NCF Nation: Travon Bellamy
Here's a look back at Illinois' 38-14 victory in the Texas Bowl.
How the game was won: Nathan Scheelhaase's precision passing complemented a typically dominant rushing attack as Illinois steamrolled Baylor's overmatched defense for much of the game. The Illini came out firing and overcame a few defensive hiccups midway through the second half to hold off Robert Griffin III and the Bears. Running back Mikel Leshoure (29 carries, 184 rush yards, 3 TDs) was brilliant in what could be his final college game, and the Illini defensive line made enough big plays to contain Griffin. Illinois' specialists also stepped up nicely.
Player of the game: Scheelhaase. The redshirt freshman showed impressive growth between the end of the regular season and the bowl game, completing his first 13 pass attempts and finished the game 18-for-23 for 241 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He wasn't a huge factor in the rushing game but he didn't need to be on this night, as he set a season high for completions. Honorable mentions go to Leshoure and Liuget, who commanded double and triple teams.
Turning point I: Baylor seemed to be rolling on the game's opening drive before Illinois' Travon Bellamy scooped up a backward pass by Griffin and raced 44 yards, setting up a field goal. The Illini defense played brilliantly the rest of the half and Illinois surged out to a 24-0 lead.
Turning point II: After the Bears had closed to within 24-14 early in the fourth quarter, Illinois' defense forced a three-and-out, stuffing Griffin on third-and-1. The Illini run game then took over, as Leshoure and teammate Jason Ford bowled over Baylor on a 7-play, 66-yard touchdown drive.
Stat of the game: Scheelhaase completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in each of his final three regular-season games (21-for-50 combined) but connected on his first 13 attempts Wednesday night. The redshirt freshman had completed more than 13 passes in only five regular-season games.
Record performance: Leshoure set Illinois' single-season rushing record with 1,696 yards. He broke Rashard Mendenhall's mark of 1,681 yards set in 2007 with a fourth-quarter scamper.
What it means: Illinois can brand the 2010 season as both a success and a potential turning point for coach Ron Zook and his program. The Illini needed a winning season and a good finish after dropping three of their final four regular-season contests. Talent has never been the problem for Zook's crew, but the team made strides in all three phases after the 3-9 disaster in 2009. It'll be interesting to see what happens with NFL prospects Leshoure, Liuget and linebacker Martez Wilson. While it's unrealistic to think all three juniors will return, Illinois could be a factor in the Leaders division next fall if it can reload.
1. John Clay vs. Greg Jones: The Big Ten's top running back (Clay) goes up against the league's top linebacker (Jones) in a matchup football purists will love. Clay has rushed for 253 yards and two touchdowns in two career games against Michigan State, while Jones has recorded 27 tackles in those matchups. After limiting Clay's carries a bit during nonconference play, Wisconsin likely will feed him a lot at Spartan Stadium, particularly in the second half. If Jones and the Spartans defense keep Clay in check, they'll have a good chance to win.
3. Fireworks in Bloomington: Expect a ton of points in the Michigan-Indiana game, as quarterbacks Denard Robinson and Ben Chappell lead potent offenses against shaky defenses at Memorial Stadium. Robinson will play after suffering a bruised left knee against Bowling Green, and he faces an Indiana defense that ranks 10th in the league against the run (177 ypg). Chappell leads the Big Ten and ranks 10th nationally in passing (296.7 ypg). He and his talented receiving corps face the Big Ten's worst pass defense in Michigan (264.8 ypg allowed). This could easily become a basketball score.
4. Improved Illini defense tested: All the early signs point to some genuine improvement with an Illinois defense that finished last in the league in both points allowed and yards allowed in 2009. But as coach Ron Zook said this week, "This will be the first major, major test." Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor leads the nation's No. 8 offense into Champaign on Saturday, and Illinois will be challenged to slow down the Heisman Trophy candidate, who accounted for six touchdowns (4 pass, 1 rush, 1 receiving) last week. To have any shot, the Illini need continued playmaking from defensive backs Travon Bellamy, Tavon Wilson and Justin Green.
5. Gophers on life support: There's little joy in Minneapolis about the Golden Gophers after a 1-3 start that includes three consecutive home losses. Despite coach Tim Brewster's perpetual positivity, players are aware of the gloom on the outside. Minnesota really needs something good to happen early in Saturday's Big Ten opener against Northwestern. If things start to go bad, the boos likely will rain down and it's hard to imagine the team turning things around. Minnesota really could use some big plays to lift the mood in TCF Bank Stadium.
6. Clayborn digs in: Penn State hasn't forgotten what Adrian Clayborn did last September at Beaver Stadium. Lions left tackle Quinn Barham put a picture of Clayborn on his cell phone as a reminder of what he'd face this fall. But Clayborn has been relatively quiet this season, as constant double teams have limited him to 15 tackles and no sacks through the first four games. Clayborn is due for a big night and he'll set his sights on Penn State freshman quarterback Rob Bolden. Penn State has protected Bolden well, allowing only one sack, but the Lions are shorthanded after losing right tackle Lou Eliades to a season-ending torn ACL.
7. Dantonio begins his return: Michigan State's Mark Dantonio will be in the coaches' booth Saturday at Spartan Stadium less than two weeks after suffering a mild heart attack and undergoing surgery. Dantonio said Tuesday that offensive coordinator Don Treadwell will continue to handle head-coaching duties as needed, as Dantonio eases into his full-time role again. "Guys are really excited to see him around," Greg Jones told me. "You feel like the tempo's picking up even more. Guys are going to really, really feel his presence more than they did last week."
8. Northwestern turns to Trumpy: Northwestern has been looking for an answer at running back for a year and a half. As good as quarterback Dan Persa has been, the Wildcats need a legit ground game to join the Big Ten's elite this fall. After Arby Fields' early struggles, Northwestern will turn to redshirt freshman Mike Trumpy, who provided a boost with 53 second-half rush yards last week against Central Michigan. Trumpy and Jacob Schmidt were elevated to co-starters on the depth chart, as Northwestern faces a Minnesota team that allowed Northern Illinois' Chad Spann to run wild (223 yards) last wek.
9. Cousins, Tolzien in crunch time: Both Michigan State and Wisconsin are run-first teams boasting a multitude of capable backs, but I really believe Saturday's game comes down to which quarterback makes plays in the fourth quarter. Both Kirk Cousins and Scott Tolzien have played well the last two weeks, combining for 998 pass yards with eight touchdowns and only one interception. Cousins needs to prove himself in the clutch, while Tolzien looks for a signature road win in a place where Wisconsin has struggled. He'll get top receiver Nick Toon back from a toe injury.
10. Buckeyes need answers at RB: Perhaps Buckeyes fans are nitpicking, or maybe they have a point about Brandon Saine and Dan Herron. Either way, Ohio State fans want to see more production out of the veteran running backs, or increased opportunities for dynamic redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry, who has 15 carries for 177 rush yards (11.8 ypc) this season. Coach Jim Tressel is loyal to his veteran players, and it will be interesting to watch what he does if Saine and Herron start slow against Illinois.
Now the Fighting Illini will try to stop Blaine Gabbert and co. without two projected starters.
Starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne will miss 3-6 weeks with a stress fracture in his foot, Illinois head coach Ron Zook said today. Hawthorne had a screw inserted after dealing with the injury in his fifth metatarsal.
"He had [the injury] as a junior in high school, and he didn't practice for a week," Zook told ESPN.com. "He's such a tough kid, he doesn't complain about anything. It bothered him a little bit during camp, but he never said anything, so he kept going. You love him because he doesn't ever complain, but if he would have said anything, maybe we would have been able to get away with just giving him a few days off. But he'll be fine and we'll be fine."
Hawthorne's injury comes just days after Illinois lost junior Supo Sanni, the projected starter at strong safety, for the season with a ruptured right Achilles' tendon.
Hawthorne was one of few bright spots for Illinois in 2009, starting five games as a true freshman and recording an interception and five pass breakups.
The recent losses will put defensive backs like Tavon Wilson, Travon Bellamy, Trulon Henry and Miami Thomas in the spotlight. Justin Green recently moved from running back to defensive back, and receivers Steve Hull and Jack Ramsey also could see some work in the secondary.
"You get concerned in the depth department," Zook said, "but Travon Bellamy's had a great camp and really has done well. We have Tavon Wilson playing at both places, corner and safety. And we're taking a look at Justin Green, who really has a chance to be a special player for us."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to go inside five Big Ten teams preparing for the second round of league games.
Illinois: Head coach Ron Zook will increase his rotation on defense after the Illini dropped to last place in the Big Ten in points allowed (32 ppg). LinebackersRussell Ellington and Sam Carson and safety Donsay Hardeman all are expected to see more plays Saturday at Michigan (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Zook has some versatility with Travon Bellamy , who can play both safety and cornerback. The coach attributed Illinois' run-stopping struggles (182.5 ypg allowed) to the back half as the team tries to overcome the losses of All-American middle linebacker J Leman and talented safetiesKevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison. "I don't foresee starting lineup changes," Zook said, "but I do see guys that are going to be held accountable. ... We're going to play more guys and our job is to make sure we fix it."
Michigan State: Defensive back Kendell Davis-Clark could be back soon after missing the last four games with a shoulder injury. Davis-Clark's return presents some interesting decisions for head coach Mark Dantonio, who originally shifted Davis-Clark from cornerback to safety afterRoderick Jenrette was asked to take a leave of absence from the team. Danny Fortener replaced Davis-Clark in the season opener at Cal and has performed well, ranking second on the team in tackles (29) with three pass break-ups and an interception. Davis-Clark, who started 11 games at cornerback last season, is listed behind Fortener on the depth chart for Saturday's game against Iowa (ESPN2, noon ET).
Minnesota: The Gophers continue to list three players as possible starters at running back on this week's depth chart, but head coach Tim Brewster acknowledged that freshman DeLeon Eskridge has taken the lead. Eskridge racked up a team-high 131 all-purpose yards in Minnesota's league-opening loss to Ohio State last week. With five touchdowns, he's already halfway to reaching Minnesota's freshman record of 10 set by Laurence Maroney in 2003. Another freshman, Shady Salamon, and junior Jay Thomas also remain in the mix for playing time. "If you had to say one of three guys stepped out, you'd say DeLeon Eskridge," Brewster said. "The other two guys will definitely continue to play some."
Ohio State: Aside from left tackle Alex Boone, none of the spots on Ohio State's offensive line are set in stone. True freshman Michael Brewster remains the starter at center, but Jim Cordle could move back over from guard if necessary. Cordle and a healthy Steve Rehring are listed as co-starters at left guard. Right tackle Bryant Browning also can play a guard spot, and Rehring is a possibility at tackle. Freshmen tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams also could be the mix at some point as much-needed competition increases up front.
Purdue: The Boilers' spread offense is at its best with a large rotation of receivers, and they're starting to see more playmakers emerge. Senior Desmond Tardy is listed as a starter on this week's depth chart ahead of junior Keith Smith after catching 10 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown last week against Notre Dame. Purdue also has seen encouraging moments from junior college transfer Aaron Valentin. Head coach Joe Tiller wants to see more from his other juco wideout, Arsenio Curry, who brings excellent size (6-foot-4, 217 pounds) but has yet to catch a pass. Tight end remains a question mark, as starter Kyle Adams is doubtful for Saturday's game against Penn State. Adams hasn't played since he hurt his knee on the opening kickoff of the season opener.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- My Big Ten tour continues Tuesday at Michigan State, which begins its media day around 8 a.m. ET. Offensive players and coaches are up first, followed by defensive players and coaches. Head coach Mark Dantonio meets the media at 11:30 a.m. ET, and I'll head to watch the first portion of practice this afternoon.
For the e-mailers ragging me for flooding the blog with Michigan material Monday, this is how it's going to work. When I'm at a particular school, that school's team will be featured throughout the day. I'll try not to neglect what's going on around the league, but one team will take precedence. The good thing is I'm going to visit almost every Big Ten school before the season, so if you're wondering when Ohio State or Penn State get top billing, just be patient.
It was a busy Monday around the Big Ten as 10 teams opened practice. Here's a look at each one:
- Rashard Mendenhall was arguably the Big Ten's most valuable player last season, but Illinois thinks it can fill the void, Dave Curtis writes in The Sporting News.
- The Champaign News-Gazette's Web site [IlliniHQ.com] is finally free, and Bob Asmussen looks at five questions to monitor at Camp Rantoul.
- Cornerback Vontae Davis has NFL scouts drooling, Lindsey Willhite writes in the Daily Herald.
- Travon Bellamy and Chris Duvalt are in the mix for starting spots at safety and wide receiver, Stu Durando writes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
- Quarterback Kellen Lewis returned to the practice field and hopes to redeem himself after a suspension this spring. "I want to show that I've become a better individual and will stop making selfish decisions, which is what got me into this in the first place," Lewis said.
- Lewis wasn't alone on Monday, as eight quarterbacks took snaps for the Hoosiers. Also, Florida transfer Jerimy Finch is still awaiting clearance before he can practice with Indiana, The Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens writes in his blog.
- The Bloomington Herald-Times' Doug Wilson has some notes from Indiana's first practice.
- Coach Kirk Ferentz tried to keep the focus on football at the team's media day.
- No surprise here, but Iowa's running back job remains wide open as Shonn Greene returns from junior college. The coaching staff is high on Greene, but walk-on Paki O'Meara will push him.
- Quarterback Jake Christensen enters camp as the starter and has the chance to further distance himself as his primary contender, Ricky Stanzi, recovers from a shoulder injury.
- Iowa's road to redemption starts with the offensive line, Sean Keeler writes in the Des Moines Register.
- Michigan's media rights belong to IMG, which paid $86 million in a 12-year deal, John Ourand writes in Sports Business Journal. IMG already owns Michigan's radio rights but will pick up corporate sponsorships and coaches' endorsements.
- Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones has bulked up during the summer, the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode writes in his blog.
- The team on the field isn't the only thing looking glossy at Michigan State. The football team's new headquarters is getting rave reviews, Steve Grinczel writes.
- Former Kansas City Chiefs star center Jack Rudnay, a Northwestern alum, addressed the team on the first day of practice.
- Heralded freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor took the practice field without a no-contact jersey Monday. But it didn't stay that way for long, Tim May writes in the Columbus Dispatch.
- Ohio State tries to get back to its roots on special teams, Ken Gordon writes in the Columbus Dispatch.
- Jim Tressel didn't say much about the status of defensive tackle Doug Worthington or cornerback Donald Washington, but he did make a key position change Monday, moving Curtis Terry from linebacker to first-team fullback, Doug Lesmerises writes in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- Who will win Penn State's quarterback job? Who steps up at defensive tackle after the dismissals of Phil Taylor and Chris Baker? The Philadelphia Enquirer's Jeff McLane takes a look.
- Mark Wogenrich of The (Allentown) Morning Call weighs in on what to watch in Penn State's camp.
- Reserve running back Lance Smith has run out of chances at Wisconsin after his latest slip-up. He remains eligible and will look to play elsewhere, but his Badgers' career is over. Coach Bret Bielema really had little choice here after sticking his neck out for Smith last summer. The Badgers still have enough depth at running back, though an injury to P.J. Hill or Zach Brown could raise the anxiety level.
- The Capital Times' Jim Polzin breaks down the first day of practice. Junior cornerback Josh Nettles and two incoming freshmen aren't on the roster,