Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget couldn’t foresee a future rodeo career for himself after he and his teammates received a taste of the profession during a bowl-related event in Houston on Monday night.
“I couldn’t do it,” he said.
Liuget had fun rounding up cattle, but he still felt his purpose in life was to use his 6-foot-2, 300-pound frame to chase down quarterbacks. Specifically, he has his heart set on lassoing Baylor star Robert Griffin III and putting him to the ground a few times on Wednesday in the Texas Bowl.
If the Illini are going to win their first bowl game since 1999, Liuget believes it’s going to be he and the defense that have to lead the way against Baylor’s high-powered offense.
“On the defensive side, we have to change our attitude and get back to where we were,” Liuget said. “We need to be flying around to the ball and playing resilient. That’s what we have to do. We need to come together as a defense.”
Lately, the defense hasn’t been too cohesive. After allowing no more than 26 points through its first eight contests, Illinois’ defense took a downward turn over its final four games.
Michigan was the first to strike against the Illini. Led by Denard Robinson’s 305 passing yards, the Wolverines compiled 676 total yards and put up 67 points on the Illini. A week later, Minnesota arose from the dead to snap a nine-game losing streak with a 38-34 win in Champaign.
The Illini benefitted from Northwestern being without quarterback Dan Persa in their following game, and they pulled out a 48-27 win at Wrigley Field. Finally, Fresno State quarterback Ryan Colburn abused the Illini for 304 passing yards in another loss, dropping them to 6-6.
Illinois had allowed just 16.8 points and 301 yards a game through its first eight games. Over its past four, it gave up 39.3 points and 429 yards.
“It was a little bit of lack of concentration,” Liuget said. “We didn’t have a fire in us.”
The Illini better have it against Baylor or they could be in for another onslaught. The Bears’ offense is among the best in the nation. They rank 20th in passing offense with 278 yards per game, 23rd in rushing with 200.5 yards and 29th in scoring with 32.2 points.
Like Robinson and Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, two players who racked up yards against Illinois this season, Griffin III is a dual-threat quarterback. He’s thrown for 3,195 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 591 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Their scheme, the way they run their offense, is very similar to Missouri,” Liuget said. “They play Big 12 football. We need to adjust to that, make plays and be sound defensively.”
While Liuget admitted the season has been disappointing, especially since the Illini were 5-3 and appeared destined for a larger bowl not too long ago, he still thought it would be a meaningful year for himself and the Illini with a win in the Texas Bowl.
“This is my first bowl as a college athlete,” Liuget said. “To me, this is my Super Bowl and national championship. That’s what I compare it to. I’m going to give it my all.”