Why should this nominee be considered for the Broyles Award?
The Illinois defense under Ryan Walter has shown significant improvement under his first season, allowing on 19.5 points per game in Big Ten games. In his first season, Walters has improved the overall performance of the Illinois defense and its rankings in several NCAA categories, even after losing two starting linebackers.
Defense Improvement in Big Ten Games
Points per game: +10 places (-17.3)
TDs allowed: +10 places (-24)
Yards per play: +6 places (-1.3)
Yards per game: +6 places (-98.3)
Rush yards per carry: +5 places (-1.0)
Rush yards per game: +4 places (-72.8)
Pass yards per throw: +8 places (-2.3)
Pass yards per game: +4 places (-25.8)
2021 (Big Ten Games)
Points per game: 4th (17.6)
TDs allowed: 4th (13)
Yards per play: 7th (5.2)
Yards per game: 8th (369.0)
Rush yards per carry: 9th (4.1)
Rush yards per game: 10th (157.3)
Pass yards per throw: 6th (6.6)
Pass yards per game: 6th (211.7)
2020 (Big Ten Games)
Points per game: 14th (34.9)
TDs allowed: 14th (37)
Yards per play: 13th (6.5)
Yards per game: 14th (467.3)
Rush yards per carry: 14th (5.1)
Rush yards per game: 14th (230.1)
Pass yards per throw: 14th (8.9)
Pass yards per game: 10th (237.1)
Coach's Past Performance
Walters served as the defensive coordinator at Mizzou from 2016-20 before coming to Illinois this last offseason. He oversaw an impressive transformation of the Tiger defense into one of the SEC’s top units. In 2019, Walters’ defense ranked in the nation’s Top 20 in several major categories, including total defense (14thNCAA/3rdSEC– 312.0 avg.) and scoring defense (17thNCAA/6thSEC – 19.4 avg.), while excelling as a Top 10 pass defense (eighth in passing yards allowed NCAA/second SEC – 179.3 avg.).Under Walters’ direction in 2019, a pair of junior safeties – Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe – developed into big play fixtures in the secondary as they ranked second and third on the team, respectively, in tackles. Gillespie finished the year with 50 stops, seven pass break-ups, four tackles for loss, and a forced fumble, while Bledsoe was close behind with 49 tackles, four tackles for loss and a team-best 10 pass break-ups. Additionally, two Tiger defenders earned All-America honors in 2019, including junior DT Jordan Elliott (1st-Team Pro Football Focus, 2nd-Team Associated Press) and sophomore LB Nick Bolton (3rd-Team Pro Football Focus).
Team Record and Standings
Illinois’ current record is 4-6 overall and 4-6 in the Big Ten. They are fifth in the Big Ten West.
• Illinois has held opponents to 24 points or fewer in seven straight games for the first time since an eight-game stretch that spanned the final five games of the 2002 season and the first three games of the 2003 season. Last year’s Illini team allowed 24 points or fewer only twice.• Illinois’ defense has made a 13+-point improvement from last season (34.9 ppg to 21.6 ppg). The 13.3 ppg improvement is the program’s best since 1963 (26.0 ppg to 10.3 ppg = 15.7).• Illinois’ total defense has improved by 77.4 yards per game (467.3 to 389.9).• Illinois has allowed only 2.1 yards per carry in Big Ten road games this year (90 carries, 189 yards) and only 0.7 yards per carry in the fourth quarter of those games (19 carries, 14 yards).• Illinois is 12th in the nation and first in the Big Ten in fumbles recovered (8).• Illinois is third in the Big Ten in takeaways (15).• Illinois is 18th in the nation third in the Big Ten in turnover margin (+0.7).
Individual Player Stats
Kerby Joseph is third in the nation in interceptions, first in the nation in fumble recoveries, and the #1 graded safety in the nation by PFF. Walters has been a great part of Joesph’s transition to a top defensive back from wide receiver.• Owen Carney Jr. is tied for fourth in the Big Ten in sacks (6.5)