Illinois 38, Baylor 14

By charliefillenwarth

So, who’s ready for another season of Mikel Leshoure and Corey Liuget? You may get your wish only if there’s an NFL lockout.

Leshoure ran for 184 yards and scored three touchdown for Illinois, as they mauled the Baylor Bears 38-14 in the Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Leshoure broke numerous school records, including Robert Holcombe’s single season rushing record, and earned Texas Bowl MVP honors.

The Illini’s first postseason trip since 2008 almost got off to a disasterous start. Baylor took the opening kickoff and marched down the field in four plays. But star quarterback Robert Griffin III fumbled after a long gain, and Travon Bellamy recovered it.

From there, Illinois took control, racking up 533 total yards. Nathan Scheelhaase completed big passes to Darius Millines and Ryan Lankford during a 13-13 first half, leading the Illini to a 16-0 lead at the break. In the second half, Leshoure opened the scoring with a 13 yard run to cap a nine-play, 87-yard drive.

The Bears would not go away quietly. Griffin led a 11-play, 73-yard drive, finished by Jay Finley with a four-yard touchdown run. Then on a fourth and 21, Griffin found Kendall Wright for a 39 yard touchdown pass to start the fourth quarter. Baylor had 437 total yards, 313 through the air.

Leshoure put the game away with a five yard touchdown run on the next drive and Scheelhaase added a 55 yard touchdown in garbage time.

The Centennial product set school records for scoring, touchdowns and rushing yards. He tied the record for rushing touchdowns and scored the most points in a bowl game. Derek Dimke made three field goals, also a school bowl game record.

Illinois finishes the season at 7-6, and possibly saves Ron Zook’s job. If the coaching staff remains in place, and no one jumps to the NFL, this could be a very good team next season. But the reality is that Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning could be head coaching candidates, and Leshoure and Liuget will be first or second-round draft picks.

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