John Mackovic said the difference was rhythm.
"They weren't able to balance, to use the run to offset the pass quite as well," Mackovic, the Illinois coach, said Monday after his 11th-ranked Illini beat Virginia, 31-21, in the Citrus Bowl game. "The thing that helped us today is that they could not get into a rhythm."
Illinois quarterback Jeff George had the right vibes all day, passing for 321 yards and three touchdowns as the Big Ten runner-up dismantled the Atlantic Coast Conference co-champions.
"Some days you feel hot, like you can throw anything you want, and this was one of those times," said George, who completed 26 of 38 passes.
George completed four consecutive passes for 71 yards to spark an 84-yard scoring drive that opened the second half. Howard Griffith's three-yard run gave the Illini a 24-7 lead and what turned out to be the winning points.
"I really thought it was over when it was 7-0, because, if you know the defense we've got, all we need is a field goal," George said.
The Illini (10-2) lost only to top-ranked Colorado and No. 3 Michigan.
"It seemed like we just got better each week," George said. "We knew we were a good team. We just wanted to prove it today."
The victory ended an Illinois bowl drought dating back to a 17-7 victory over Washington in the 1964 Rose Bowl. The Illini had lost four bowl games since then.
Virginia's first loss in three postseason appearances gave it a 10-3 record.
Shawn Moore threw two touchdown passes and Marcus Wilson scored on a two-yard run for the 15th-ranked Cavaliers, who entered the game with a six-game winning streak.
"The first and last (games), we didn't do so good," said Virginia Coach George Welsh, referring to a 36-13 loss to Notre Dame in the Cavaliers' opener. The other Virginia loss was 34-20 at Clemson.
"I didn't think we were flat, but we made a lot of mistakes," Welsh said. "We got beat pretty good."
The game started ominously for Virginia when Wilson fumbled the opening kickoff. Illinois' Bill Henkel recovered at the Cavalier 36.
George, named the game's most valuable player, needed five plays to score, hitting Steve Williams on a 15-yard pass play for a 7-0 lead.
After Virginia tied the score, 7-7, George drove the Illini 80 yards. His 68-yard pass play to Mike Bellamy was the big play on the drive, which ended with a one-yard scoring pass to Dan Donovan, a reserve tight end.
Bellamy scored on a 24-yard pass play from George in the fourth quarter as Illinois built a 31-14 lead with 12:58 left in the game.
Two fumbles by Illinois freshman Steve Feagin deep in Virginia territory stopped second-half drives--one at the Cavalier 13 and another at the 20.
Doug Higgins kicked a 34-yard field goal on the final play of the half to give the Illini a 17-7 lead. Illinois dominated the half, piling up 216 yards to 110 for Virginia.
Virginia, which averaged 216 rushing yards a game during the regular season, managed only 34 yards in the first half.