Chicago Colleges: Darius Millines

Now that spring practice is solidly in the rearview mirror, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team for the 2013 season.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or had to go battle White Walkers north of The Wall. That could be because of their value to the team, or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Let's turn now to the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Jonathan Brown, LB

Don't forget that Brown might never have been 100 percent healthy in 2012, when the Illini defense struggled mightily. He played in nine games but lacked the production he showed in a breakout sophomore campaign. Would Brown have made a huge difference in Illinois' final 2-10 record? Most likely not, since the team had so many other problems. But don't discount just how valuable a player he can be. This is a guy, after all, who had 108 tackles, six sacks and 19.5 TFLs in 2011. While Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina turned in promising campaigns as true freshman linebackers last year, defensive coordinator Chris Beatty would love to have a healthy Brown as a defensive difference maker in 2013.

Donovonn Young, RB

Frankly, it's a tough call finding two truly indispensable Illini because of how undistinguished most of the returning players are. That happens on a 2-10 team. We believe that the offense is better off with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase starting, but that Reilly O'Toole or even freshman Aaron Bailey could handle the reins without him. Illinois will likely need Martize Barr and Miles Osei to stay healthy among a thin receiving corps, especially after the dismissal of Darius Millines. But Young is a guy who looks like a potential centerpiece of the offense, especially after he ran for 86 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game. He's a physical runner who could provide the punch in Bill Cubit's spread offense and improve a ground game that ranked last in the Big Ten in yards per carry last year. Josh Ferguson is a solid option at running back as well and brings a lot of speed to the table. But he's also been injury prone during his career, making Young look even more indispensable.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Nebraska
Indiana
Michigan State
Ohio State
Iowa
Penn State
Illinois' search for playmakers to spark its sputtering offense in 2013 won't include wide receiver Darius Millines.

Head coach Tim Beckman confirmed to The (Champaign) News-Gazette that Millines and defensive lineman Darrius Caldwell are no longer members of the Illini program because of an unspecified violation of team policy. Millines was suspended in March for violating team policy and missed spring practice, and Caldwell also sat out the spring because of academic issues.

"We gave them both opportunities," Beckman told The News-Gazette.

Millines, a senior, started three games as a true freshman in 2010 and had been pegged to be a major contributor, but injuries limited his production the past two seasons. He still finished second on the team last season with 319 receiving yards on 32 catches despite being hobbled.

Caldwell appeared in all 12 games last season in a defensive end/linebacker hybrid role, and showed some promise with 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. He could have been in the mix to start at the "Leo" position, but that job likely will go to Houston Bates this season.

Beckman didn't specify why Millines and Caldwell aren't playing this season, and didn't say where they could transfer.

Illinois made Miles Osei and Steve Hull full-time receivers this spring, and both players should be part of a rotation that will include Ryan Lankford, last season's leading receiver, junior-college transfer Martize Barr, and Spencer Harris.

Spring previews: Leaders Division

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
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Spring practice is under way in the Big Ten, so let's take a look at what's on tap for the six teams in the Leaders Division.

ILLINOIS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. Coaching staff makeover: Illinois players are used to coaching changes, and Tim Beckman's staff received a significant overhaul during the winter as five assistants departed the program (four voluntarily). The biggest change comes at offensive coordinator, as former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit takes over. Cubit has to implement his system and identify more playmakers with a unit that finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring and total offense last season.

2. Lines in limbo: The Illini not only lost significant pieces on both the offensive and defensive lines, but they have new position coaches at both spots as well. Defensive line has been Illinois' strongest spot, but the team must replace two future NFLers in Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence. Glenn Foster is also gone, so the front four will have a very different look. The offensive line struggled mightily in 2012 and needs young players like Michael Heitz and Ted Karras to take steps this spring.

3. Getting healthy: Illinois lost so many starters to injury in 2012 that it became difficult to get an accurate gauge on what Beckman could do with a healthy roster. Although linebacker Jonathan Brown and receiver Darius Millines will be limited this spring, the rest of the team is ready to go and Illinois added several potential big contributors from the junior-college ranks. If Illinois has any chance of taking a major step in 2013, its best players must stay on the field this spring and allow the coaches a chance to evaluate and scheme for the season.

INDIANA

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Quarterback cluster: While some Big Ten teams (Penn State, Purdue) have hardly any experience at quarterback, Indiana has three signal-callers who have logged significant field time. Tre Roberson, who started the 2012 season before suffering a broken leg in Week 2, returns this spring, and it will be interesting to see how he looks and whether he outperforms Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld. Coffman started the final 10 games last fall and passed for 2,734 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Sudfield added 632 pass yards and seven scoring strikes. Indiana's quarterback depth is a good problem to have, but it would be good to see some separation this spring.

2. Defensive leadership: Fielding a Big Ten-level defense remains Indiana's top priority, and the Hoosiers need leaders to develop this spring. Top linemen Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr. depart, and Indiana needs to build depth up front after allowing a league-worst 231.3 rush yards per game in 2012. Linebacker is another spot IU must upgrade, and David Cooper should be ready to take the reins after recording 86 tackles in 12 starts a year ago. Like Illinois, Indiana also welcomes several junior-college defenders, including tackle Jordan Heiderman.

3. Secondary surge: All the question marks in Indiana's defensive front seven make it even more important for the secondary to make strides this spring. The Hoosiers have no shortage of experience in the back four with players like Greg Heban, Mark Murphy, Brian Williams (12 starts last season) and Antonio Marshall (started final seven games). There's potential for the secondary to be a strength for IU in 2013, but the group must make more plays after recording a league-low seven interceptions last fall.

OHIO STATE

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 13 (at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati)

What to watch:

1. Taking a pass: The highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten returns every starter but two, and all that experience, talent and familiarity with the spread attack heading into Urban Meyer's second season with the Buckeyes figures to make them even more dangerous. The key will be how much more efficient Braxton Miller can become as a passer.

2. Getting defensive: For all the pieces the offense retains, the defense is a completely different story heading into spring camp. The Buckeyes have to replace the entire defensive line after losing three seniors and junior Johnathan Hankins to the draft, two starting linebackers are gone and the graduation of cornerback Travis Howard leaves an additional hole in the safety. There will be no shortage of competition for first-team reps.

3. Looking for leaders: Meyer and the senior class that has since departed quickly forged a deep bond, and he’s gone out of his way to praise those players' leadership as integral in the unbeaten season that started his tenure with the Buckeyes. Now he needs a new wave of emotional speakers and relentless workers to take the torch from the likes of John Simon and Zach Boren, and Meyer will be making a point to identify his best candidates over the 15 workouts leading into the summer.

-- Austin Ward, BuckeyeNation

PENN STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Quarterback competition: With the departure of fifth-year senior Matt McGloin, quarterback is now the biggest question mark on this team. Sophomore Steven Bench has a head start and will compete against juco early enrollee Tyler Ferguson. Christian Hackenberg won't join the team until summer. Can this no-huddle offense be as effective?

2. Replacing LBs Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges: Mike Hull, who usually played inside, will have to make some adjustments as one of the expected replacements for the All-Big Ten linebacker tandem. The other spot is up for grabs, and fans should expect to see a battle between Ben Kline and Nyeem Wartman.

3. New faces at WR, TE: Redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis, the headliner of PSU's 2012 class, could challenge Brandon Moseby-Felder as the No. 2 WR target. Adam Breneman, the No. 1 tight-end recruit in the country, is also hoping to be recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in time for the Blue-White Game. Both could be stars down the road for PSU.

-- Josh Moyer, NittanyNation

PURDUE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. Behind these Hazell eyes: Yes, I'll justifiably take the abuse for the Kelly Clarkson reference, but new Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has his first chance to evaluate his team on the field this spring. Hazell brings a completely new coaching staff and a new approach to Purdue, which fell short of expectations in 2012 and has significant questions on both sides of the ball. He seems to be getting good buy-in from the players so far, but it'll be interesting to see how things progress during the 15 workouts this spring.

2. Quarterback race: If you like mysteries, you'll enjoy Purdue's quarterback competition this spring. The combination of a new coaching staff and unproven but talented candidates makes the race virtually impossible to predict. Hazell and new offensive coordinator John Shoop will study redshirt freshman Austin Appleby, who could have a slight edge to win the job, along with redshirt freshman Bilal Marshall and early enrollee Danny Etling, a decorated recruit. Don't forget about Rob Henry, who started in 2010 and would have been the top quarterback in 2011 if not for an ACL injury weeks before the season.

3. Short stopper: Purdue has to find a replacement for standout defensive tackle Kawann Short, the centerpiece of the defensive line the past few seasons. Bruce Gaston Jr. will continue to occupy the other top tackle spot, but there will be plenty of competition to join him in the starting lineup. Purdue's defensive line underachieved in 2012, and while Gaston and ends Ryan Russell and Ryan Isaac all return, the Boilers will really miss Short's production if they don't build more depth up the middle.

WISCONSIN

Spring start: March 9

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. New era dawns: Consistency is the norm at Wisconsin, but players will have to adjust to a dramatically different coaching staff for the second consecutive season. This time, it includes a new leading man in Gary Andersen, who gets his first chance to work with the players on the practice field. Andersen doesn't plan to overhaul the schemes, but he and his coaches will put their spin on things and see what works. He'll also bring a different personality to practice but one that athletic director Barry Alvarez thinks will fit the program's culture.

2. Intrigue at quarterback: Arguably no team in America has a more interesting quarterback race than the Badgers do this spring. They have three players with starting experience -- Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and Danny O'Brien -- plus a talented redshirt freshman (Bart Houston) who arrived as a decorated recruit and a junior-college addition (Tanner McEvoy) brought in by the new coaches. Add in a new system under coordinator Andy Ludwig, and it's anyone's guess who will separate himself this spring. Be sure to tune in.

3. Secondary in the spotlight: The Badgers lose three of four starters in the secondary from the 2012 squad, including top cornerbacks Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie. The new staff is aware of the numbers issue and signed junior-college All-America Donnell Vercher earlier this month. Other players who will compete for starting spots include cornerbacks Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean and safeties Michael Trotter and Michael Caputo. Wisconsin hopes to have some answers in the back four by the end of the spring.

Best Case/Worst Case: Illinois

August, 13, 2012
8/13/12
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Now that the season is just around the corner, it's time to take our annual look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for each Big Ten team.

Last year, we did this in video form, but you'll have to read words this time around. We'll go in alphabetical order in this series, and try to have a little fun along the way. First up is Illinois.

Best Case

It's Beck-mania! The Illini have long been seen as underachievers, but first-year coach Tim Beckman is able to wring the best out of the talent Ron Zook collected in Champaign. Beckman inherited a strong defense that turns things up a notch in 2012, and his spread system is the cure to what ailed the offense in the second half of 2011. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase fully embraces the spread, using his legs and arm to become one of the Big Ten's most dynamic playmakers. The skill position question marks become answers as Josh Ferguson, Donovonn Young and Darius Millines all make the leap. Defensive end Michael Buchanan and linebacker Jonathan Brown battle for the national lead in sacks, while defensive tackle Akeem Spence plays up to his first-round potential.

The Illini cruise through the nonconference schedule, waxing another first-year coach at a major program by winning handily at Arizona State. They beat Penn State by two touchdowns in the Big Ten opener, after which several Nittany Lions players are seen talking to Illinois assistants about a possible 2013 transfer. Illinois loses at Wisconsin the following week but pulls a stunner in Ann Arbor by catching Michigan looking ahead to the Michigan State game. It loses at Ohio State on Nov. 3, but ends the season with a four-touchdown win at Northwestern as Rahm Emanuel presents Beckman a key to the city. Since Wisconsin finishes with three losses, the Illini clinch the title in the probation-saddled Leaders Division. Hungry Illinois fans flock to Indianapolis, where their team knocks off Michigan a second time to advance to the Rose Bowl. Just like that, it's a football school again.

Worst Case

They fired Ron Zook for this? Beckman finds that he's not in Toledo anymore, as his transition to the Big Ten is a rough one. While the defense is solid, it misses Whitney Mercilus and Vic Koenning more than anyone realized. The spread system is an odd fit for a team that lacks many playmakers at receiver or running back, and neither Scheelhaase nor Reilly O'Toole is fully able to master it in a seesaw quarterback competition. Much like the second half of last year, Illinois simply can't score, and its special-teams play hasn't improved much.

The Beckman era gets off to a shaky start when Western Michigan -- which played a close game in Champaign a year ago -- springs the upset in the opener. The Illini are 0-2 after a loss at Arizona State. They rebound to win the next two but are crushed at home by a Penn State team that's angry about all those Illini assistants sniffing around State College this summer. That begins a spiral of losing, as the next two games are blowouts on the road at Wisconsin and Michigan. Illinois beats Indiana but falls at Ohio State, drops another home game to Purdue and ends the year getting pushed around by resurgent Northwestern. The Wildcats somehow win the Big Ten and prompt Chicago to dye the river purple. Meanwhile, the Illini sit at home after a 4-8 season, wondering what the future holds.

Spring game preview: Illinois

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
2:51
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Seven Big Ten teams hold their spring games Saturday, and we're taking a closer look at each one of them.

Next up: The annual Orange and Blue Spring Game at Illinois. Here are all the vitals:

When: 3 p.m. ET (2 p.m. local time), Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium

Admission: Free. All seating will be in the east stands. Free parking is available in the lots surrounding the stadium and Assembly Hall.

TV: The game will be streamed live on both BTN2Go and the Big Ten Digital Network. The Big Ten Network will broadcast the game on tape-delay at 7 p.m. ET Sunday.

Weather forecast: Partly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms possible, temperatures between 66-76 degrees, 50 percent chance of rain, winds at 19-20 mph.

What to watch for: Illinois should have one of the more entertaining spring games in the Big Ten. New head coach Tim Beckman said players will approach it "as if it's a real game." The team's seniors were divided into two groups and drafted teams earlier this week. The game will be played with a normal clock in the first half and a running clock in the second half (except if the game is close in the final two minutes). Another unique tidbit: Beckman will go into the stands and select Illinois students to call two plays per half for both teams.

Beckman wants to put on a show for the fans, who should get a decent sense of the new systems Illinois is using on both sides of the ball. The Illini are employing an up-tempo spread attack on offense, and it will be interesting to see how quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole are adjusting. There are depth issues at both wide receiver and running back, and Illinois is bolstering the spots with players such as Miles Osei, a reserve quarterback who could see time at both receiver and running back Saturday, and starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who will see time at receiver. Another defensive back, Justin Green, is being used as a running back. Top wideout Darius Millines (foot) is out, so plenty of others will have opportunities to make plays.

The changes aren't as dramatic on defense, as coordinator Tim Banks uses a similar scheme to his predecessor, Vic Koenning. Illinois looks very strong in the defensive front seven, and coaches have praised players such as Michael Buchanan, Jonathan Brown and Justin Staples. Safeties Supo Sanni and Steve Hull, both projected starters, are out for the game.

Video: Illinois WR Darius Millines

March, 28, 2012
3/28/12
10:52
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Illinois wide receiver Darius Millines talks about the team's new offense, the quarterback competition and his expectations for 2012.

Illini offense aims to regain its swagger

March, 28, 2012
3/28/12
9:00
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- After the 2011 season, Illinois center Graham Pocic sat down with his linemate, Jeff Allen, to compile a highlight tape for Allen to show NFL talent evaluators.

It sounded like a fun exercise. And for a little while, it was.

Pocic and Allen took great joy in reviewing the first six games from the past year. Illinois was winning and scoring points. Life was good.

Then Week 7 arrived. Cracks began to form as Illinois lost 17-7 to an Ohio State team that completed only one pass.

Pocic's and Allen's review session soon made them want to avert their eyes.

"It was really depressing," Pocic said. "All the great opportunities we had, especially after starting 6-0. Mostly I was trying to figure out what went wrong with the offensive line, with the running game, why we couldn't run the ball like we did with Mikel [Leshoure] the year before.

"It was hard to find a reason why certain things happened."

Illinois dropped six consecutive games after its record 6-0 start, and the offense bore the brunt of the struggles. After scoring 33 points or more in four of the first six games, including a combined 79 points in the first two weeks of Big Ten play, Illinois failed to tally more than 17 points during its six-game slide and finished three games with just seven points.

Even when Illinois ended its slide in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA, it was hardly an offensive explosion (20 points).

The Illini finished the season ranked in the top 15 nationally in several major defensive categories, including points allowed and yards allowed. While the team had other problems, namely special teams, its evaporating offense was most disheartening.
[+] EnlargeReilly O'Toole
Bradley Leeb/US PresswireQuarterback Reilly O'Toole (4) and running back Donovann Young are entering their sophomore seasons with a brand-new offense.
Chris Beatty knew all about Illinois' season of extremes on offense, even though he didn't witness it firsthand. And while Beatty and Billy Gonzales, the team's new co-offensive coordinators, are spending spring practice installing their system, they're also trying to foster something less tangible.

"You get beat down a little bit when you struggle at the end of the year," Beatty said. "So you want to get some kind of swagger back. The only way to do that is to lay a good foundation as far as making some plays, getting a good knowledge base. Confidence comes with some success and knowing what you're doing.

"Those things, we're trying to build up because obviously, the last six games, there were some struggles."

When Beatty reviewed the final six regular-season games, he saw some issues along the offensive line and with the running game, and few consistent skill players aside from receiver A.J. Jenkins. But he also saw a group that lacked confidence.

"It's hard to have a swagger," quarterback Reilly O'Toole said, "with no points on the board."

The offense won't be able to light up the scoreboard until September, but spring practice has provided the platform to rebuild morale. Players like O'Toole and Pocic are excited about the multiple spread offense being installed.

Pocic said he's never been in such a complex offense. O'Toole said that while other Big Ten teams run spread offenses, Illinois' system will be unique in its flexibility and the number of angles from which the offense can attack.

"Unpredictable," wide receiver Darius Millines said of the new offense.

"We may run a play, and someone may think we're coming back with the same play, like a running play to the left. And we may play-action with it and throw deep over your head," he continued. "The defense has to be on their P's and Q's at all times."

And while the installation process is gradual and Illinois must build depth at running back, receiver and along the offensive line, there are mini-breakthroughs, like the one at Monday night's practice.

"We made some good plays and the offense was getting hyped, and we actually got rolling for a little bit," Millines said. "We actually felt how we felt in the beginning of last year. We got into a little rhythm, and our whole offense, we took that into consideration, that, 'OK, if we keep making plays, we can't be stopped.'"

Illinois offense looking for answers

November, 8, 2011
11/08/11
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Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino entered the season brimming with confidence, and for good reason.

His unit had set team records for scoring (423 points) and points per game (32.5) in 2010 and returned most of its key pieces, namely quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Most of the questions about Illinois rested with a defense that had lost three players to the NFL draft, including first-round pick Corey Liuget.

[+] EnlargeNathan Scheelhaase
Jerry Lai/US PresswireQB Nathan Scheelhaase, 2, and the Illinois offense have struggled the past three games.
"We're always going to set our expectations high," Petrino told ESPN.com in August. "We set the school record last year, and we're going to break it this year."

Petrino looked prophetic through the first six games, as Illinois averaged 34.7 points and 447.7 yards. The Illini recorded 32 plays of 20 yards or longer. Scheelhaase and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins formed the Big Ten's most dangerous passing connection, as Jenkins soared to the top of the national receiving chart with 815 yards and seven touchdowns.

A surprisingly effective defense complemented the offense, and Illinois swept its first six games to get off to its best start since 1951.

But the Illini since have backslid, dropping three straight games. While the defense continues to perform well, the offense has disappeared.

Illinois has scored only 28 points during the losing streak, including none in the first half and only seven before the fourth quarter. Amazingly, the Illini had more yards and more first downs than any of its past three opponents -- Ohio State, Purdue and Penn State -- and dropped all three contests.

What's wrong with the Illini offense? It's not complicated, according to Petrino.

"Blocking, protecting, throwing and catching -- the basics," Petrino told ESPN.com. "You've got to block people. You've got to hit people when they're open. You've got to catch the ball. And then you've got to run through some tackles. Just the basic stuff we've got to do better. We've kind of hurt ourselves from that standpoint in the last three games.

"We've got to do it better."

They need to start Saturday against No. 24 Michigan at Memorial Stadium. Illinois' once-promising season could go down the drain if the offense doesn't resurface.

A potential turnaround for the Illini starts with the offensive line, considered one of the Big Ten's best before the season. Illinois boasts experience up front and continuity, as there has been only one change in the starting lineup all season.

But Illinois' front five has struggled against some of the Big Ten's best defensive linemen, allowing too many negative-yardage plays. Opposing teams have recorded 24 tackles for loss and eight sacks during Illinois' losing streak.

"A lot of times we've been getting beat up front," Petrino said. "That doesn't necessarily mean it's always the O-line. Sometimes it's the tight end or the back, [and the] quarterback a couple times needed to get the ball out of his hands quicker."

Petrino also is looking for more big plays. Jenkins and Scheelhaase provided a bunch of them early in the season, but defenses have done better at limiting Jenkins' effectiveness the past three games.

Illinois has recorded just three plays of 20 yards or longer in the past three games -- all passes from Scheelhaase to Jenkins.

"Some of the other guys have got to do it, too," Petrino said. "Darius Millines did it early in the year and he was hurt for a while, but I think he's getting back, being closer to being 100 percent, so that will help. Jon Davis, our freshman tight end, has made some plays for us. Ryan Lankford has got to start making some plays.

"And then in the running game, we've got to bust through the holes and get some long runs, also."

Senior running back Jason Ford has been a bright spot, recording 183 rush yards on 34 carries in the past two games. But Ford's longest run this season is just 18 yards.

"Bottom line, defenses are too good this day and age if you go three, four yards the whole time," Petrino said. "You've got to get some big plays."

Illinois also needs to start games better, especially against a Michigan team that has improved as games go along. The Illini averaged 17.5 points in the first half through the first six games, but they've since limped out of the gate.

"We haven't played worth a darn in the first quarter of the last three games," Petrino said. "It's something we take pride in. We script our opening plays and we work on them all week.

"So we've got to go out and play fast and definitely get going early."

Saturday would be a good time for a better start.

Ohio State-Illinois pregame notes

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
2:20
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A few notes from warm-ups as Ohio State and Illinois are about to get started here at Memorial Stadium.
  • Ohio State's quarterback rotation started off with Braxton Miller, Joe Bauserman, Kenny Guiton and Taylor Graham. But Guiton worked a good amount with the second-team offense. We'll see if Bauserman gets the first shot behind Miller, or if it will be Guiton.
  • I didn't see Illinois wide receiver Darius Millines in warm-ups. He's expected to miss another game with a foot injury.
  • Miller seemed to be moving around well. He'll get a boost from having Dan Herron back in the lineup.

It's game day at Memorial Stadium

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
1:51
PM CT
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Greetings from central Illinois, where today the 16th-ranked Fighting Illini try to maintain their undefeated record against a desperate Ohio State team. The teams are playing for the Illibuck, which Ohio State has retained since 2008.

Ohio State leads the series 63-30-4 and holds a 34-12 edge in Champaign.

It's a beautiful day for football, as the skies are clear and there's a slight chill in the air. The wind could be a factor as it's blowing at a decent clip to the southeast. A good atmosphere around the stadium today, as Illinois fans are understandably excited about their team, which is off to its best start since 1951.

Illinois is the undefeated team, but most of the pressure rests with Ohio State today. The Buckeyes are trying to avoid dropping below .500 this late in the year for the first time since 1988, the team's last losing season. With Wisconsin coming to Columbus on Oct. 29, Ohio State wants to avoid going 0-for-October. An offense that performed well for two and a half quarters at Nebraska regains the services of senior running back Dan Herron, who returns from suspension. It will be interesting to see how Herron is used among Ohio State's other backs (Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall).

Braxton Miller's health will be a big storyline today. The Buckeyes freshman will start at quarterback after leaving the Nebraska game with a sprained right ankle. The sprain doesn't appear too severe, but how it affects his mobility remains to be seen. Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has been effectively aggressive and creative all season. He'll look for ways to put Miller under pressure, and Ohio State will need a strong performance from its line and its backs in protection.

The Illinois offense comes in with a lot of confidence, as quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins both are playing at an All-Big Ten level. Ohio State's defense needs to rebound after being steamrolled by Nebraska in the final 23 minutes in Lincoln. It's important for Illinois to develop weapons other than Jenkins, whether it's through the run game or with the pass. Darius Millines, the team's No. 2 receiver, will be a game-time decision after missing the past two games with a foot injury.

Illinois has shown impressive resilience this season, fighting through mistakes to get wins. But the Illini need to be careful against an Ohio State team with its back against the wall.

Much more to come throughout the day, so don't go anywhere.

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