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In Champaign, it's the passing game that's now the toast of the
By Ivan Maisel
The mere presence of freshman receivers Jamaal Clark and Ade Adeyemo tells you
all you need to know about the rebirth of Illinois football. For most of the
last decade, under coach and defensive specialist Lou Tepper, the Illini took
all the fun out of offensive football, not only for their opponents but also for
themselves. Now, thanks to coach Ron Turner's wide-open passing offense, the
Illini are having fun again. Junior quarterback Kurt Kittner threw for 2,702
yards and 24 touchdowns last year -- the sort of numbers that tend to attract
high school All-Americas like Clark, a 6'3", 185-pounder from St. Louis,
and Adeyemo, a 6'2", 185-pound Chicago native.
| The Book
| An opposing team's coach sizes up the
"They snuck up on people last year. Not this year.... Kittner is as good as
anybody at throwing the three-step drop, and [running back] Rocky Harvey is a
bull. They don't have a big-play guy on offense, but they do a good job of
controlling the ball.... They don't have any defensive stars, but they pursue
the ball very well."
Clark and Adeyemo signed on despite Illinois's depth at receiver, figuring there
would be enough passes to go around. Last year Kittner threw touchdown passes to
11 different players. The closest the Illini come to a go-to guy is sophomore
flanker Brandon Lloyd, who stepped off a curb last month and broke his leg,
making the freshman duo that much more
Kittner's breakout season in
'99 brings raised hopes in 2000.Damian
Every coach who has tried to resurrect a program has prayed for recruits like
Clark and Adeyemo. Turner also inherited one in fifth-year senior tackle Marques
Sullivan. The Oak Park, Ill., native was wooed by Florida and Wisconsin, among
others, before settling on his home-state team. Sullivan started every game at
right tackle as a redshirt freshman in '97 (Illinois went 0-11) and '98 (3-8).
He was moved to left tackle last season and, like the rest of the offense,
blossomed. Last year Illinois was third in the Big Ten in passing (233.8
yards per game) and second in scoring (32.3 points). Ten starters from that unit
are back, including Kittner, who rebounded from a brutal freshman season (44.4%
completion rate, one TD, seven interceptions) with a banner
In order to challenge for the Big Ten title, the Illini will have to find
playmakers on defense. Junior strong safety Bobby Jackson returns after missing
last season with an ACL tear in his left knee. He and junior free safety
Muhammad Abdullah will be a steadying influence for the talented but
inexperienced cornerback trio of Eugene Wilson, Trayvon Waller and Anthony Hurd.
The linebacking corps, once the strength of the program, is now the weak
"It's going to be tough," says Kittner, "especially in the
league. Everyone, including ourselves, expects us to do
Issue date: August 14, 2000
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