Rapid Reaction: Illinois 38, Baylor 14
Here's a quick look at Illinois' 38-14 Texas Bowl win over Baylor on Wednesday night.
How the game was won: Illinois’ defense came to play. After allowing an average of 39.3 points and 429 yards over its last four games, the Illini’s defense stepped up its game and dominated Baylor throughout the first half. The Bears’ high-powered offense was held without a point on seven first-half possessions and only converted 1-of-4 third-down conversions in the first two quarters. While Illinois’ defense did its job, the Illini’s offense followed suit. Illinois scored on its first fours possessions with three Derek Dimke field goals and a Mikel Leshoure touchdown to give it a solid 16-0 advantage.
Turning point: It was only the sixth play of the day, but the game changed when Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III’s bubble screen pass was thrown backward and dropped, and Illinois’ Travon Bellamy recovered the ball and went 44 yards the other way. The Bears had been moving the ball with ease at that point and look destined for at least a field on the possession. Instead Illinois capitalized with a field goal, the Illini’s defense grew some confidence, and before you knew it Illinois had built a 24-0 lead.
Star of the game: Illinois junior running back Mikel Leshoure stole this honor in the second half from his teammate redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Leshoure scored twice in the final two quarters to seal the win for the Illini. Leshoure finished with 183 rushing yards and three touchdowns. With his day, he surpassed Rashard Mendenhall’s school record for rushing yards and touchdowns in a season. The question now is whether Leshoure will enter the NFL draft early just as Mendenhall did after having a big day in the Rose Bowl in 2007.
Stat of the game: Illinois redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase completed all 13 of his pass attempts in the first half. He was 13 of 13 for 169 yards, which surpassed his total passing yards in eight of his games this season.
SportsCenter highlight of the game: Illinois freshman wide receiver Darius Millines’ second career reception is one he’ll never forget. Scheelhaase launched the ball 30 yards as Millines was crossing the middle of the field. Millines saw the pass, stopped, leaped higher than Baylor’s defensive back, snatched the ball in the air and held onto as he was fell backwards to the ground. Leshoure was second in the running when he went Superman over the goal line for his second touchdown.
What it means: This likely will save Illinois coach Ron Zook his job. A 7-6 record and a bowl win certainly looks more impressive than a 6-7 record and a bowl defeat. It would have been Zook’s fifth losing season in six years. Instead, he should be back, and the Illini could take a step up in the Big Ten next season with Scheelhaase and plenty of others back, even if Leshoure leaves for the NFL. For Baylor, it’s a tough defeat to swallow. The Bears looked dominant on their first drive, but didn’t return to that form until in the second half and it was too late. Like Illinois, Baylor is expected to bring back a lot of start power next year and could become a Big 12 contender, especially with the teams departing the conference.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35