Texas Bowl Preview
Baylor vs Illinois
The beauty of bowl games is the fact that they often match teams that would never see each other during the regular season. The Houston Bowl is another example of this as 6-6 Illinois takes on 7-5 Baylor in the Bears home state of Texas at 6pm on December 29th.
Who wants it more?
It is flawed thinking to assume a team playing in its home state is automatically more focused. Sure there is often a crowd edge but when playing a university with a large alumni population, such as, Illinois, it is normally neutralized. Baylor is the smaller school with more to prove. So their motivation is a given. Illinois should be excited to complete a comeback season in fine style but after playing the Big names of the Big Ten all year, Baylor may not be looked at as a challenge.
When Illinois has the ball:
Illinois is not fancy. They run the read option with a physical offensive line that will pound you into submission if you cannot man up. According to CFBStats.com, Baylor has given up 4.2 yards per carry this year but seem to struggle late in games against the stronger teams in the Big 12. Illinois will no doubt have success on the ground with QB Scheelhaase and QB Leshoure but will they score touchdowns? I think they will.
When Baylor has the ball:
Baylors offensive line really struggled in pass protection against the better Big 12 Teams. Illinois has a strong defensive front featuring DT Cory Liuget who did not receive enough attention when handing out trophies at the end of year. However, Illinois can be vulnerable against the pass since its secondary is still not where coach Zook would like it to be. The Bears feature a lot of quick outs and bubble screens. Illinois will have some trouble matching up against this spread attack even though Illinois did have success against Northwestern who was minus QB Persa. Baylors Rober Griffin will poise a greater challenge. With plenty of time to prepare, the Bear offense can either lose its crispness or have a new gameplan that totally confuses Illinois. Illinois DC Vic Koenning is too good to be caught with his pants down. I expect Illinois to corral the spread attack of Baylor by dominating the line of scrimmage.
Illinois kicking game has been solid all year. They led the Big Ten in punting average and made 21-26 field goals. I give them a small edge but with a long layoff, return coverage can often be a wildcard.
Big Ten Analyst-Jim Fahs