Baylor Poses Stern Test For Illini Defense

The Fighting Illini football team accomplished its goal of qualifying for a bowl game, but playing Baylor in Houston is no picnic. The Bears have tons of speed, and their offense has broken 26 school records this season. Featuring sophomore superstar quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Bears have tremendous talent up and down their lineup.

Baylor coach Art Briles led his team to its first bowl game in 16 seasons. The 7-5 record is impressive despite losing the last three games. The Bears defense has given up a lot of points, but the offense has countered with tremendous potency.

Baylor has scored 30 or more points in nine of its games. Their offense is one of only three in the nation to be ranked in the top 25 in both passing and rushing. They are 12th in total offense (478.5 yards a game), 20th in pass offense (278 yards a game), 23rd in rushing offense (200.5 yards a game), 29th in scoring offense (32.58 points a game), 30th in sacks allowed (1.41 a game), and 31st in pass efficiency.

Robert Griffin III (6'-2", 220) leads the Baylor offense. The sophomore quarterback made 2nd team All-Big 12 and is explosive both as a passer and runner. Griffin is the current Baylor career leader in completion percentage with 64%. He is the 8th active quarterback and only sophomore in the country with at least 5,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.

He is 7th nationally in total offense with 315.5 yards a game. He has tossed 13 passes for at least 40 yards each for 10 touchdowns. Among those were seven 50-yard passes producing 6 TDs. The speedster also had 11 running plays of 30 yards or more, with two of those ending with touchdowns.

Unlike Denard Robinson at Michigan, who has speed similar to him, Griffin III is a pass-first quarterback. Baylor is one of three teams in the country with five receivers with 35 or more receptions each. Junior Kendall Wright (5'-10", 190) has 66, sophomore Terrance Williams (6'-2", 195) has 42, freshman Tevin Reese (5'-10", 160) has 42, sophomore Lanear Sampson (5'-11", 200) has 40, and sophomore Josh Gordon (6'-3", 220) has 36. In all, 18 players have caught passes this season.

Wright is the team leader. He has registered at least one catch in each of his 36 career games. He needs two catches to become Baylor's all-time leader with 184 receptions. Wright is third all-time in receiving yards at Baylor with 2,214. He was 2nd team All-Big 12 this season.

Senior running back Jay Finley (5'-11", 205) has rushed for 1155 yards and needs 34 more to become Baylor's new season record holder. Finley was 4th in the Big 12 with 96.25 rushing yards per game. He was named Honorable Mention All-American by Finley's backup is junior Terrance Ganaway (5'-11", 235).

The offensive line pass protects well. The left tackle is senior Danny Watkins (6'-4", 310). Watkins was 2nd team All-Big 12 and honorable mention All-American by Pro Football Weekly. Sophomore Cameron Kaufhold (6'-4", 310) is the left guard, junior Philip Blake (6'-3", 315) is the center, right guard is junior Robert T. Griffin (6'-6", 330), and soph Ivory Wade (6'-3", 295) mans the right tackle spot. Blake was honorable mention All-Big 12.

The tight ends are senior Brad Taylor (6'-3", 240) and sophomore Jerod Monk (6'-4", 245). If they use a fullback, they have a monster in sophomore Kaeron Johnson (6'-1", 295).

The Baylor defense has been much maligned, giving up 55, 42 and 53 points in its last three games. But it has two massive defensive tackles that will give Illinois problems, one of the leading defensive back tacklers in the country, and speed to burn.

Junior tackle Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (6'-1", 330) and senior nose guard Phil Taylor (6'-4", 340) are tough to dislodge. The Illini are familiar with Taylor, the high school All-American transfer from Penn State. Taylor was named 2nd team All-Big 12. Baylor starts redshirt freshman Tevin Elliott (6'-2", 245) and junior Tracy Robertson (6'-4", 280) at the ends.

The middle linebacker is senior Chris Francis (6'-0", 235). He is flanked by junior Elliot Coffey (6'-0", 230) and senior Antonio Johnson (6'-0", 215).

Senior hero Byron Landor (6'-0", 210), nicknamed "Crash" for his hard hits, leads the secondary. He is second in tackles by defensive backs in the country with 115.

Cornerbacks are sophomore Chance Casey (5'-11", 185) and senior Mikail Baker (6'-0", 200). The other safety is manned by senior Tim Atchison (6'-1", 200). The Bear nickel back is sophomore Mike Hicks (5'-10", 195).

The kicking game is in great hands. Punter Derek Epperson is second all-time at Baylor with 49 career punts over 50 yds. He ranks 19th nationally this year with 44.2 yards per punt.

Aaron Jones is 2nd nationally for freshman placekickers with 19 field goals. He is 10th nationally with 1.64 field goals a game and 29th nationally in scoring at 8.64 points a game. He has four last second field goals to his credit, including two from 50 yards.

Kick returners are Williams and Baker. Senior Krys Buerck (5'-10", 190) handles punt returns while backing up Reese at one inside receiver spot.

The Bear defense will give up yards and points. The question is whether the Illini can outscore a tremendously potent Baylor offense.

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