Illinois notebook: Benn living up to reputation as Big Ten force

John Supinie

Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn endured a fast start toward a sophomore slump. With 15 catches for 150 yards in the three non-conference games to start the season, his only touchdowns during the span came on two running plays against Division I-AA Eastern Illinois. The lowpoint came with one catch against Louisiana-Lafayette.

The freshman of the year last season in the Big Ten Conference after turning down the heavyweights such as Notre Dame, USC and Florida State, Benn lived up to his reputation in Big Ten play, becoming the first Illinois player to post four consecutive games of 100 yards or more receiving.

In four conference games, Benn caught 29 passes for a league-leading 543 yards with three touchdowns. He had 110 yards receiving and two touchdowns at Penn State, 122 yards against Michigan and 12 catches for 181 yards vs. Minnesota.

During the 55-13 victory over Indiana on Saturday, Benn caught seven passes for 130 yards and one touchdown, a 37-yard scoring play where -- once again -- he was wide open. The 6-foot-2, 214-pound Benn doesn't see it as much of a problem at extending his string of big games when Illinois (4-3 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten) plays at Wisconsin (3-4, 0-4) on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN2).

"I don't think it will be hard to sustain,'' he said. "I don't worry about it. I just go out, catch the ball and try to win games.

"Maybe I was putting a little pressure on myself early in the season. I had to calm down and let things come to me. I'm having a lot of fun. This is something I love doing.''

While quarterback Juice Williams' big numbers might not be enough to grab first-team all-Big Ten from Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark, Benn should be a lock for all-Big Ten receiver. Minnesota's Eric Decker, the other obvious first-team selection at receiver, caught 27 passes for 328 yards and one touchdown in his first three Big Ten games.

Benn also plays the all-around game that catches the attention of opposing coaches. Case in point, Benn's block helped free running back Jason Ford on a 41-yard touchdown run against Indiana.

"Rejus threw a huge block,'' linebacker Brit Miller said. "He's out there involved in everything we do. That's what you want out of your best players.

"He's coming into his own. You see him make plays like they do on Sunday. Right now, he's taking care of business. We love it.''

Coach Ron Zook challenged his best players to play the best. Williams answered the call. So has Benn. If he was uptight earlier, Williams didn't see it.

"If he was putting too much pressure on himself, I didn't know it,'' Williams said. "He does a good job at keeping a level head. He's a sophomore performing like a senior.''

For the season, Benn has 44 catches for 693 yards and three touchdowns, although he's been unable to make a big play yet on special teams. He doesn't have a kickoff return of longer than 28 yards. In the five of the last six games, he doesn't have more than one kickoff return.

"They're not kicking me the ball,'' he said. "There's not much I can do without the ball in my hands. When I do get the ball, I try to make things happen. I'm a great threat back there.''

Illinois' home game against Iowa on Nov. 1 is set for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff. The game will be televised on ABC.


The Illini completed their fifth day of practice Monday and will scrimmage with referees Tuesday before taking Wednesday off.

Illinois hosts the annual coaching clinic starting at 9 a.m. Saturday. Guest speakers include former NBA coach Flip Saunders, Western Illinois coach Jim Molinari, Sterling coach Peter Goff and Chicago Curie coach Mike Oliver.

Oliver coaches Wayne Blackshear, a sophomore forward who is an Illini recruiting target. Goff coaches senior guard Joseph Bertrand, who gave the Illini a verbal commitment last fall. The clinic ends with an Illini practice. Coaches can register on the camps link at

Illini sophomore center Mike Tisdale joined his teammates on the opening day of practice, roughly three weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a muscle herniation. Tisdale missed only the most physical elements of practice, such as a drill on taking charges.

In other news

- The Illinois men's golf team takes the No. 1 ranking in Golfstats to the Isleworth Invitational Sunday through Tuesday in Orlando.

- Illinois' volleyball match at Huff Hall against Purdue at 7 p.m. Wednesday will be shown live on the Big Ten Network.

John Supinie can be reached at