Davis excels in secondary on surprising Illini

first_imgIf Tyler Donovan and the Badgers are going to put up big numbers again this weekend, they will likely have to figure out a way to get the ball past Illinois sophomore cornerback Vontae Davis.In five games this year, Davis is tied for third in the Big Ten with two interceptions. He has been one of the linchpins for an Illini defense that has given up just 13.5 points per game since a 40-34 loss against Missouri in the season opener. Davis credits the improvement to Missouri’s untraditional offense.”We learned a lot from the Missouri offense who rarely runs the ball,” Davis said in a phone interview. “They pass a lot so we all just learned from the spread offense, and that helped us down the road playing different teams that pass using different schemes.”As a freshman starting in the first game of the season last year, Davis intercepted a pass against Eastern Illinois and never looked back. He started every game for the Illini and was rewarded for an outstanding campaign, earning Freshman All-American first-team honors by The Sporting News, Scout.com and Rivals.com. Additionally, Davis was named to the Freshman All-Big Ten team by The Sporting News and received honorable mention All-Big Ten honors by Big Ten coaches and media members. These accolades only pushed Davis to work harder to get ready for this year.”(Receiving those awards) gave me more confidence,” Davis said. “It made me want to achieve more and do better than what I did last year.”The 6-foot, 205-pound native of Washington, D.C., is not particularly large by cornerback standards, but he possesses an athleticism and physicality that Davis compares to his brother, second-year San Francisco 49er tight end, Vernon, who has helped motivate him.”It’s been real inspiring (seeing Vernon rise to the NFL),” Davis said. “He helps me out and tells me what I have to do, and not to let a day slip by without working hard.”Davis’ work ethic is visible in his willingness to do whatever Illinois coach Ron Zook asks of him. In addition to playing cornerback, Davis has returned two kickoffs and two punts (one for a touchdown) and has blocked two kicks.”I really like blocking the punt,” Davis said. “It changes the game’s momentum a whole lot.”Having already doubled their win total from last year, Davis and Illinois have shown vast improvement from a disappointing campaign in 2006.”I learned that you must take every play seriously. Coaches talked to me about running to the ball and doing the little things,” Davis said. “As far as a team standpoint, everyone came back, and we have a whole year under our belt of knowing the system, so that’s a big improvement.”Additionally, Davis says he has improved on his biggest weakness: focus.”I’m much more focused this year than I was last year,” he said. “Last year I just played off my abilities. This year I learned how to be much smarter.”I’m learning the game of college football.”Part of that game is learning not to be intimidated by an opponent. The fifth-ranked Badgers are easily Illinois’ toughest opponents this year from a rankings standpoint, but that doesn’t seem to bother Davis.”It motivates us because you know they’re ranked No. 5,” he said “But we know that we can play and compete with Wisconsin. We’re just going out there and seeing where we are as a football program. We approach every game as a game that anybody can win.”In last year’s game in Madison, the Illini had an 18 point lead over the heavily favored Badgers, only to see that lead slip away in the second half of an eventual 30-24 Wisconsin victory. Despite that, Davis says Illinois will approach this game no differently than any other game. “That was last year. Last year has passed and this year all we can do is play 60 minutes on Saturday and see where the score takes us,” said Davis.Davis did not reveal what his coverage assignment will be this weekend, though it’s likely he’ll be locked up with Wisconsin wide receiver Luke Swan for at least part of the game in what could prove to be the premier matchup of the game.In a meeting of conference rivals in which the fifth-ranked team in the country is playing underdog to an unranked team that finished with two total wins last season, anything can happen, and Vontae Davis is a big reason for that.last_img read more