(From the University of Illinois Sports Information Department)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The Fighting Illini - 6-1 and ranked No. 18 in the latest AP top 25 and 20th in the Coaches Poll - are off to the program's best start since 1953, and members of the Illinois program are being recognized nationally as media outlets across the country have begun to release their midseason All-America teams.
Three Illini earned midseason All-America nods from The Athletic, making the Orange and Blue one of five programs nationally – along with Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, and Ohio State – to have three players recognized on the list.
In all, five different Illini earned nine nods from The Athletic, Sporting News, and Associated Press, including Gabe Jacas who earned a pair of Midseason Freshman All-America accolades from The Athletic and On3.
Brown enters the Illini's idle week as the national leader in rushing yards (1,059) and all-purpose yards (1,166). Brown is the first running back in the country to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this season, and has rushed for 100-plus yards in a program-record eight straight games dating back to last year's finale. He tied the Illinois program record by reaching 1,000 yards in just his seventh game of the season, and has jumped all the way from 25th to sixth on the Illini's career rushing list, while becoming just the third rusher in program history to record multiple 1,000-yard seasons. In addition to his NCAA-leading rushing and all-purpose yardage totals, Brown also ranks first in the country in runs of 10+ yards (33) and yards after contact (619).
Jacas has burst onto the scene as a true freshman for the Fighting Illini defensive unit. He is tied for the team lead with four sacks through his first seven collegiate games, and ranks seventh overall on the team with 22 total tackles. In addition, Jacas has tallied three quarterback hurries on the season. Jacas' four sacks are tied for the most in the country by a freshman entering Week 8.
Martin's senior leadership has made him a cornerstone of the Illini defense's success through the first seven games of the season. He ranks No. 11 nationally in passes defended (1.5 per game), and recorded at least one pass break-up in each of the team's first six contests. Martin ranks second on the team in total tackles (33.0), and has tallied 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, and a pair of interceptions to add to the Illini's NCAA-leading total of 12. Overall the Illini defense ranks first in scoring defense (8.9 ppg) and total defense (221.0 yards per game). The Illini secondary ranks first in the nation in passes intercepted, first in passing efficiency defense (75.36), and second in passing yards allowed (143.1 yards per game).
Jer'Zhan "Johnny" Newton
Newton, a sophomore defensive tackle, anchors the Illini from the defensive front with a team-high 37 total tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. Newton's play as the No. 3-graded interior defensive lineman in the nation (according to PFF), has helped the Illini defense to the nation's No. 1 ranking in scoring (8.9 points per game) and total defense (221.0 yards per game). The Illini defensive front has also held opponents to just 77.9 rushing yards per game (4th in the NCAA), despite facing run-heavy attacks in victories over Big Ten foes Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota.
Witherspoon has been an integral part of the Illini's remarkable secondary play this season, leading the nation in passes defended (1.7 per game) entering Week 8, and pacing the Illini with 11 pass breakups on the year. Witherspoon has a 30.8 percent reception percentage against, the third-best mark in the country and best in the Big Ten among cornerbacks, according to PFF. He is the eighth-highest graded CB in the nation and has the third-best coverage grade in the country, while anchoring an Illini secondary that ranks first in the nation in passes intercepted, first in passing efficiency defense (75.36), and second in passing yards allowed (143.1 yards per game).
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