Mikel Leshoure will likely be playing in the NFL this time next year, but in his last game as a college player, he cemented himself as one of the best running backs to have ever played for the University of Illinois. LeShoure's 184 yards on 29 carries was more than enough to overtake the record previously held by Rashard Mendenhall. His three touchdowns on the night also tied Mendenhall's single season touchdown record as well.
The Illini rolled up a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but the game was anything but over with for most of the second half. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III made a stunning long touchdown pass on fourth and four to pull the Bears within ten points with plenty of time left, and a near lost fumble on a punt return for the Illini nearly gave Baylor the ball again at the 20 yard line, but it was not to be. Nathan Scheelhaase and Leshoure led to the Illini down the field for a touchdown to keep the score at more than two possessions. A Baylor turnover on downs and a long Scheelhaase touchdown run let the Illini win the game by a comfortable margin. Baylor will have to wait another year to get its first bowl win of the 21st century.
For the Illini it is the first bowl victory since Kurt Kittner was quarterback, and an uplifting ending to a season that was filled with plenty of ups and downs. For Ron Zook it is his first bowl win, ever, and likely the boost he needed to shore up the support of many Illini fans, which had been flagging in recent years. This team has seen moments of greatness, like the spectacular game in Wrigley Field, and the depths of disappointment like the last minute loss to Minnesota at home, but a victory on national television against a respected Big 12 team goes a long way to make up for the disappointments. The Illini have very few seniors on this team and several freshmen, so this could be just be the beginning of a period of football success at the University of Illinois.