Dominant Defensive Performance Helps Lead Illinois To 20-14 Victory Over UCLA

Illinois will face UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in a matchup between two disappointing programs.

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2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Score Update: Illinois Earns 20-14 Victory

After closing out the regular-season on a six-game losing streak, the Illinois Fighting Illini were hoping to finish off the 2011 season on a good note. Thanks to a couple of big plays during the second half, Illinois was able to take advantage of a dominant effort and earn a 20-14 win over UCLA in the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. With the victory, Illinois has now won bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

The turning point of the game came from the Fighting illini defense, as Terry Hawthorne returned an interception for at TD late in the third quarter to grab a 10-7 lead. With the momentum heading into the final quarter, Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase found a rhythm, throwing a 60-yard TD pass to A.J. Jenkins to clinch the victory. Scheelhaase completed 18/30 for 139 yards and also rushed for 110 yards on 22 carries.

Illinois delivered a dominant defensive performance in the win, limiting UCLA to just 220 total yards. Although he threw 2 TD passes, Kevin Prince only completed 14/29 for 202 yards in the loss.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Score Update: Fighting Illini Take 10-7 Heading Into Final Quarter

With both offenses struggling to generate any sort of consistency throughout the opening three quarters, it seemed likely that a big play on the defensive side of the ball could change the trajectory of this game. An interception return for a TD by Terry Hawthorne late in the third quarter could prove to be that play, as it gave Illinois a 10-7 advantage heading into the final quarter of the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Prior to the TD by Hawthorne, the third quarter provided very little production from both teams. Through three quarters, the two offenses have combined to gain just 333 yards of total offense. Nathan Scheelhaase has completed just 13/24 for 66 yards through the air. However, he has rushed for 64 yards on 19 carries, while Donovonn Young has added 47 yards on the ground.

UCLA QB Kevin Prince has struggled mightily, completing just 6/18 and throwing the costly interception to Hawthorne. Derrick Coleman and Johnathan Franklin have combined to rush for 61 yards on 15 carries.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation’s NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation’s Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Score Update: Fighting Illini Trail 7-3 At Half

While it certainly hasn't been an offensive showcase in the opening half of the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the matchup between UCLA and Illinois has at least proven to be competitive. A TD pass from Kevin Prince to Taylor Embree proved to be the only TD of the opening half, as the Bruins hold a 7-3 lead at halftime.

Despite being the dominant team on both sides of the ball, the Fighting Illini were unable to take advantage of opportunities. Illinois saw a fake field goal attempt fail, and had to settle for a field goal at the end of the half despite being in a goal line situation.

UCLA took advantage of a short field to score the lone touchdown of the opening half. However, apart from that scoring drive, the Bruins struggled to find any rhythm. The UCLA offense managed to gain only 66 total yards in the opening 30 minutes of action.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: First Quarter Ends Scoreless

With both Illinois and UCLA undergoing significant transitions since the end of the season, it should come as no surprise that both programs struggled to find any consistency or identity in the opening quarter of the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. In a scoreless first quarter, the two teams combined for just five first downs, with the defense setting the tone for both sides.

Although he struggled throwing the ball, completing just 4/9 for 12 yards and an interception, Nathan Scheelhaase was able to make an impact on the game. Scheelhaase used his legs to move the ball for Illinois, as he rushed for 38 yards in the opening quarter.

In the absence of Richard Brehaut, the UCLA offense struggled with Kevin Prince leading the way. Prince completed just 2/7 for 36 yards in the opening quarter. Shaquelle Evans showed off his ability to make big plays with a 30-yard reception.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Illinois Assistant Coaches Frustrated With 'Unprofessional' Handling Of Contracts

While the Illinois Fighting Illini and the UCLA Bruins players are locked into the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Saturday afternoon, Illini assistant coaches will be distracted by their tenuous contract situation and thinking about finding their next coaching job in college football. After the program fired Ron Zook and hired Vic Koenning as his replacement, some of the coaching staff stayed on with the team for the bowl game, but most have not been offered contract extensions by the school. Therefore, bowl preparation time has been cut down as coaches have been searching for new jobs in the game. Here is exactly why some of the coaches are up in arms right now:

Illinois assistants say they were assured a two-year rollover contract when Zook and former athletic director Ron Guenther hired them; however, when their termination letters arrived a few weeks ago, many were surprised to learn they'd only be paid through Feb. 28. Knowingly or unknowingly, many signed finalized contracts in the summer of 2010 that shortened the school's commitment to them in exchange for other concessions.

via Stewart Mandel of SI.com. This has left more than a few coaches with a bad taste in their mouth.

Quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm

Coaches have families, and you've got to try to find work. That's what time of year it is. At the same time, we care about the kids, and we want to give them all the help we can to succeed [in the game].

Running backs coach DeAndre Smith

It's awkward. We've still worked, we still have a game plan, we're going to go out and execute it, but the human side of it is extremely frustrating.

Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert

In 25 years [of coaching], this is one of the most difficult things I've been involved with. The transition between the administration and us has not been very good. Very unprofessional.

All quotes via Stewart Mandel of SI.com

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Illinois Vs. UCLA: Time, Location, History And More

Illinois and UCLA meet on the gridiron for the 12th time on Saturday afternoon in what Vegas figures will be a tightly-contested game. Illinois desperately wants a win to end their six-game losing streak, and unusually enough, UCLA needs a win just to finish the year at .500 overall.

The Bruins figure to have the crowd on their side since they have far less distance to travel, and the Illini have sold fewer than 2,000 tickets as of Friday.

Location: AT&T Park, San Francisco, CA

Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 31, 2:30 p.m. CT

TV: ESPN

Internet Stream: ESPN3

Odds: Illinois is favored by three points.

Series: UCLA and Illinois have met 11 times previously, with UCLA holding a 6-5 edge.

Official Bowl Website: KraftBowl.org

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Illinois Vs. UCLA: Illini, Bruins Try To Put Disappointing Regular Seasons Behind Them

Illinois and UCLA enter the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl looking to bring a positive end to what has been a disappointing year for both schools. The Illini were reached bowl eligibility in early October with their sixth win of the season but have not won a game since then. UCLA is the first college football team in a decade to earn a bowl bid with a losing record. Both schools fired their head coaches at the end of the regular season.

It figures to be a close game, and a low-scoring one, if Illinois has anything to say about it. The Illini have had trouble moving the football all season, but their defense has is among the nation's best.

UCLA is a bit better offensively, and the Bruins would like to run the football a lot if possible -- they averaged about 40 carries and 24 passing attempts per game in the regular season. Illinois' defense is allowing just 3.3 yards per carry, a figure that ranks 17th nationally. If the Illini can limit UCLA's ground game, there's a good chance they'll be able to limit UCLA's scoring as well.

On the other side of the ball, Illinois is up against a soft UCLA run defense, which could allow the Illini to establish more offensive consistency than they've had in weeks.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl 2011: 4 Illinois Coaches Could Boycott The Game

The Illinois players and coaches already have had a lot of turmoil to handle in the last month -- the team fired head coach Ron Zook, named Vic Koenning the interim head coach and hired Tim Beckman to replace Zook -- and it appears there could be more on the horizon. The latest trouble stems from an apparent misunderstanding between four assistant coaches and the school:

Assistant Joe Gilbert told Sports Illustrated that he, Jeff Brohm, DeAndre Smith and Chip Long may skip the bowl. They contend they were unaware they were signing a one-year contract and were told it was a two-year deal.

The two sides don't have much time to work this out, as kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl 2011: Illini Looking To Win Back-To-Back Bowl Games For The First Time Ever

As the Illinois Fighting Illini and the UCLA Bruins gear up for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Saturday, the Illini are focused on breaking through and making school history in bowl season. Sophomore defensive lineman Akeem Spence brought up an interesting bit of bowl trivia that the Illini will be trying to overcome when the game kicks off in San Francsisco:

In the University of Illinois history, we've never won back to back bowl games. That's why we're playing. We're putting in our all because we're trying to do something that's never been done before.

via Sports Illustrated. Illinois beat Baylor Bears last season in the Texas Bowl, so they could finally close the book on this bowl-game oddity forever if they can knock off the Bruins. Even with the incentives in front of the Illini players, it looks like the school has suffered from accepting the bowl invitation for a game so far from home. NBC's Darren Rovell explains, via Twitter:

No matter how you feel about the particulars of the bowl season, this is still a chance to see some very talented players. Terry Hawthorne and Whitney Mercilus headline the NFL talent, while Reilly O'Toole and Nathan Scheelhaase represent a possible look at the future for the Illini.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Odds: Illinois Fighting Illini A Slight Favorite Over UCLA Bruins

This is a bowl game that's low on buzz because of how the two teams involved finished their respective regular seasons -- Illinois is on a six-game losing streak, while the UCLA Bruins have lost three of four and have a sub-.500 overall record. But it could be more entertaining than anticipated if the game is as close as the Vegas sports books think it will be: Illinois is currently just a 2-1/2 point favorite to beat UCLA.

Both schools replaced their head coaches at the end of the regular season, which is the sort of disruption that could make the game that much more difficult to predict.

The game kicks off at 2:30 p.m. CT on Dec. 31. It will air on ESPN.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl 2011: Illinois' Jason Ford And Jake Kumerow Ruled Academically Ineligible

The task ahead got a little tougher for Illinois when the school announced on Friday that running back Jason Ford and wide receiver Jake Kumerow have been ruled academically ineligible for the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Kumerow's absence may not hurt too much -- he did not have a reception until the final game of the regular season -- but Ford was the team's leading rusher.

Ford is Illinois' leading rusher in 2011 with 600 yards on 155 carries (3.9 ypc) and seven touchdowns. He finishes his career 1,962 career rushing yards, which ranks 16th on the all-time Illinois rushing list, and 26 career rushing touchdowns, which is second in Illinois history behind only Howard Griffith's school record of 31.

With Ford out, the carries likely will end up in the hands of Troy Pollard and Donovonn Young.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl 2011: Four UCLA Players To Miss Bowl

The UCLA Bruins will be four players short due to academic ineligibility or team rules violations as they face the Illinois Fighting Illini in the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, according to UCLA beat writer Jonathan Gold. In a game that's already considered one of the worst bowl match-ups ever given the mediocrity of each team, this definitely isn't a good thing.

UCLA free safety Tony Dye, offensive lineman Alberto Cid and linebacker Isaiah Bowens are all academically ineligible to play in the bowl, according to Gold. He also adds that quarterback Richard Brehaut has been suspended by the team for the bowl due to undisclosed violations of team rules. The moves thin out a roster that wasn't even able to put up a .500 record during the regular season.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl 2011: Illinois May Have To Contend With Thin Backfield

Illinois interim head coach Vic Koenning says his team could be down a pair of backfield members for the bowl game; fullback Jay Prosch has been hospitalized with a staph infection and running back Jason Ford could be ruled academically ineligible.

That would leave Illinois (6-6) with two tailbacks who regularly played this season: senior Troy Pollard, a backup with 462 yards on 62 carries, and Donovonn Young, a freshman who had 406 yards on 75 carries. Young missed the last regular season game with an ankle injury.

Ford was the team's starting running back in 2011 and led the Illini with 600 yards rushing on 155 carries. Pollard and Young carried the ball 137 times between the two of them.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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Vic Koenning, Illinois Defensive Coordinator, Expected To Join North Carolina Staff

Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who recently turned down an offer to stay on staff with new head coach Tim Beckman staff but will still serves as as interim coach for Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA on Dec. 31, is expected to join Larry Fedora's staff at the University of North Carolina as defensive coordinator after the season. 

Here is what SB Nation's University of North Carolina athletics blog, Carolina March, has to say about the potential move:

Carolina fans may be familiar with Koenning from his tenure as Clemson's DC from 2005 to 2008. His defenses were typically strong and his first three finished in the top 25 in scoring, rushing, total, and pass efficiency defense each season. After leaving when Terry Tommy Bowden was fired, he spent one year at his alma mater Kansas State before moving to Champaign. His Illini defense was ranked seventh overall and fourth against the pass., this year, although those numbers may be inflated by a tragic offense often not leaving them in the best of field position...

...Koenning would appear to be a good hire for UNC. Now we just wait to see if it actually happens.   

New Illini head coach Tim Beckman had hoped to retain Koenning, but Koenning rejected the offer and Beckman moved on to make sure Illinois defensive line coach Keith Gilmore will be retained for 2012.    

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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Illinois Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning Will Not Return To Team In 2012

Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will serve as the interim head coach for the Illini in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl after the school fired Ron Zook several weeks ago, but he announced on Wednesday he will leave Illinois after the bowl game to "pursue other opportunities" in his coaching career. New head coach Tim Beckman had hoped to retain Koenning, who helped the Illini finish seventh in the nation in total defense in 2011, but now the team will have to look elsewhere. Here is what Koenning had to say:

"After a great deal of prayer and discussion with my family, I feel it is best to explore other opportunities," Koenning said in a statement released by the program on Wednesday. "The support of the Illini nation has been tremendous and hopefully they will continue to support this team in San Francisco and in the future."    

via the Chicago Tribune. At least one coach decided he will stay on staff with Beckman heading into next season, as Illinois defensive line coach Keith Gilmore will be retained for 2012. Beckman has now been denied his first choice for each coordinator position, as he offered the offensive coordinator job to Toledo's Matt Campbell but was turned down.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl 2011: Illinois Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning Mulling His Future

Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning was hired by Ron Zook in 2010, and new coach Tim Beckman would like to keep him on board in the same capacity. However, because Beckman plans to clean house and bring in his own guys to work with Koenning, it appears that Koenning is leaning toward moving on to a new school:

"Y’all know me,’’ Koenning said. "I’m only as good as the staff. The success we had this year was because of us. It was the defensive staff and the players.’’

He mentioned Auburn and Troy as two potential landing spots. An answer from Koenning, one way or the other, is expected on Wednesday.

Under Koenning, the 2011 Illini finished second in the Big Ten and seventh nationally in total defense.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl 2011: UCLA Bruins Try To Focus Through Coaching Turmoil

Like Illinois, the UCLA Bruins have had to endure a coaching change as they prepare to play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. After Rick Neuheisel was fired by the school, offensive coordinator Mike Johnson took over the interim head coaching duties, and on Friday the school announced that it had hired Jim L. Mora as its next head coach. For quarterback Kevin Prince, it's been a strange ride:

"The last couple weeks have been weird," quarterback Kevin Prince said. "You just had to go with the flow and try to do your job."

Johnson could be retained by Mora to help ease the transition, though Johnson is scheduled to interview for the head coaching job at his alma mater, Akron. So more turmoil may lie ahead for the Bruins, who are trying to focus on the task at hand through all of this upheaval.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog. For more on UCLA, head over to Bruins Nation.

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Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl 2011: Illinois Fighting Illini Earn National Accolades Heading Into Bowl Game

The Fighting Illini may not have finished their regular season schedule the way they would have liked, but they have done well in the post-season -- even before the bowl games have begun.

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EDSBS Weighs In On The Illinois-UCLA Matchup

SB Nation funnyman Spencer Hall of Everyday Should Be Saturday wrote over 4,000 words at the mothership today in a breakdown of every single college football bowl game ranked by watchability. Or something. Of the 35 games, Hall placed the Rose Bowl -- pitting Oregon vs. Wisconsin -- at No. 1.

So, who's last? Why, of course, it's the Bruins and the Illini. Says Spencer:

35. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Illinois vs. UCLA. Two headless teams fighting for a single dessicated green bean on the sad floor of a baseball stadium. Don't watch this. You will literally die of sorrow.

Even the most biased supporters of these two proud institutions should be able to share a laugh with Spencer. After all, the Illini are hardly where they expected to be after starting the season 6-0.

For more on this bowl game, keep it locked to our Illini blog Hail To The Orange and our UCLA blog Bruins Nation.

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Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl 2011: Illinois Vs. UCLA Game Time, TV Schedule And More

Illinois will face UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

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