Ryan Walters


Defensive Coordinator

Conference: Big Ten

Coach Stats

Why should this nominee be considered for the Broyles Award?
Walters turned Illinois from bad to good on defense in 2021. In 2022, he has turned the unit from good to great. The defense has been dominant at all three levels this season, helping the Illini to grind out close wins. Notably, the unit held Wisconsin to 2 total rushing yards in a 34-10 road win this season. The defense has been the backbone of the program, helping to keep Illinois’ Big Ten championship hopes alive deep into November. Walters engineered one of the best defensive turnarounds in the nation in 2021, helping Illinois to a 5-7 record and ranked wins over #7 Penn State in the longest game in college football history (9 OT) and #20 Minnesota, the Illini’s first ever win over a College Football Playoff ranked opponent. Illinois’ scoring defense (31st from 97th), third down defense (31st from 89th), and total defense (52nd from 114th) all improved more than 50 spots in the national rankings from 2020. The Illini made massive gains in the Big Ten defensive rankings, as well, jumping nine or more spots in scoring defense (4th from 14th), touchdowns allowed (t-3rd from 14th), yards allowed per game (5th from 14th), and passing yards allowed per game (1st from 10th). Walters turned free safety Kerby Joseph into a backup that transitioned from wide receiver into one of the breakout stars in college football. Joseph was the #1 graded defensive back in the nation by PFF and an All-Big Ten first team selection after tying for the national lead in interceptions. Joseph was drafted in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, just one year after having nearly zero significant collegiate playing experience.
Coach's Past Performance
Walters completely turned around Illinois’ defense during his first year with the program in 2021. The Illini rose more than 50 spots nationally in multiple categories, jumping from 97th to 31st in scoring defense, 89th to 31st in third down defense, and 114th to 52nd in total defense. Six different players earned all-Big Ten honors for Illinois’ defense last year.
Team Record and Standings
Illinois is 7-3 overall and 4-3 in Big Ten play, tied for first place in the Big Ten West. • Illinois is in first place of the Big Ten West at 4-2, one game ahead of a four-way tie for second place between Purdue, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota at 3-3. • Illinois controls its own destiny for a Big Ten West championship, needing a win over Purdue plus one more win over Michigan or Northwestern to guarantee a spot in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 3. • Illinois has been ranked for five straight weeks, the Illini’s first time in the AP Top 25 since 2011. • Illinois was ranked in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings at No. 16. It was the first time Illinois has ever appeared in the CFP rankings. • Illinois climbed to No. 14 in the AP Poll last week before falling to Michigan State. This is the third season in the last 30 years that Illinois has cracked the AP’s top 15 (2001, 2007). • Illinois is off to a 7-2 start through nine games, its best start since staring 8-1 in 2001. • Illinois completed its first undefeated October since 2001 (3-0). The Illini won four games in October for the first time since 1990. • Illinois has won five straight games against Big Ten West opponents for the first time since the Big Ten switched to East/West divisions in 2014. Illinois has beaten every Big Ten West opponent in their last meeting, except Purdue. • Illinois is 4-2 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2007. The Illini have already matched their Big Ten wins total from last season (4). • Illinois is 6-1 in its last seven home games. The Illini have outscored opponents 190-66 (27.1-9.4) during those seven home games. • Illinois’ seven wins are tied for its most since 2007. The Illini finished 7-6 in 2010 and 2011.
Team/Unit Stats
Illinois ranks No. 2 nationally in total defense (246.9 ypg), No. 3 in yards per play (4.19), No. 3 in scoring defense (12.5 ppg), No. 6 in rushing defense (85.9 ypg), No. 5 in passing defense (161.0 ypg), No. 4 in takeaways (22), No. 4 in third down defense (26.87 percent), No. 12 in fourth down defense (33.3 percent) and No. 18 in red zone defense (76.19 percent score percentage). • Illinois national ranks: 1st in scoring defense (10.4), 1st in total defense (232.2), 1st in passing efficiency defense (84.09), 1st in interceptions (16), 1st in first downs allowed (113), 1st in passing touchdowns allowed (5), 1st in passing defense (152.6), 2nd in touchdowns allowed (9), 2nd in passes defended (64), 2nd in yards per pass attempt (5.2), 2nd in fourth down conversions against (3), 3rd in takeaways (22), 3rd in third down defense (25.6%), 3rd in third down conversions against (31), 3rd in rushing touchdowns allowed (4), 3rd in fewest red zone attempts allowed (17), 3rd in red zone touchdown percentage (35.3%), 4th in rushing defense (79.7), 5th in yards per rush (2.86), 6th in TFL yards (300), 9th in fourth down defense (30.0%), 9th in red zone defense (70.6%), 9th in sack yards (190) • Illinois’ defense is ranked 3rd in the nation by ESPN’s SP+ metric and 4th by PFF. • Illinois has allowed only seven points in fourth quarters, the fewest in the nation. • Illinois has allowed only nine touchdowns on 114 opponent drives and only seven in the last 90 drives. Indiana and Michigan State are the only opponents to score points on back-to-back drives against Illinois this season. • Illinois has at least one interception in all nine games this season and has an interception in 12 straight games dating back to last season. Seven different Illini have an INT this season.
Individual Player Stats
Illinois has four different players who rank in the top-20 in the Big Ten in sacks: Jer’Zhan Newton (5.5), Gabe Jacas (4), Keith Randolph Jr. (4) and Seth Coleman (3.5). Newton (12), Randolph (11) and Tarique Barnes (7) each rank in the top-16 in the Big Ten in tackles for loss, too. The Illini have four different players who have least two interceptions, with Sydney Brown and Kendall Smith each tallying four interceptions apiece, good for No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 10 nationally. The Illini also have five different players who have defended at least five passes, each ranking in the top-19 of the Big Ten: Jartavius Martin (14), Devon Witherspoon (13), Sydney Brown (11), Kendall Smith (7) and Tahveon Nicholson (7). Walters has guided two defensive players to the top 20 of the Bednarik Award semifinalist list in Jer’Zhan Newton and Devon Witherspoon. Illinois and Alabama are the only two teams in the country with two of the top defenders in college football. Some notes on the exceptional seasons for Newton and Witherspoon: • Newton is the third-highest graded defender in the nation by PFF and No. 1 in Power-5. • Newton leads the nation in QB hits (16) and ranks fifth in the nation in pressures (43). • Witherspoon is the highest graded cornerback in the nation by PFF and has the best coverage grade in the nation. • Witherspoon is second in the nation in forced incompletions (13), third in NFL passer rating against (30.7), and third in reception percentage against (29.8, min. 200 coverage snaps). More individual notes: • Kendall Smith and Sydney Brown are tied for eighth in the nation in interceptions (4) and second in the Big Ten. Illinois is the only team in the nation with two players with four interceptions. • Johnny Newton (43) and Seth Coleman (33) have 76 combined pressures, tied for the most of any teammates in the nation, according to PFF (Washington’s Bralen Trice and Jeremiah Martin). • Devon Witherspoon and Jartavius Martin are both tied for fifth in the nation in passes defended (12). Illinois is the only team with two players in the top five. Sydney Brown quote: “What he’s been able to do and how he’s calling it and how he’s putting us in the right position to make the play, it’s unbelievable. What it also goes to is the trust relationship. The players trust him. He trusts us. It allows us to play fast and allows us to play with confidence. At the end of the day, that’s what football is. It’s all about how fast you can play.”