Cincinnati (1-0) at Illinois (1-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 7, 12 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Memorial Stadium (60,670) -- Champaign, Illinois. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: UC 1-0, Illinois 1-0. Away Record: UC 0-0, Illinois 0-0. Neutral Record: UC 0-0, Illinois 0-0. Conference Record: UC 0-0, Illinois 0-0. Series Record: UC leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The Cincinnati Bearcats make their first-ever trip to Memorial Stadium as they get set to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini in a non- conference matchup.
Cincinnati is coming off a 42-7 rout over Purdue in its season opener and first game under new head coach Tommy Tuberville. The Bearcats played that contest in front of the largest crowd in the 98-year history of Nippert Stadium. Now, they'll try and match that same intensity level in the unfriendly confines of Memorial Stadium.
Illinois' first season under Tim Beckman produced only two wins in 2012, but they are already halfway towards that total in 2013 following last week's season-opening 42-34 triumph over Southern Illinois. Considering the Fighting Illini have won 16 straight home openers and were off to a 2-1 start last year, they are far from a finished product. That was evident in the latter stages of last week's game as SIU made things interesting down the stretch after falling behind big early.
In the only prior meeting between these two programs, a then fifth-ranked Cincinnati squad claimed a 49-36 victory over the Illini on Nov. 27, 2009.
Bearcat senior Munchie Legaux beat out Brendon Kay for the starting quarterback job coming out of preseason camp. Legaux had an up-and-down game against the Boilermakers, as he completed 13-of-20 passes for 145 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran for 55 yards and a score on six carries. The Bearcats used a balanced attack, as they posted 221 yards on the ground and 204 through the air, with 12 different receivers logging at least one catch. Running backs Ralph David Abernathy IV and Hosey Williams combined for 122 yards and two TDs.
Defensively, the Bearcats put forth their best team effort since 2009 as they allowed a mere 226 total yards. The unit allowed only 65 rushing yards, which was their lowest total since holding Connecticut to 36 yards last season. In addition, UC came away with four takeaways, which often helped in the field position battle as the Bearcats average starting field position was their 44- yard line. Corey Mason had a team-high five tackles to go along with two quarterback hurries, while Arryn Chenault finished with four stops and a fumble recovery.
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase started his senior campaign with a bang, as he was named this week's Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week. Scheelhaase completed 28-of-36 passes for a career-high 416 yards against Southern Illinois, marking the 10th-best single-game effort in school history. At one point during the second quarter, he completed 12 consecutive passes, seven of which came during a two-minute drill just before the half. His 340 passing yards in the first half were the most ever by an Illini QB. Sophomore running back Josh Ferguson posted his first career 100-yard receiving game (103 yards) and finished with 152 all-purpose yards on only 13 touches. Senior wideout Ryan Lankford chipped in with a career-high 115 receiving yards.
Linebackers Jonathan Brown and Mason Monheim played up to their usual high levels against SIU. Brown had a team-high nine tackles, while Monheim was right on his heels with eight. Brown was a Butkus Award semifinalist last season and Monheim became the first true-freshman ever to lead the Illini in tackles. While it was encouraging to see those two pick up right where they left off, one source of concern is how the defense appeared to let off the gas late in the game. After holding the Salukis to 111 total yards on their first eight drive, Illinois gave up 20 points and 295 yards on SIU's final five possessions. But with only four starters returning from last year's group, those kinds of growing pains are to be expected.
UC is looking to reach double-digit victories for the third straight season, which would be an unprecedented accomplishment in program history. The Bearcats are stepping up the competition level a bit this week, and they'll figure to have their hands full with Scheelhaase and company playing on their home turf.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cincinnati 31, Illinois 24
09/04 10:39:26 ET