Defense out to earn respect in Rose Bowl

Brit Miller speaks at a press conference on Saturday, Dec. 29. Erica Magda

By Jason Grodsky and Mike Theodore

PASADENA, Calif. – With the Rose Bowl only four days away defensive coaches and players from the Illinois football team met with members of the press Saturday morning at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to discusses their preparation for the “Granddaddy of them All.”

Defensive coordinators Dan Disch and Curt Mallory along with seniors J Leman, Kevin Mitchell and Chris Norwell and junior Brit Miller addressed the team’s defensive plan and strategy, offering a few words of wisdom to all the nay-sayers who are doubting the team’s selection to the Rose Bowl.

“Everybody is underestimating us as a team and as a defense,” Mitchell said. “That’s how it’s been all year. It took to the end of the Big Ten season for Big Ten teams to really take notice of us but people nationally still think we’re a fluke.”

Mitchell said that one of the defense’s goals will be to go out and earn respect from everyone through their play on the field.

Most notably was Mitchell’s statement to the USC fan base and team, who he feels is underestimating the Illini’s ability on defense.

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“I doubt USC understands what we’re going to bring to the table,” Mitchell said. “But hey, it’s cool. We’re going to go out there and do what we do and show them what we’re all about.”

If Mitchell and the Illini intend to earn the respect they feel they deserve they will have stop the Trojan offense and control tight end Fred Davis, the nation’s 2007 Mackey Award winner.

“This guy, according to the national media, is the best tight end and I think that is well deserved,” Leman said. “He can do it all. He can go deep and be a possession receiver and he can block. He’s going to be a tough match up for us.”

The senior tight end from Ohio led the Trojans in receiving yards (794), touchdown receptions (7) and receptions (55).

Assistant defensive coordinator Curt Mallory said stopping the big tight end will be a priority for his defense.

“We’ve obviously got to know where he is at all times because he’s such a great player,” he said. “We’re going to have to mix up our coverages. We’ll load up coverages a little more and at other times we’re going to have to cover him up.”

Norwell, a member of the stingy Illini defensive line, said Illinois is remaining focused during the team’s stay in California.

“Preparing is a little bit different because you have stuff to go to, but during the season you have school to go to and then practice,” he said. “Right now you can just focus on football. You don’t have to worry about school.

“We came out here to play the game and win. If we don’t do that then we didn’t accomplish our goal,” he added

While focus is a key ingredient as the Illini prepare, they are starting to become anxious to finally get on the field and hit.

The only concern for the players will be trying to calm themselves down come game day, especially after getting a surprise visit from Illini great Dick Butkus, who gave the team a pep talk. To hear one player discuss his reactions to Butkus, click on the audio wrap above.

Be sure to check back with to follow the Illini football team as they prepare for the Rose Bowl game.