Ron Zook got the first bowl victory of his career as Illinois handed Baylor a 38-14 loss in Houston.
Offense: This was likely Illinois' best all-around performance of the season since it beat Penn State, as both the offense and defense performed extremely well. We already knew that Illinois could get the job done on the ground, but Nathan Scheelhaase showed everybody why he has such a bright future on Wednesday night. The freshman completed 18-of-23 passes for 242 yards, while contributing 53 yards and a touchdown rushing. Of course, 55 of those yards came on one play in the closing seconds as he kept the ball on a bootleg and nobody from Baylor followed him. Still, as good as Scheelhaase was, Mikel LeShoure was the star of the show. LeShoure rushed for 184 yards and 3 touchdowns to set the Illinois single season marks for yards in a season and touchdowns. The Illini just had their way with Baylor all night long, racking up 533 total yards. Grade: A
Defense: Illinois' defense hasn't gotten as much respect as it probably deserved this season thanks to some rough games against Michigan and Minnesota, but this unit isn't nearly as mediocre as most people think. Case in point: On Wednesday night the Illini held a Baylor team that had averaged 32.6 points per game and 478.5 yards per game to 14 points. Corey Liuget and the defensive line were in Robert Griffin's face all night, and most importantly, got off the field on third down, allowing Baylor to convert only two of ten third downs. Grade: A
Coaching: After last season Ron Zook decided that if he wanted to keep his job and turn the Illinois program around he was going to have to start over. So he overhauled his coaching staff and brought on Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning to run the offense and the defense. Well, it paid off. Zook has the first bowl win of his career thanks to the game plans his coordinators drew up to stop Baylor, and suddenly things are looking good in Champaign again. Grade: A
Offense: Robert Griffin is a remarkable kid. I feel the need to make this point because I'm sure a lot of college football fans don't get the chance to see Baylor play all that often, but I assure you, the Robert Griffin you saw tonight was not the Robert Griffin the Big 12 saw most of the season. I'm not sure whether Baylor was nervous playing in its first bowl game in so long, but the Bears just didn't have it out of the gate on Wednesday night. They showed some flashes on offense in the second half, but they were few and far between, and just not in time. Any rhythm the team did pick up was quickly thrown off by penalties or bad decisions, and the Baylor offense that had shown up all season just never made its way to Houston. Some of this has to be attributed to Illinois' defense, but Baylor didn't do itself any favors. Grade: D
Defense: Was there that kid in your grade school that liked to beat up on younger, smaller kids during recess? You know, the fifth grader with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove to the second grader? Well, Illinois' offense was the fifth grader on Wednesday, and Baylor's defense was the second grader just lying on the ground hoping that a teacher would show up to break up the fight before he was dead. You got the feeling that Illinois could have let Baylor know what it was going to do before every play and Baylor still couldn't have stopped it. Grade: F
Coaching: There Baylor coaching staff isn't going to find much on the game film to be happy about when they get back to Waco. It was just a bad night and the coaching staff deserves some of the blame for the Bears coming out so flat to start the game. Still, considering what Art Briles has done at Baylor during his three years, and where this program could be going, it's hard for me to give Briles and company a terrible grade. Grade: C
I was hoping this game would be a shootout that would come down to who had the ball last, or at least the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. Instead it was a game that was pretty easy to figure out early, and felt more like a three and a half hour Illinois coronation ceremony. Which is nice for Illinois fans, but for the impartial observer, it's rather boring. Grade: D