Big Ten: 2010 Texas Bowl

Video: Breaking down the Texas Bowl

December, 30, 2010

Dave Pasch and Bob Griese break down how the Fighting Illini were able to beat Baylor handily in the Texas Bowl.

Video: Zook and Scheelhaase

December, 30, 2010

Holly Rowe interviews Illinois head coach Ron Zook and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase after their Texas Bowl win over Baylor.
Illinois has been the much better team so far tonight in the Texas Bowl.

The bigger surprise: Nathan Scheelhaase has been the much better quarterback than Baylor's Robert Griffin III.

Scheelhaase completed all 13 of his first-half pass attempts for 169 yards as Illinois has stormed out to a 16-0 lead. The redshirt freshman completed less than 50 percent of his passes in each of his final three regular-season games, including a 5-for-16 performance in a loss to Fresno State, but he has clearly made strides during bowl prep.

Illinois' efficient pass game has opened things up for running back Mikel Leshoure (85 rush yards, TD).

Griffin, meanwhile, has been a disaster, overthrowing his receivers and twice fumbling. Illinois star defensive tackle Corey Liuget is having a big night as the Illini limited Baylor to only 148 first-half yards. Liuget's roughing-the-passer penalty appeared to give Baylor life near the end of the half, but Griffin's fumble turned the momentum back to the Orange and Blue.

So far, so good for Illinois, which is putting things together in all three phases and playing to its talent level.
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."
Illinois is back in the postseason for the first time since the 2008 Rose Bowl. Baylor? The Bears play in the first bowl game since the 1994 Alamo Bowl.

Here's a quick preview of the Illini-Baylor matchup in the Texas Bowl.

WHO TO WATCH: Illinois defenders Corey Liuget and Martez Wilson. The game plan is pretty simple for the Illini, who must contain Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Both Liuget and Wilson are All-Big Ten defenders who could be heading to the NFL draft after the bowl game. They need to penetrate the backfield, harass Griffin as often as possible and tackle the Bears star in the open field.

WHAT TO WATCH: Illinois' rushing attack. When the Illini have their ground game going, it's a thing of beauty. Junior running back Mikel Leshoure, another candidate to enter the NFL draft, needs 169 rush yards in the bowl game to break Rashard Mendenhall's single-season team record set in 2007. Baylor finished ninth in the Big 12 against the run, allowing 160.2 yards per game, so Illinois will have opportunities to spring Leshoure, backup Jason Ford and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.

WHY TO WATCH: You never know which Illinois team will show up. If it's the one that crushed Penn State and Northwestern and gave Ohio State and Michigan State good tests, Baylor could be in trouble. If it's the one that looked lifeless for stretches against Fresno State and Minnesota, the Bears could run away with this one. Illinois boasts plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but can coach Ron Zook's crew put it all together to cement a winning season?

PREDICTION: Baylor 31, Illinois 24. It's never easy to forecast what happens with Illinois, and this one certainly could go either way. But Griffin is the most dynamic player on the field, and Illinois' defense declined late in the regular season. Illinois doesn't have enough in the pass game to balance out Leshoure and the ground attack. Baylor will feel right at home in Houston, and the Bears will prevail.
As a three-year starting linebacker at Illinois, Martez Wilson has faced all types of quarterbacks.

More than a handful of the signal callers Wilson has tried to harass fall under the umbrella label "dual threat," a phrase often applied to Baylor star quarterback Robert Griffin III. But when asked who reminds him most of Griffin, Wilson doesn't identify an opposing quarterback.

He identifies a teammate.

"He reminds me of Eddie McGee that plays for us," Wilson said. "They're kind of similar, their body types are similar. They're both tall, lanky dudes."

But McGee, a senior who played two years at quarterback before playing mostly receiver the past two years, doesn't have similar stats to Griffin, who ranks seventh nationally in total offense (315.5 ypg).

Griffin boasts 40 career passing touchdowns and 21 on the ground. He had five games with at least 200 passing yards and at least 50 rushing yards this season. While Griffin will look at attack Illinois' secondary, his running ability is what sets the Baylor star apart.

"Instead of being so focused just on pass, you've got to focus and respect his ability to run the ball," Wilson said. "He does a lot of sprint-outs, so we have to do a good job of containing those."

Illinois ranks 29th nationally against the run (131.3 ypg), but the defense slipped during the month of November, as the Illini dropped three of their final four games. The Illini allowed 39.3 points per game in November after allowing just 17.2 points per game in five October contests.

"Swarm to the ball," said Wilson, an All-Big Ten selection who leads Illinois in tackles (105), tackles for loss (10.5) and forced fumbles (3). "Even if one person misses a tackle, it'll be someone else to clean up their work. If we swarm to the ball, play aggressive and hit hard, we'll do a good job to come out as winners."

McGee could provide a big help in practices leading up to the game.

Only one problem: he's not playing Griffin on the scout team.

"It'd be good if the coaches made the decision to put him there," Wilson said. "That'd give us a good a look. They're very similar players."



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