Closing the Book of Isaiah (Williams)



By Paul Schmidt

I’m going to attempt to walk that fine line of blasphemy today and tell everyone a little bit about the prophet Isaiah.  Sunday School is now in session.

Isaiah was a prophet from the 8th Century BC, in both Judaism and in Christianity — For the sake of my own sanity, we’re just going to be dealing with the Christian/Catholic side of things today, mainly because I really wouldn’t know enough about Judaism to write anything intelligent.  In Christianity, Isaiah is also considered a saint. One of the more important parts of Isaiah’s message was, when the people of Israel had turned their back on God, “This land will be completely laid waste and plundered.”  Heavy stuff.

The Book of Isaiah is a book of the Bible that was traditionally viewed as being written by Isaiah himself. He is the central character (so to speak) in this book.  Interestingly, there is now a very widely accepted critical hypothesis that claims most, if not all of the Book of Isaiah was actually written by one or more different authors at a much later date. Tradition ascribes it to Isaiah, modern scholars to two or three other authors. Let’s absorb all that for a moment and flash forward 2800 years, to the sleepy little hamlet of Champaign, Illinois, and their quarterback Juice Williams.

Juice’s first name is actually…wait for it…Isaiah.  Spelled the same and everything. No one ever calls him Isaiah, I know, but it’s still his first name.

I think that it’s safe to say, for his pleasant demeanor, friendly personality and all-around approachability, Juice was being considered for sainthood in Champaign.

The football team, the offense in particular, was certainly going to play football with the book according to Juice.  The offense was certainly focus as the team marched out in 2009.  And when the offense came out of the gates struggling this season, the blame (from fans in particular) was laid at young Isaiah’s feet.  Anyone intelligent really zook_thinking1knows that there’s other authors to that offensive playbook– Namely offensive coordinator Mike Schultz and even head coach Ron Zook himself.

The book Juice should be credited with writing, all on his own, was the record book: breaking  total offense records at three stadiums last season; and just last week he became Illinois’ all-time career total offense leader.

At this point, after we have stuck with Juice for as long as we have, we’re looking at a season laid completely to waste. I think I can also safely say that anyone watching last week’s stinkbomb against Penn State could use the word “plundered” in describing the Nittany Lion offensive line versus the Illini defense.

Isaiah or “Juice” certainly could have been considered the prophet, at regarding Big Ten football. He was easily the most experienced and knowledgable quarterback returning to the Big Ten this season, entering his fourth year as a starter.

Except, not so much.

Today, head coach Ron Zook benched Williams for backup Eddie McGee, putting Juice in the odd position of holding many major Illinois records, having 3-plus years of starting experience, yet relegated to the role of clipboard holder.

This is where the similarities between the prophet Isaiah and Isaiah Williams, unfortunately end.  This isn’t about a kid saving a program from the depths and returning them to the promised land any more.  It’s about a coaching staff and, in particular, a head coach frantically trying to turn a season around in an effort to save their jobs.

Mike Schultz almost certainly will be a one-and-done coach.  I cannot envision any scenario where he is allowed to come back and call plays for the offense next season.  Ron Zook, however, is another matter.

Zook, with an amazing amount of talent coming back and a predominance of optimistic feeling surrounding  that the team, signed a one-year extension to his contract, keeping him contractually obligated to the Illini until 2014 (to the tune of $1.5 million per season). This off-season it looked like Juice and Zook would either ride the tide of victory or sink together.  They would be inextricably linked, especially since Juice was Zook’s first recruit.

ill-osuNow, it appears Zook is not only willing to chuck the under-performing QB under the bus for all of his team’s problems, and use it as a last ditch effort to save his job. Hopefully, it will have the opposite effect. By benching Juice, Zook is essentially admitting that he was either unable to coach Juice (a blue chip recruit out of high school) into the star he should have been, or that their talent evaluation of him was initially wrong.

It doesn’t really matter which part of that statement is correct. If either one is, it doesn’t bode well for the Eddie McGee era — especially given that McGee is so similar to Juice to begin with.

One thing can be said for certain — This effectively signals the end of the 2009 football season for the Illini, and that the rebuilding for next year has begun. But never forget that 90 percent of college football is recruiting. If you were a high-profile recruit, would you come to Champaign to play for a coach that historically hasn’t gotten the most out of his team’s talent? Or maximized the talents each player possesses?

There’s been no comment from Juice, as of yet. There really isn’t much he can say, because he would tell you that he hasn’t been playing well.

Still, you can’t help but feel this was supposed to end differently.  Anyone who saw Juice diving over center on fourth down one dreary Columbus night in November 2007, gaining that first down after convincing his coach to believe in him, to go for it with him…you can’t help but feel a little misled.  A little betrayed.

And more than anything?  Just really, really disappointed.

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  1. Paul Schmidt says

    It’s all very sad. Eddie gets his chance, and that’s really great for him, because he really wants nothing more than to be on the field.

    I didn’t honestly think when the Zooker said that changes were coming — after promising them for the last three weeks — that this was what he was talking about. Remarkable.

  2. Paul Schmidt says

    It’s interesting that you said smelling like roses when Zook’s only real accomplishment was going to the Rose Bowl. And literally, nothing else.

  3. Paul Schmidt says

    Going with McGee, though, certainly doesn’t say much for Jacob Charest, does it?

  4. Nice article, Mr. Schmidt. I do agree that this points directly back to Zook…I don’t see how he can come out of this smelling like roses, but I guess we’ll see.

  5. Paul Schmidt says

    Well, I don’t know about that Paul, really…I mean, to pull a T.O., Juice is “running the plays that were called.”

  6. Paul Schmidt says

    What about Red? I wonder what Twitter Red has to say about this…

  7. paulmbanks says

    The best case scenario you can hope for, as an Illini fan is something like 2002, where Dustin Ward (wtf?? I never saw that guy make a throw that ever had anything on it…weak-armed scrub) was benched in favor of Jon Beutjer, andf the team finished 5-7 instead of 2-10 which was the course they were on.

    I wonder if Zook thought about announcing it later in the week in order to confuse MSU, but really what difference can that make? McGee is very simialr a player, as you pointed out

  8. paulmbanks says

    It certainly is a big let-down, and disapointment. and I agree Schultz is a TERRIBLE O COORDINATOR…he really needs to be held accountable for this mess. but Juice didn’t do much this year to make anyone feel sorry for him. so I take issue with this idea of him or Illini Nation being “betrayed”. I took him until the 4th quarter of the 4th game to throw a TD pass. and that only came because Fayson made a great catch on a less than great throw. in garbage time, agasint a prevent defense

  9. paulmbanks says

    Also, what will this do to my usage of the slang term “juice” and I guess I need to find a new favorite local college football player with a funny name..I’m thinkking Arby Fields, as he leads the Wildcats in rushing and rushing TDs

  10. paulmbanks says

    We can’t day that McGee is that bad……yet once we get a larger body of work, we’ll know

  11. paulmbanks says

    well otto graham would even suck ass if Mike Schultz was running the offense.

  12. Paul Schmidt says

    Completely agree…Juice hasn’t been good at all this year, but I truly feel as though the play calling is the problem.

  13. Nice article.
    I’ve got one word for you-SCAPEGOAT

  14. paulmbanks says

    well, if he’s truly as talented as some people think he is, he’ll get his chance at the NFL combine to impress scouts. Vontae Davis had a shitty season last year, but he was still drafted pretty high, and his NFL career is off to a nice start

  15. Paul Schmidt says

    Yeah, but prior to the season some people thought Vontae could be the first overall pick in the draft, which I don’t think Juice has ever been projected as…

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