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Just about anyone on the defensive unit can be labeled the star of the game. But the one who shined brightest might be Jonathan Brown. The sophomore linebacker’s big hit on Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler forced the interception by Glenn Foster and Brown picked one off himself in the third quarter.
“J. Brown balled out. He had a great game, I think he was probably the most valuable defensive player of this game,” said defensive end Michael Buchanan, who had four tackles and 1.5 sacks. “He really stepped up on a big stage so we’re really happy with how he played.”
Brown made seven tackles including 3.5 for a loss and 1.5 sacks.
“God is great, he’s the reason that I did that and it just feels good to come into my own, I feel,” Brown said.
Coming into the game the was some question as to whether punter Justin DuVernois would be up to the challenge on a big stage. The freshman didn’t get off to a great start, his first effort traveling 29 yards.
“From there on out I kind of tuned everything out,” DuVernois said.
Apparently he did. He had punts of 44, 41, 48 and a 46-yarder to the Illinois 27 late in the fourth quarter to help seal the win.
“I’m proud of him. Justin’s one of the guys if you ask if he’s all right, he says he is, but you’re not sure what he’s thinking. I think he grew up tonight and he’s gonna be fine now,” Illinois coach Ron Zook said. “I know he’s gonna be an awfully good punter, I don’t worry about that. It’s a little bit different when you’re out there and you have to get the ball off, particularly when it’s on the 4 yard line.”
Said DuVernois: It definitely makes me feel a part of the win because it’s a big game and everything and it’s crucial to have field position change so it felt good. My confidence will definitely be different going out there the next game.”
Donovonn Young had a breakout game against South Dakota State last week, rushing for 65 yards and two touchdowns. Saturday was a little different for the freshman from Houston. Young carried the ball two times for 8 yards. His second carry resulted in a fumble and he was hardly seen on the field afterward.
“That wasn’t necessarily the reason he wasn’t out there. I know he was on the field, but we might have changed personnel and then he came out,” Zook said. “That’s a big game and he’ll learn from that. Hopefully it’ll be his last one, it’s not unusual for a freshman to put the ball on the ground occasionally. ”
Ryan Lankford muffed a punt in the third quarter and, like Jack Ramsey after muffing two last year at Penn State Lankford owned up to his miscue afterward.
“After the fact, of course, I was disappointed. I felt like I let my team down. It was no one’s fault but myself,” he said. “I looked up, it was a little higher ball than I anticipated. I thought I could catch it on the run like I did last week. I was just too worried about a return and not securing the catch. I take full blame for it.”