Football not afraid of competing on the road

A.J. Jenkins doesn’t like airplanes.

The senior wide receiver from Jacksonville, Fla., prefers taking a bus when the No. 19 Illini travel on the road, where he can calmly listen to music, talk on the phone and sleep before the game.

“I even drove home before; I drove to Florida,” Jenkins said. “I don’t like planes. I’ll take a bus down to Florida, too. I’m cool with that.”

Jenkins said he’s fine with the three-hour bus ride to Bloomington, Ind., for the Illini’s first road game of the season, and he’s excited to break out the white road jerseys and build off his 268-yard performance against Northwestern.

“I like going on the road, period, just because I like when the fans are against us, yelling at us and stuff like that. It’s fun,” Jenkins said.

Before the season started, the Illini split their schedule into three parts — nonconference opponents, Big Ten away games and home games. Illinois successfully handled the first section of its season, remaining undefeated after five straight home games, including last weekend’s conference win over Northwestern.

“It was nice way to start the season,” sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. “Pat on the back to (Illini head coach Ron) Zook and everyone else who made the schedule this year. … This is the first road game of the year, so it’s going to be a little different circumstances, but this is where we wanted to be.”

The Illini head into the third phase of their season this Saturday against the Hoosiers, one win away from becoming bowl eligible. Last season, it took until the second-to-last game of the season for the Illini to qualify for a bowl game. While Scheelhaase said he’s happy with his team’s standing through five games, playing on the road will present a different challenge.

“There’s always different things when you go on the road, especially when we’ve been used to being at home,” Scheelhaase said. “Obviously, we’ll miss our crowd, miss playing in front of them, but you’ve got to make adjustments. It’ll be different being in a different locker room, having walkthroughs in a different place, but if we focus on this trip like a business trip, as we have been taking care of business these last few weekends, we’ll be just fine.”

Sophomore wide receiver Spencer Harris likes going on the road just as much as he does playing at home. Although he said he doesn’t care where he plays, Harris likes seeing the different atmospheres and stadiums at other campuses.

“The best feeling is when you shut up the hometown’s crowd with a big play or something,” Harris said. “It’s such a great feeling.”

Last season, the Illini went 1-3 on the road and 2-1 at neutral sites. Illinois’ lone road victory came on Homecoming in University Park, Pa., against Penn State. The Illini averaged 32 points on the road in 2010, as opposed to 33 points at home.

“Any time you’re on the road, you know it’s kind of us against everyone,” Zook said. “And, you know, our guys, they feel that way. I think everyone knows that Big Ten (games) are hard, but Big Ten games on the road are real hard.”