Daily Herald
Illini's Miller big hit in tackles
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 10/8/2008 12:05 AM

After Illinois' unsuccessful opener against Missouri, Brit Miller owned the nation's unofficial lead in missed tackles.

The senior middle linebacker also held the team's unofficial lead in challenges from Ron Zook.

"Coach pulled me aside and said he expected me to be a better leader," Miller said. "I took that to heart."

Apparently so.

As Illinois prepares for upstart Minnesota on Saturday and its 98th homecoming game (11 a.m., ESPN), Miller has taken the lead in far more impressive categories:

Not only does he top the Big Ten in tackles (10.6 per game), the fun-loving Decatur native paces the nation in tackles for loss with 11.5.

He seized the lead in the latter category with 2 sacks and 2 more tackles for loss last week against Michigan, which earned his first Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week nod.

In short, after a rocky start, Miller has lived up to the lofty expectations that come with his position thanks to graduated all-American J Leman.

Things became easier once everyone realized Miller and Leman, though they wore the same uniform for three years, aren't cut from the same cloth.

"(Defensive co-coordinator Dan) Disch and I are kind of fitting our mold together," Miller said. "It took awhile for him and J to kind of get a feel for each other (too).

"But now he knows I like to come after them. I'm a little more aggressive at the line of scrimmage. They've conformed a little bit to my game in our game plan as well."

Among the nation's top tacklers, only Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (who returned an interception for a touchdown against Illinois) has as varied and vast a statistical resume as Miller.

Weatherspoon boasts 57 tackles, 8 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 3 pass breakups and 2 touchdowns.

Miller owns 53 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 pass breakups, 1 interception and 1 fumble return for a touchdown.

Zook on alert: When they're not busy fretting about secrets getting out to the Internet, football coaches live in fear of a letdown.

Ron Zook carries concerns that Saturday's game against Minnesota serves as the perfect storm for a flat Illinois performance.

Not only are the Illini coming off a 25-point triumph at Michigan, but they might feel overconfident against the Gophers because they stacked up 44 points and 655 total yards on Tim Brewster's bunch in last year's whupping at the Metrodome.

Oh, and did we mention that Brewster, the former pass-catching savant of a tight end for the 1983 Big Ten champs, would love to spoil homecoming for every Illinois alum but himself?

"I promise you this: Minnesota will come in here with a chip on its shoulder," Zook said. "Minnesota will come in here with something to prove. Minnesota will come in here ready to play."

That includes the Big Ten's No. 2 passing attack featuring junior wideout Eric Decker.

He's second nationally in catches with 50, but he's first in reception yards with 696. On the other hand, he had all 4 of his touchdowns before the Gophers entered Big Ten play.