Corey Liuget worked hard to get in top shape for the 2010 season, losing 30 pounds. That and a dedication to his craft prepared him for a quality season. But no one expected his performance against Michigan State.
Liuget was credited with 11 tackles and two quarterback hurries. He played a major role in holding the Spartans under 100 total yards rushing and applied constant pressure in their passing game. Interestingly, he was so in the moment he needed film review to remind him of his accomplishments.
"It's a great feeling to see myself on film running around and making plays. Doing whatever it takes."
Liuget was double-teamed frequently, but he didn't remember until he reviewed the film.
"To be honest, I didn't notice. When I watched film, I saw a lot of double teams or a pulling guard or lead guard on a running play. I saw it on film, but on the field I was just playing, just reacting. I didn't know what was going on."
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning called Liuget a "wrecking ball." The Miami junior remained humble.
"The film showed that I played pretty well, so I'm planning to come out and do it every week."
Was it his best game as an Illini?
"Yes. I talked to people back home, and people up here told me that was a pretty good game. One of the best they saw."
Liuget gets little rest due to a combination of his ability and a lack of depth on the team. So it was surprising to see him chase down a ball carrier 20 yards downfield late in the MSU game.
"You get winded, but you just have to dig deep down inside of you, remember all the summer conditioning and all the winter workouts that you've already done. Put that in your mind and say, 'Nothing is gonna stop me now. I've just got to leave it all out here now.'"
Fellow defensive tackle Akeem Spence is taking advantage of the double teams on his mate. He is growing rapidly as a redshirt freshman, making it tougher on opposing offenses to pay too much attention to Liuget.
"He's catching on as a freshman. We're just all together as a unit. We're coming out every game and every practice and getting better."
The Illinois defense is playing well, but as a team leader Liuget wants to keep the focus on continued development. He realizes the Illini still have plenty of room to improve.
"Of course we feel good about ourselves. But there's a couple plays, 12 plays that we didn't execute with coverages, stunts and everything. We left some plays out on the field. That was big."
Has the defense peaked?
"Not yet. We've still got six more games yet to play. Just continue to get better throughout those six games. It's definitely a different defense than last year, and we feel great about ourselves. But we've got to come out every day ready to play and ready to practice."