ReliaQuest Bowl. Illinois’ revamped secondary below the gun vs. Mississippi State’s Air Raid


TAMPA, Fla. – Do the statistics lie?

As they inform the story of an Illinois protection that may match Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense and lead the Illini to victory Monday in a gathering of 8-4 groups within the ReliaQuest Bowl (11 a.m., ESPN2).

With quarterback Will Rogers within the lead function, the Bulldogs throw it 49.1 instances per sport, finishing a mean of 33.2 for 314.3 yards. It is like an air run sport, with brief passes designed for yards after the catch (YAC). Rodgers is the SEC’s profession chief in completions and MSU’s document holder in passing yards and touchdowns, and the Bulldogs are No. 2 within the nation in YAC.

However the move protection has been the Illini’s greatest energy. They rank first nationally in passing effectivity (89.8), yards allowed per try (5.4), touchdowns allowed (eight) and interceptions (22). The Illini are additionally first in complete yards (30) and second in scoring common (12.3).

“As a fan of the protection, the aggressive protection, the best way they must play, the work they’ve executed this yr, man, it is enjoyable to observe,” mentioned Bulldogs coach Zach Arnett, who was fired as defensive coordinator two weeks in the past. : After the loss of life of Mike Leach. “I do know our guys loved watching it simply on movie as a result of that is how protection is meant to be performed. They did an exceptional job.”

However All-American cornerback Devon Witherspoon, projected to be a first-round NFL decide, and All-Huge Ten security Sydney Brown, projected within the center rounds, carried a lot of the load, and each had been ignored of the bowl sport.

Not having the nation’s second-leading rusher, Chase Brown, additionally waived, is a blow. However having his twin brother flying round menacingly and Witherspoon relentlessly locking down receivers is a much bigger downside for the Illini.

For brand spanking new defensive coordinator Aaron Henry, who performed for Brett Bielema at Wisconsin and was promoted to start out defensive backs coach after Ryan Walters left to take over at Purdue. Rodgers will unfold the ball round Rufus Harvey, Caleb Ducking, Lydeatrick Griffin and a number of other others, together with a revamped secondary that features freshmen Tyler Pressure and Xavier Scott and freshman security Matthew Bailey.

“Clearly,” Bielema mentioned, “the best way these guys run the offense, our secondary needs to be one of the best.”

It is possible an “or else” state of affairs for Illinois, which is in search of its first nine-win season since 2007. The Bulldogs do not even have 1,000 yards on the bottom as a workforce, and there is not any cause to anticipate them to start out working the ball now. .

“I acquired to be taught below among the best that ever did it in coach Leach,” Arnett mentioned, “and I am simply attempting my greatest to copy what he would do.”

And that is throwing the ball till it seems to be like Rodgers’ proper arm is about to fall off.

Since arriving right here, Illini has fed giraffes, checked out the aquarium, jumped on the seashore and crushed MSU gamers in a pie-eating contest. However beating them on the pitch is one thing else. An airstrike is coming.

NOTES: Illinois can do no worse than it did the one different time it performed on this sport, a 30-0 loss to then-Corridor of Famer Clemson in 1991. The Illini missed their first offensive landing and trailed 10-0 heading into the second. … Bielema’s first loss as a coach additionally got here right here in 2008, when it was referred to as the Outback Bowl, and Wisconsin misplaced to Tennessee, 21-17. … Illinois final performed Mississippi State in 1980 when the Bulldogs gained 28-21 in Champaign.


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