Big Ten: Cory Liuget

Illinois spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:50
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois Fighting Illini
2008 overall record: 5-7

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 8; Defense: 6; Special teams: 2

Top returners

QB Juice Williams, WR Arrelious Benn, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, WR Chris Duvalt, WR Jeff Cumberland, LB Martez Wilson, DT Cory Liuget, K Matt Eller

Key losses

LT Xavier Fulton, C Ryan McDonald, LB Brit Miller, DE Will Davis, DE Derek Walker, CB Vontae Davis, LB Rodney Pittman

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Juice Williams* (719 yds)
Passing: Juice Williams* (3,173 yds)
Receiving:
Arrelious Benn* (1,055 yds)
Tackles:
Brit Miller (132)
Sacks:
Brit Miller and Derek Walker (6)
I
nterceptions: Vontae Davis (2)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Missouri (at St. Louis)
Sept. 12 Illinois State
Sept. 19 BYE
Sept. 26 at Ohio State
Oct. 3 Penn State
Oct. 10 Michigan State
Oct. 17 at Indiana
Oct. 24 at Purdue
Oct. 31 Michigan
Nov. 7 at Minnesota
Nov. 14 Northwestern
Nov. 21 BYE
Nov. 27 at Cincinnati
Dec. 5 Fresno State

Spring answers

1. Running men -- Illinois can feel optimistic about its ground game after the development of sophomore running backs Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure this spring. Both players markedly improved their physical conditioning and combined for 93 rush yards on 17 carries in the spring game. They should take the running load off of Juice Williams this season.

2. Man in the middle -- Martez Wilson moved to middle linebacker and could be on the brink of reaching the lofty expectations set for him when he arrived from Chicago's Simeon High School. Wilson adjusted well to the defense's premier position after an up-and-down sophomore season. He also has fully recovered after being stabbed outside a bar in December.

3. Receiver rotation -- The Illini could have the Big Ten's best receiving corps next fall -- by far. Everyone knows about first-team All-Big Ten performer Arrelious Benn, but Illinois boasts depth with Jeff Cumberland, Chris Duvalt and others. The team also adds a big piece in Florida transfer Jarred Fayson, who was practicing with the first-team offense this spring before sustaining a foot injury.

Fall questions

1. Line limbo -- Illinois loses three starters from the defensive line and needs to identify a capable pass-rusher after losing its top four sacks leaders from 2008. The tackle spot should be solid with Corey Liuget, Josh Brent and Sirod Williams, who returns from a torn ACL, but there is some doubt at defensive end. Jerry Brown dominated in the spring game, but he must clear some academic hurdles before the fall.

2. Run stoppers -- The Illini really struggled against the run last season and lose top tackler Brit Miller, an All-Big Ten linebacker. They need more help from the back seven, particularly Wilson and safety Donsay Hardeman, who sat out spring drills because of a neck injury.

3. Cornerback -- NFL first-round draft pick Vontae Davis leaves a hole at cornerback, and Illinois will be looking for a top cover man in preseason camp. Tavon Wilson could very well step into Davis' spot, and the sophomore had a nice spring. Davis was not only a playmaker against the ball but a capable tackler, finishing second on the team with 78 stops last year.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

On their way to winning a Big East championship last fall, Cincinnati's defensive linemen came up with a motto, which lingers with their former coach. 

"Get sacks, get stacks," Keith Gilmore recalls. "Guys thought that third down was the money down, and we prided ourselves on rushing the quarterback in those situations. And I'll carry a lot of that over."

After coaching a line that led the Big East and ranked ninth nationally in sacks (40), Gilmore took the same position at Illinois, which is looking for better results after a 5-7 season. Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook dismissed D-line coach Tom Sims and brought in Gilmore, who helped Cincinnati produce a top-20 rush defense last fall.

Zook also had a catchphrase with the defensive line in 2008. Before the season he openly labeled the line the strength of the team, and with good reason.

Despite having several NFL prospects in Will Davis and Derek Walker, Illinois finished ninth in the Big Ten in both rush defense (152.9 ypg) and scoring defense (26.6 ppg). Illinois too often lost the battle at the line of scrimmage, and Zook brought in Gilmore to change things. 

"We really didn't talk about what happened last year," Gilmore said. "He expects me to coach these guys hard and be demanding and confront negative performances and demand that they play well. I'm all for that, so it wasn't a big deal."

Gilmore takes over a group that he admits is young but boasts a few veterans, namely end Doug Pilcher and tackle Sirod Williams, both fifth-year seniors. Another key contributor, tackle Josh Brent, is indefinitely suspended after a DUI arrest in February. 

Pilcher, who recorded 2.5 sacks last fall, has helped Gilmore organize young players during spring practice and even eased Gilmore's transition to a defensive system run by co-coordinators Dan Disch and Curt Mallory.

"If I've got a question on a few techniques or things they've done in the past, he's the guy that I'll bounce those type of things off of," Gilmore said. "He's real mature about it."

Williams returned to the field this spring after tearing his ACL in preseason camp. He's participating in all drills so far but might be limited in contact later this spring.

Also back is sophomore tackle Corey Liuget, who saw significant action as a freshman following Williams' injury and recorded 26 tackles, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. 

"In the first day of [spring] practice, he used his hands really well and ran to the football," Gilmore said. "He's a guy who's been coached. All I've got to do is keep trying to polish him up and take him to the next level." 

Gilmore has mentioned Cincinnati's motto from 2008 to his new players, and he expects them to brainstorm their own rallying cry when the season rolls around.

"It's all about what they identify with," Gilmore said. "I'm sure during the course of the spring and summer camp, we'll come up with something. But it's got to mean something to them."  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch won't be leaving after all. 

Disch turned down an offer today to become South Florida's defensive coordinator and will remain with the Fighting Illini and head coach Ron Zook, who he has worked for coached since 2004.

"I'm very happy that coach Disch has decided to stay here," Zook said in a prepared statement. "He's been with us from the beginning and has been a huge part of the success we've been able to build here. This was a good opportunity for him, but he felt loyal to this university, this program and the players."

Team spokesperson Cassie Arner told the Chicago Sun-Times, "When somebody offers you a coordinator position, you have to listen. But this shows how loyal Dan is to the program."

Disch's decision comes as a bit of a surprise for three reasons.

  • South Florida would have made him the sole defensive coordinator, a title he currently shares with Curt Mallory at Illinois.
  • Zook heavily pursued Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson for Illinois' defensive coordinator vacancy last month, indicating a possible demotion for Disch.  
  • Disch is a Jacksonville, Fla., native and a Florida State alum who was a successful high school coach in the state for 22 seasons before joining Zook at Florida in 2004.
Despite these factors, Disch decided to stay with Illinois and continue to recruit the state of Florida alongside Zook. He will once again oversee a defense that loses standouts in Vontae Davis and Brit Miller but returns several talented young players like Martez Wilson and Cory Liuget. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Talent certainly wasn't the problem last season in Champaign, and Illinois once again will return several game-changing skill players in 2009. Though Ron Zook must be mindful of impending departures at both quarterback and wide receiver, he can steer his recruiting elsewhere.

Illinois must improve at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. A defensive line that Zook labeled the team's strength before the season underperformed, and Illinois still loses three key contributors in ends Will Davis and Derek Walker and tackle David Lindquist. Sirod Williams returns from a knee injury and Cory Liuget looks like the real deal, but Illinois could use some depth along the defensive line. With a new line coach joining the mix, the front should be the team's top priority.

Jeff Allen emerged as a stud at right offensive tackle, but Illinois also needs to beef up on the offensive line. There's a question mark at center following the graduation of Ryan McDonald, and left tackle Xavier Fulton also departs.

Despite a disappointing 2008 season, Martez Wilson remains Illinois' future at the linebacker position. All-Big Ten standout Brit Miller, Rodney Pittman and Sam Carson all graduate, so adding a linebacker or two wouldn't be a bad idea.

Zook also must prepare for Juice Williams' graduation and will add another quarterback to the mix in Nathan Scheelhaase, who could play a critical role if Eddie McGee doesn't pan out in 2010. The Illini look fine at running back, wide receiver and defensive back, though cornerback Vontae Davis' early departure to the NFL and the likely departure of Arrelious Benn following the 2009 season creates some holes.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Some final hot links before the games begin.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois didn't begin to stretch the field last week until its back was against the wall.

The Illini didn't wait around tonight.

Quarterback Juice Williams is well on his way to another huge performance, racking up 212 passing yards and three touchdowns in the opening half. Williams has completions of 60, 37 and 20 yards, repeatedly dissecting an overmatched Indiana secondary. Keep in mind this guy accounted for 934 yards of offense the last two games.

Wide receiver Arrelious Benn (six receptions, 119 receiving yards) has been tremendous since the bye week, and I'm very impressed with freshman Jason Ford (87 rush yards, TD), a stocky back with deceptive speed.

The Illini defense has flustered Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell, who made his first career start in place of Kellen Lewis (high ankle sprain). The defensive line has finally stepped up, with Will Davis, Derek Walker, Josh Brent and Cory Liuget all contributing.

Indiana is struggling to match up with Illinois' athleticism, and Lewis' absence certainly stings. Chappell, who has played in five previous games this season, completed just 5 of 17 passes in the half.

The Hoosiers need a big play or two early in the third quarter to spark a rally. Otherwise, it'll be a fifth consecutive loss and more heat on head coach Bill Lynch. I'll be back later tonight with helmet stickers.

Big Ten internal affairs

September, 24, 2008
9/24/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to go inside five Big Ten teams as they prepare for the start of league play on Saturday.

Illinois -- The defensive line might finally be taking shape for the Illini after some illness/injury issues. Sophomore Josh Brent is back in the fold at defensive tackle, which has allowed standout Will Davis to move back to his natural position of defensive end. Freshman Cory Liuget also has emerged at defensive tackle, a spot vacated when projected starter Sirod Williams tore his ACL during training camp. "It's important that we can [rotate] guys in there and keep us fresh," head coach Ron Zook said. Zook called the defensive line the team's strength before the season, but the group will need to elevate its play Saturday night against Penn State's powerful rushing attack, which ranks eighth nationally (274.3 ypg).

Indiana -- When the NCAA cleared Florida transfer Jerimy Finch to play this season, Indiana's secondary looked like one of the deepest groups on the team. That depth will be tested Saturday against Michigan State (ESPN, noon ET). The Hoosiers will be without at least one starting safety (Nick Polk, knee) and could miss their other starter, as strong safety Austin Thomas is questionable for the game with a lower leg injury. Coach Bill Lynch announced that starting cornerback Chris Phillips will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. So the Hoosiers could be replacing three starters against the Spartans. Finch figures to see plenty of time.

Michigan -- A bye week allowed Michigan's offensive line time to heal, though a knee injury to tackle Perry Dorrestein last week in practice clouded things a bit. Mark Ortmann is expected back from a dislocated elbow and should rotate at left tackle with Dorrestein if Dorrestein can play. Left tackle is one of three offensive line spots that have an "OR" listed between potential starters on the depth chart. Converted defensive lineman John Ferrara could start at right guard in place of David Moosman, who is listed at both guard and center on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Mark Huyge also should be back from an ankle injury, so the coaches have some decisions to make up front.

Minnesota -- True freshman running back DeLeon Eskridge has stepped up in the two games after Duane Bennett's knee injury, but coach Tim Brewster isn't quite ready to call Eskridge his featured back. Brewster said Eskridge, freshman Shady Salamon and junior Jay Thomas all will play Saturday at No. 14 Ohio State, and Minnesota will stick with whoever has the hot hand. The coach admitted that identifying a clear-cut starter has become less of a concern than it was after Bennett went down. Eskridge has 192 rushing yards and five touchdowns the last two games.

Ohio State -- Quarterback isn't the only offensive position where youth will be served Saturday against Minnesota. Freshman Michael Brewster remains the starter at center on this week's depth chart after playing a prominent role last week against Troy. The Buckeyes moved Jim Cordle from center to left guard after Steve Rehring injured his foot against USC. Rehring will miss "another week or so," coach Jim Tressel said, so that means more time for Brewster, one of several heralded freshmen in Ohio State's recruiting class.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Tuesday blog was a little Buckeye heavy -- apparently they have a big game this week -- so it's time to see what else happened around the league. Let's see ... bad news at Minnesota, no news at Penn State.

Read on.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I didn't get around to breaking down every depth chart released Monday, so let's do it. Wisconsin's and Iowa's came out last week, and there were no major changes there. Still waiting for Michigan State and Minnesota (Purdue doesn't play until Week 2).

PENN STATE

  • As stated earlier, quarterbacks Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin are both listed as potential starters.
  • Andrew Quarless is listed as the third-string tight end behind Mickey Shuler and Andrew Szczerba. Quarless, a former starter, was suspended for spring practice following a DUI arrest and has had several off-field problems at Penn State.
  • Cornerback Tony Davis secured a starting job, and the other cornerback spot will go to Lydell Sargeant or A.J. Wallace. Sargeant started the first 10 games at cornerback last year and looked to be the starter with Wallace, instead of competing against him.
  • Sophomores Ollie Ogbu and Abe Koroma are listed as the starters at the defensive tackle spot, which was thinned by two dismissals and an injury to Devon Still. Junior Jared Odrick is listed as Koroma's backup and likely will play plenty this fall.
  • Tyrell Sales and Bani Gbadyu are listed as the starting outside linebackers, with Josh Hull in the middle. Promising sophomore Chris Colasanti is listed as Hull's backup.
  • Evan Royster remains the top running back with speedy redshirt freshman Stephfon Green behind him.
  • Junior Dennis Landolt is listed as both the starting right tackle and the backup left tackle behind Gerald Cadogan.

ILLINOIS

  • As expected, junior Daniel Dufrene is listed as the starting running back ahead of Troy Pollard. Freshmen Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure continue to compete for the third-string spot.
  • Junior Chris Duvalt and sophomore Chris James have joined Arrelious Benn as starters at wide receiver. Sophomore walk-on Alex Reavy is listed as Benn's backup, and freshmen Fred Sykes, Cordale Scott and A.J. Jenkins all are on the two-deep.
  • A bit of a surprise as both Doug Pilcher and Derek Walker are listed as starters at defensive end opposite Will Davis. The "OR" designation is common for depth charts, but you don't usually see "AND" separating two possible starters. Walker has started the last three seasons but could play less with Pilcher's emergence and greater depth on the line.
  • Sophomores Bo Flowers and Travon Bellamy secured the starting safety spots. Bellamy was a shoo-in, but Fowers beat out Nate Bussey and Donsay Hardeman for the job.
  • Sophomore Josh Brent will start at defensive tackle following Sirod Williams' season-ending knee injury. Freshman Cory Liuget is listed as the backup at the other tackle spot.
  • Four players remain in the mix for the starting place-kicker spot, with freshman Derek Dimke listed first.

There were a couple of notes from Wisconsin's news conference Monday.

  • Cornerback Aaron Henry (knee) will miss the opener against Akron, and freshman linebacker Kevin Rouse will miss the majority of the season following shoulder surgery. Tight end Travis Beckum (hamstring), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee), fullback Chris Pressley (thumb) and cornerback Antonio Fenelus (ankle) could play Saturday and will be evaluated later in the week.
  • Offensive linemen Jake Current and Kevin Zeitler, running back Bradie Ewing, tight end Jake Byrne, defensive end Brendan Kelly, punter Brad Nortman and defensive back Kevin Claxton are the freshmen expected to play this fall.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

More than once in recent months, Illinois coach Ron Zook has called the defensive line the strength of his team.

Quarterback Juice Williams, wide receiver Rejus Benn and cornerback Vontae Davis might garner greater hype, but as a unit, the D-line rises above the rest. The Illini return starting ends Will Davis and Derek Walker, starting tackle David Lindquist and several others (Doug Pilcher, Josh Brent) with at least a pinch of game experience. The season-ending loss of tackle Sirod Williams will hurt, but it frees up opportunities for Brent and heralded freshman Corey Liuget.

Co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch expects to use a rotation of up to nine players up front.

"We're pretty deep there compared to our other positions," Disch said. "We've got some kids that have been around, that's the key. We're looking to them to get us through the first couple weeks."

First up is Saturday's season opener with Missouri (8:30 ET, ESPN), a team against which the Illini line looked anything but superlative last season. Quarterback Chase Daniel passed for 359 yards as Missouri outlasted Illinois 40-34.

Lindquist recorded one of two sacks against Daniel, but the Missouri star attempted 54 passes and proved too much for the Illini defense.

"He doesn't give up on the play, no matter what," Davis said of Daniel. "If it's a broken play, he's going to find a way to make something out of nothing. But at the same time, the defensive line and the defense in general, we bring more speed to this game than we did last year."

Davis, a converted tight end, leads the charge after recording 9.5 sacks last season. Walker enters his fourth season as the starter after leading the team in sacks in 2006.

Lindquist led the Big Ten in fumble recoveries (4) as a sophomore before starting every game last fall.

Another year of experience should help a group that watched Missouri score 37 points in the first two-and-a-half quarters last season.

"Last year, we were still trying to find each other as a team," Walker said. "We were confident, but we weren't sure. This year, we know we can be good. We know if we play how we're supposed to play, we'll be one of the best D-lines in the nation. We just have to go out there with that mind-set and prove it to people."

They get a chance to prove it right away.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

RANTOUL, Ill. -- I'm finally back online from Camp Rantoul, where Illinois conducted the first of two practices this morning. We're still having a few Internet issues here, but I'll have a ton of stuff in the late afternoon/early evening, so check back often.

The big news today was coach Ron Zook's announcement that senior defensive tackle Sirod Williams will miss the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee. Williams was projected to start on a talented Illini defensive line before suffering the injury on somewhat of a freak play Saturday. He'll undergo surgery, redshirt the season and be back for 2009.

ESPN.com recruiting guru Tom Luginbill told me last week that if Illinois could get Cory Liuget on the field this fall, the freshman could do some damage. Now Liuget has a chance to win a starting job.

I'll have practice observations, player updates and an interview with sophomore linebacker Martez Wilson in a bit. But undoubtedly the highlight of the day was the team's post-practice trip to a water park located just north of the practice fields. Watching 300-pound men navigate a water slide was hilarious, and I spent most of the time standing next to Zook, both of us shaking our heads at the scene.

Zook also became the first Division I-A coach ever to expedite some interviews for me. When he saw me outside the team lunch room, he asked me who I was waiting for. Moments later, cornerback Vontae Davis and Wilson appeared. Magic.

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