Illini notebook: Redshirt freshman Santella looks good as a punter

John Supinie

It appeared the answer at punter came from Illinois redshirt freshman Anthony Santella. A walk-on a transfer from Utah, Santella averaged 36.8 yards on four punts in the first half against Missouri. But scholarship sophomore Kyle Yelton, who lost the job to a wide receiver and a walk-on last year when they were instructed to use the sandlot rugby-style punt, took one attempt in the third quarter in the Illini's 40-34 loss to Missouri Saturday.

Yelton's short and low punt was returned 66 yards for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 37-13 lead. Yelton's punt carried 39 yards.

Santella received a lucky bounce on a 48-yarder on his first attempt, but he easily got his punts off ahead of the Missouri rush. Yet coach Ron Zook wanted Yelton in there, since he gets the ball off quicker, Zook said.

"There's not one guy who has taken the job,'' Zook said. "I wished I could say it now that somebody has taken the job. I don't feel like there's somebody who has taken the job.

"I was concerned (the Tigers) were coming after it. I wanted to make sure we could get the ball off. Kyle has a better get off time.''

Santella's average of 37.7 yards in six punts included one 20-yarder that pinned the Tigers on their 16.

Last fall when Yelton attempted to handle the role as a freshman, the Illini ranked No. 117 among 119 teams in net punt at 29.4 yards per attempt.

BIG DEBUT: Illinois freshman receiver Arrelious Benn caught five passes for 74 yards and ran it three times for a minus-6 yards in his first college game. The heralded prep recruit from Washington (D.C.) Dunbar grabbed a 25-yard catch on fourth and 10 in the fourth quarter to keep Illinois' last scoring hope alive.

"Regis is going to be a special guy,'' Zook said. "The more he plays, the better he's going to get.''

Benn admitted to the pregame jitters, and he cramped during the second half.

"Maybe I was hyperventilating,'' Benn said.

QUOTE ME: Redshirt freshman quarterback Eddie McGee wasn't about to give up when the Illini trailed 37-13 in the third quarter.

"That's our name . . . the Fighting Illini,'' McGee said. "We never give up.''

Big Ten coordinator of football officials Dave Parry told Zook, "There's no one in the Big Ten playing anybody like we're playing,'' Zook said. "I said that's not my fault. That's the athletic director's fault. It's going to be a great rivalry. We'll learn from (the loss).''

BY THE NUMBERS: Illinois senior linebacker J Leman had 20 tackles. He has 10 tackles or more in 11 of the last 12 games. He had 20 tackles for the second straight game. . .  Besides Benn, four freshmen saw playing time. Receiver Brian Gamble had four catches for 48 yards. Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey saw action on special teams. Safety Bo Flowers played logged time on defense. . .

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.