yards, 1 touchdown
» WR Imatorbhebhe – 6 catches, 76 yards, 2 touchdowns
» DL Betiku Jr. – 10 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 5.0 sacks, 4 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery
» LB Eifler – 9 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 PBU
» OL Petitbon – 2 starts at guard
• Peters Can Sling It: Michigan transfer QB Brandon Peters has been as good as advertised thus far.
» Ranks seventh in FBS in passing touchdowns (7) and points responsible for (48)
» Has already tied or surpassed the Illinois season passing touchdown leader for each of the past two seasons:
2018 – AJ Bush Jr. (6) and 2017 – Jeff George Jr. (7).
» Peters threw four touchdown passes at UConn, tied for seventh-most in Illinois history, and the most since
Wes Lunt threw 4 TDs vs. Kent State 9/5/2015.
» He completed his last 10 passes of the first half at UConn (10-10, 135
yards, 3 TDs), tied for the 10th-longest completion streak in UI history.
» Peters was officially announced as the starter by Lovie Smith on Aug.
20. He graduated from Michigan in three years and transferred to
Illinois this summer with two years of eligibility remaining.
• Hansen, So Hot Right Now: Junior LB Jake Hansen is off to a fast start in 2019, just like he did last season.
» Hansen is the No. 1 graded linebacker in the nation by PFF (90.5)
» Hansen leads the team with 14 tackles and has added 1.5 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble
» In 2018, Hansen exploded onto the scene with a 15-tackle, 6.0-TFL performance to open the season vs. Kent State en route to a 95-tackle season.
• James and the Giant Leg: Junior K James McCourt’s 53-yard field goal to end the first half tied for the longest
field goal on the road in Illinois history (Mike Bass at Syracuse 9/18/1982; Dave Finzer at Purdue 10/15/1977).
The 53-yarder, the first made field goal of McCourt’s career, tied for the fifth-longest field goal in Illinois history.
• More than One Way to Win: Illinois’ first two wins of 2019 came in very different fashion.
» Against Akron, the Illini wasted little time getting things going, winning the coin toss, taking the ball, and
promptly droving 63 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown to open the season. By halftime, the Illini led 28-3 en
route to a 42-3 season-opening victory over Akron.
» In week two at UConn, the Illini fell behind 13-0 before roaring back with a 24-point second quarter to lead
24-13 at halftime. They then held off the Huskies late for a nail-biting 31-23 win.
• Talent Upgrade: The 2019 recruiting class was small in numbers (16) but big on talent. The average recruit rating of .8679 by 247Sports was the highest rated Illini class in the online recruiting era (since 2002), ranking 31st nationally and seventh in the Big Ten. 2019 signees Marquez Beason (.9564 rating, No. 99) and Isaiah Williams (.9479 rating, No. 116) are the highest rated Illini recruits since 2009 (Terry Hawthorne, No. 72), and the highest duo since 2007 (Arrelious Benn, No. 12, and Martez Wilson, No. 15).
The rejuvenated Illinois defense, directed by head coach/defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, has made huge
improvements early in 2019. While still early, the Illini have made huge jumps in the national rankings from 2018 to 2019 in several key offensive categories, including a 100+ jump in rushing defense (+114), total defense (+109) and scoring defense (+100).