Illini need offensive balance to beat Baylor

Illinois fans have waited nearly three years to see their team in a bowl game. And for coach Ron Zook, the wait has felt a lot longer.

But if Zook gets his way Wednesday night in Houston, Illinois' time in the Texas Bowl won't last long.

"That’s the number one thing you want to do, eat the clock up," Zook said Tuesday. "But you have to do whatever is cooking that day.

"We’ll make no bones about it -- we’re going to try and run the ball."

And run it they can.

Illinois ranked third in the Big Ten and 13th nationally in rushing offense (242.3 ypg). The Illini led the league in rushing attempts (569) and boasted two of the league's top 10 rushers in running back Mikel Leshoure and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. They have eclipsed 300 rush yards in four games this season and sit 431 yards shy of the team's single-season rushing record of 3,338 set in 2007.

You get the picture. Illinois wants to run and run and run.

But if the Illini don't show a pulse in the passing game, it might not matter against Baylor.

Illinois had just 121 pass yards combined in its final two regular-season games. Scheelhaase completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in each of his final three games. The redshirt freshman threw only one interception in his final six games, but his efficiency suffered.

"We really ran the ball well all year, so it's just our passing game," offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. "We need to continue to improve in all phases of that -- the quick passing game, the play-action -- continue to work on throwing the ball better, running better routes and protecting better."