Midseason review: Illinois

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
11:00
AM ET
Illinois Fighting Illini

Record: 3-2 (1-1 Big Ten)

After underachieving since the 2008 Rose Bowl, Illinois has turned the tables so far this fall. The Illini are exceeding expectations and certainly look capable of doing more damage in the second half of the season. Talent had never been the problem in Champaign, but Ron Zook made significant upgrades on his coaching staff during the offseason and the results are showing. The Illini finished the first half by dominating Penn State to win in Happy Valley for the first time in team history. Illinois' two losses have come against teams -- No. 1 Ohio State and No. 21 Missouri -- that boast a combined record of 11-0. Arguably no new coordinator in the country has made a bigger impact than Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who has transformed a disorganized unit into one of the Big Ten's better defenses. Linebackers Martez Wilson, Nate Bussey and Ian Thomas lead the way, and the secondary has held up nicely despite losing two starters in preseason camp. Illinois' offense also seems to coming together behind redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who is growing up fast, and talented running back Mikel Leshoure. The Illini head to East Lansing on Saturday with a ton of confidence, and after Michigan State the schedule is very favorable.

Offensive MVP, RB Mikel Leshoure: Leshoure hasn't missed a beat following a strong finish to the 2009 season and continues to put up impressive rushing totals. One of the nation's most underrated running backs ranks second in the Big Ten and 11th nationally in rushing average (119.4 ypg), eclipsing 100 rush yards in four of his first five games this season. Scheelhaase deserves a mention for growing into his role, but Leshoure has been the constant for the Illinois attack.

Defensive MVP, LB Martez Wilson: Thanks to Koenning's tutelage and his own hard work, Wilson is finally looking like the player everyone expected him to be when he came to Illinois as one of the nation's top recruits in 2007. The fourth-year junior leads Illinois in both tackles (46) and tackles for loss (5), and he has added two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. Also meriting mentions are Bussey, who has 3.5 tackles for loss and an interception returned for a touchdown, and defensive lineman Corey Liuget, who has five tackles for loss, two sacks and two pass breakups.

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