Big Ten honors big-time Illini

 

 

By Jason Grodsky

For the first time in 10 years two Illinois football players have earned honors as the Big Ten’s players of the week in the same week.

Junior running back Rashard Mendenhall and junior defensive end Will Davis were announced Monday as the Big Ten’s Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week, respectively, for their performances in the Illini’s 27-14 victory against Indiana on Saturday.

The last time two Illini won the weekly awards on the same date was in 1994, when quarterback Johnny Johnson and linebacker Dana Howard earned the honors after leading the Illini to an upset road win against No. 17 Ohio State on Oct. 8, 1994.

“Everybody has been calling me and e-mailing me,” Mendenhall said. “It’s definitely a great honor. It’s been a while since we’ve had one at Illinois.”

Mendenhall led the Illini offense with a career-high 214 rushing yards on 27 carries against the Hoosiers. The Skokie, Ill., native averaged 7.9 yards per carry and found the end zone twice – once rushing and once receiving – to earn the first offensive player of the week award for the Illini since quarterback Jon Beutjer took home the honor on Sept. 22, 2003.

Mendenhall became the first Illini rusher to run for more than 200 yards since Rocky Harvey ran for 215 yards against Middle Tennessee State during the 1998 season.

With his performance against the Hoosiers, Mendenhall now ranks second in the conference with 134.0 yards per game, behind only Michigan’s Mike Hart, who has carried the ball 50 more times than Mendenhall.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a guy rush for 200 yards and I’m happy for (Mendenhall),” head coach Ron Zook said. “I’m starting to see him develop into the guy we all know he can be. He’s running with power and running tough and he’s continuing to improve.”

Mendenhall is also one of four nominees for this week’s AT&T; All-America Player of the Week award, which is voted on by fans on ESPN.com. He joins Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, Syracuse wide receiver Taj Smith and Tulane University running back Matt Forte as a nominee for the award.

The Illini running back was joined in the conference’s weekly honors by Davis, who set a career high for tackles for loss (five) and sacks (four). Davis is the Co-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week with Michigan senior safety Jamar Adams.

The junior defensive end finished the game with seven tackles, including five solo, and also forced a fumble on Indiana’s first offensive possession. His four sacks are tied for the third-highest single-game total in Big Ten history and were the most for an Illinois player since Simeon Rice set the school record with five sacks against Washington State in 1994.

The Hoosiers entered the game ranked third in the conference and 17th nationally with 44.3 points per outing, but Davis and the rest of the Illini defense held the Hoosiers to just 14 points.

“It’s an honor; I was in awe a little bit when I first heard the news,” Davis said. “It’s great to get an award like that.”

Mike Theodore contributed to this report