Roundtree is a QB's worst nightmare

Roundtree is a QB's worst nightmare

By SCOTT RICHEY

srichey@news-gazette.com

CHAMPAIGN — Bobby Roundtree, simply put, looks the part of a modern day defensive end. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound freshman cuts an imposing figure — especially when he's in open space in opposing backfields.

Roundtree is tied with Michigan's Khaleke Hudson and Devin Bush for the Big Ten lead with three sacks through the Illini's first two games. He added two to his total Saturday in Illinois' 20-7 win against Western Kentucky.

And by virtue of sporting No. 97 for the Illini, Roundtree gives off a Simeon Rice vibe.

It could be fitting considering Rice set Illinois' freshman record with nine sacks — a number Roundtree is already a third of the way to matching with 10 games remaining in the regular season. Friday's game at South Florida is his next opportunity.

"It's just a blessing being able to start early and come out and make a great impact," Roundtree said, adding he's more comfortable and less nervous now two starts into his college career. "I don't want to take steps back. I want to make progress and just do better every game."

Illinois defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson isn't surprised by Roundtree's production so far this season. The Florida native put up 66 tackles and seven sacks during his senior season at Largo High School.

"He hasn't disappointed," Nickerson said.

Roundtree also has two pass breakups and a forced fumble.

"The sack and forced fumble (against Western Kentucky) was a huge play," Nickerson said. "It crushed the momentum of the offense — they were driving down the field on us — and stopped everything. He's capable of making those type of plays all the time."

Roundtree started opposite fellow freshman defensive end Isaiah Gay against Western Kentucky. Gay trails only Roundtree with two sacks of his own for the Illini.

"That's one thing people doubted we would have this year was (pass) rushers," redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Jamal Milan said. "Isaiah and Bobby Roundtree, as we all can see, they can rush. All of us knew during fall camp that they were able to rush, and they're just showing the world now."

Roundtree said his first sack in the season opener on Ball State's Riley Neal was the moment he realized he could compete at a high level in college football. He picks his spots, knowing he can't enforce his will every play like he was able to do in high school.

"When I see it, I just take it," Roundtree said. "When I have a chance, I've got to take it. I can't miss a layup, like coach says."

Pass rush skills might have been how Roundtree — and Gay — made their presence known on the Illinois defense, but they're staying atop the depth chart because they can contribute in stopping the run, too.

"It's kind of noticeable when you have a defensive end get pressure rushing the quarterback, but we don't just play guys based on that," Illini coach Lovie Smith said. "We play them because we feel like they can do everything we ask that position to do — first, second and third down. If you have that same quickness and can get off the block on first down, you should be able to do it on second and third down, too."

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