Pac-12: Jason Ford

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Keys for UCLA

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
7:30
PM ET
What are the three keys for UCLA against Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on New Year's Eve? Glad you asked.

1.Care: The first step toward winning this game is really caring about winning this game. Both teams fired their coaches. Both teams had extremely disappointing seasons. Both teams looked awful late in the year. Both teams suspended players for various reasons after the season ended. Many of the players on the field are going to play hard because that is who they are: Competitors caught in a tough situation who never mail it in because competitors never do. But some won't. If you watch closely, in fact, you'll be able to say, "Did you see that? He didn't even try!"

2. Run and stop the run: Neither team passes the ball well. In fact, neither team is very good on offense period. But both teams' best weapon is running the ball, even if the Illini's leading rusher, Jason Ford, is academically ineligible. If one team is decisively better running the ball -- and doesn't turn the ball over a bunch -- it's going to win this game.

3. Block Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus: Illinois has a good defense that is led by a great player in defensive end Whitney Mercilus. He led the nation in sacks (14.5) and forced fumbles (9). He's a beast and fun to watch. And guess what? One of the guys who will try to block him much of the night -- along with senior tackle Mike Harris -- will be a former walk-on making his first career start: junior Brett Downey. The Bruins' offensive line, in fact, has issues with sophomore guard Alberto Cid academically ineligible and Chris Ward and Wade Yandall out with injuries. Have Mercilus!
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- It's fitting that Illinois' defense had to seal a statement win for the program.

Vic Koenning's unit performed masterfully most of the game, making play after to play to keep Arizona State out of the end zone. After struggling on third-and-long much of the night, the Illini forced four consecutive incomplete passes to cement a 17-14 win.

Illinois received a tremendous performance from its defensive front seven, particularly Whitney Mercilus and Jonathan Brown, and Koenning continued to dial up blitzes that worked. The offense struggled in the second half but got some nice running late from Jason Ford and Nathan Scheelhaase.

Despite a strong defensive effort, Arizona State still has trouble turning the corner and likely will fall out of the polls this week. Too many turnovers and penalties for the Sun Devils tonight.

Illinois, meanwhile, has announced itself as a contender in a very vulnerable Big Ten.

Arizona State-Illinois pregame

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
6:57
PM ET
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Brock Osweiler really is that big.

That's my prevailing thought after watching the Arizona State quarterback warm up. The 6-foot-8 Osweiler should have no trouble seeing over the Illinois defense tonight. I'm also impressed with several of the Sun Devils receivers. It'll be a challenge for the Illini secondary.

Illinois running back Jason Ford stood out to me during warmups. He looks like he's gained a step or two, and he's always had the size to run with power.

The weather is still gorgeous, so let's get this thing going. Should be a good one.

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
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Saturday, 1/3
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Monday, 1/12