FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Devil Stadium (71,706) -- Tempe, Arizona. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Illinois 1-0, ASU 1-0. Away Record: Illinois 0-0, ASU 0-0. Neutral Record: Illinois 0-0, ASU 0-0. Conference Record: Illinois 0-0, ASU 0-0. Series Record: Arizona State leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: Two head coaches will try to preserve their perfect records with their new programs as the Illinois Fighting Illini journey to Pac-12 country to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe.
Illinois began the Tim Beckman era with an impressive 24-7 win over Western Michigan in Champaign. Beckman landed with the Big Ten program after guiding Toledo to a pair of bowl games in three seasons. The Fighting Illini's victory over WMU puts them in position to start out 2-0 in back-to-back years for the first time since doing so in the 2000 and 2001 campaigns. Beckman's new team controlled its opening game against the Broncos by holding a time of possession advantage of more than 11 minutes, caused by phenomenal defensive play.
Todd Graham made a solid first impression in his debut as head coach. The Sun Devils compiled 554 yards of total offense and were stingy on the other side of the ball as they rolled to an easy 63-6 win over Northern Arizona. The victory ended a five-game losing streak that closed out ASU's 2011 season. Graham improved his career head coaching record to 50-29, which he amassed during three years at Tulsa and one at Pittsburgh. His team's 63 points in the opener were the most ASU has scored in any contest since Sept. 1, 2005.
The series between these programs was renewed last season after 23 years. Illinois trails in the all-time series, 2-1, but won the last meeting, a 17-14 defensive battle in 2011.
Although the Fighting Illini cruised to a 17-point victory in the opener, the offense managed only 248 total yards. Junior QB Nathan Scheelhaase has been an important aspect of the attack over the past two seasons. The junior gave Illinois its first points of the season when he connected with WR Ryan Lankford for a 64-yard score. Scheelhaase surpassed both the 4,000 career passing yards (4,061) and 1,500 rushing yards mark (1,513) in the opener before leaving in the third quarter with an ankle injury. His availability for this week is questionable.
Sophomore Reilly O'Toole filled in for the injured Scheelhaase versus WMU, but only attempted three passes as Illinois milked the clock. Tight end Jon Davis displayed his versatility by leading the team with 54 rushing yards on six carries. Freshman RB Josh Ferguson provided 38 yards on 11 touches, while Donovonn Young managed just two yards on 11 carries.
The slow day by the offense was made irrelevant by the defense's domination. Illinois enters the second week of the season leading the NCAA in rushing yards allowed after the Broncos finished with -6 yards. The defense intercepted WMU's star quarterback Alex Carder three times and also forced a fumble as it anchored the win.
Linebacker Ashante Williams provided senior leadership with nine tackles and a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown. Fellow senior Michael Buchanan deflected a Carder pass and corralled it in afterwards for his first career pick. Buchanan also had two tackles for loss and a sack. Junior Jonathan Brown opened up the year with six tackles, half the credit on a sack, and one forced fumble and recovery. Brown's breakout 2011 season (108 tackles, 14.5 TFL) put him on five national award watchlists heading into this season.
Arizona State's offensive outburst came with an unfamiliar face leading the way. Sophomore Taylor Kelly became the fourth player to start a season opener for the team in as many years. Kelly completed 15-of-19 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown in his first career start, but his second outing will be much tougher against a ferocious Illinois defense.
Freshman wideout Richard Smith is meshing well with Kelly. Smith had a team- high five catches for 45 yards and a score, and also added three carries for 26 yards.
While Smith was the only Sun Devil to catch a pass for six points, four different ASU players combined to score seven rushing touchdowns.. Marion Griffin paced the team with 107 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries, D.J. Foster contributed 67 yards and a score on eight rushes. Cameron Marshall had two rushing touchdowns, Michael Eubank scored one, and ASU rushed for 305 yards as a team.
Marshall's two rushing scores brings his career total to 31. He trails ASU's all-time leader, Woody Green, by eight touchdowns and will tie J.R. Redmond for third place if he scores again.
Arizona State's defense also appeared flawless as it held Northern Arizona to 237 yards and six points. The Sun Devils finished with nine tackles for loss and two sacks against their FCS opponent.
Senior linebacker Brandon Magee showed his is back at 100 percent. After missing all of 2011 with an injury sustained in preseason, Magee had a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown against NAU in his return to action. Alden Darby and Viliami Moeakiola both recorded an interception in the opener as well.
This Big Ten/Pac 12 clash features two evenly matched opponents. The availability and effectiveness of Scheelhaase will be vital to the outcome. The ASU offense which appeared to be a juggernaut in its opener may experience a bit of a power outage when the Fighting Illini come to town.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Illinois 27, Arizona State 24Game Date and Time
Saturday, September 8, 10:30 p.m. (et)