2011 Illinois Fighting Illini Football

Big Ten football fans

Illinois vs South Dakota State Football Preview



Just what kind of football team exists in Champaign, Illinois? We might not find out this weekend at Memorial Stadium.

The Illinois Fighting Illini will host the South Dakota State Jackrabbits on Saturday in Champaign.    South Dakota State is a member of the FCS, meaning that Illinois is actually choosing to go down the college football food chain instead of climbing up the ladder. In week one, Illinois played a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision but is now choosing to work out the kinks against a lower-division foe.

Illinois trounced Arkansas State 33-15 in its 2011 debut.   Sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase completed 16 of 23 pass attempts for a career-high 267 yards and two touchdowns. Scheelhaase’s 16 completions were spread between just two receivers: A.J. Jenkins (11 receptions, 148 yards, one touchdown) and Darius Millines (5 receptions, 119 yards, one touchdown).   Scheelhaase hit Jenkins for a career-long 72-yard touchdown.

The interesting aspect of the win over Arkansas State is simply this: The college football world doesn’t yet know how good Arkansas State will be this season in the Sun Belt Conference. ASU has a new coach this season, Hugh Freeze, and is seen by some as a darkhorse in the Sun Belt. Yet, the Red Wolves have not been an upper-tier team in their league over the past several seasons, so one doesn’t yet know if Illinois was impressive against ASU. It’s hard to gain a clear read on Illinois because its opponents are shrouded in uncertainty as well.

The Illini had 473 yards of total offense against Arkansas State. Jason Ford led the Illini rushing attack with 86 yards on 22 carries.  Defensively, Illinois gave up just one touchdown drive.    Arkansas State also picked up points on two field goals and a safety, all during the first half, which gave them a short-lived 8-7 lead.   After Brian Davis’ 47-yard field goal put the Red Wolves ahead, the Illini answered with a 45-yard pass from Scheelhaase to Millines less than 90 seconds later.


As for this week’s Illinois opponent, South Dakota State took a 29-7 lead into the fourth quarter of its game against Southern Utah last Saturday, but almost coughed up the lead when it gave up three fourth-quarter touchdowns.   The Jackrabbits had to stop a two-point conversion attempt with two seconds to play to seal the 29-28 win. Thomas O’Brien completed 27 of 40 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Jackrabbits.   Tyrel Kool had 28 carries for 107 yards rushing, and caught six passes for 79 yards.

One thing to point out about the Jackrabbits is that they allowed just 17 points to Nebraska on the road last season. In 2009, they very nearly beat Minnesota before losing by a 16-13 count. This is a program that can put up its dukes and fight bravely against power-conference FBS teams. If Illinois isn’t careful, some intrigue could creep into this contest.


By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer



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