Illini Spring Game Recap, Juicier Offense

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By Paul M. Banks

Last week, I was out at a SICA bar near my hometown, and one of the friends that I’ve very recently acquired said to me, “I was checking out your site, and you’ve got juice, man!” I wondered what “juice” was, and he told me “connections.” I then discussed this slang term with other people who said it meant power and respect. So it’s essentially the most important trait a leader of any organization can possess. (see footnote 1) It’s also the name of The University of Illinois starting quarterback, the player most critical to the season of 2008. Isaiah ‘Juice’ Williams made tremendous strides last season. His numbers improved dramatically from freshman to sophomore year; and with the departure of Rashard Mendenhall to the NFL, he must do the same next fall. Juice will need to demonstrate that he has plenty of ‘Juice’ in order to lead the passing game to the next level in ’08. There is no #5 in the backfield to depend upon.
 
The Illini offense performed better than the defense in the spring orange and blue game with a final score of 38- 31. Although college football spring games have received more publicity and fan interest in the past couple of years, perhaps they should consider adopting a scoring system that at least one person can understand? Maybe they could actually try explaining the system to us sometime? It also might help if not every school had its own unique way of playing and scoring its respective spring game.

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The only offensive production in the spring game came from the passing game; which either says a lot about the air attack cruising or the running game being stuck in neutral. Juice Williams led the way completing 17-of-31 passes for 210 yards. His numbers evened out after a rough start. Back up Eddie McGee hit on 8-of-14 for 127 yards and the only touchdown of the day, a 54-yard pass to Brian Gamble in the second quarter. Combined they completed 26 balls to 10 separate Illini receivers accruing 354 yards. Receivers Alex Reavy, Chris Duvalt, Chris James (a solid moving-the-chains possession type guy), and Jarred Fayson all had four catches apiece.

Last season, Wisconsin linebacker DeAndre Levy gave me a quote at Memorial Stadium that was essentially bulletin board material for Illini quarterbacks and receivers not named Arrelious Benn. “We knew that other than #9 they have no passing game; there is a strong running game,” Levy said.  So before you judge Juice and the receiving corps entirely, remember that last year’s only major weapon, Benn, was healing from shoulder surgery and did not participate the entire spring. The record setting freshman, should be healthier and much better in 2008.

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Running Scared

A year ago at this time, there were questions about whether or not Rashard Mendenhall could carry the load all by himself at tailback. He responded with a school record for rushing yards in a season, 19 TDs, a Big Ten MVP award, and likely becoming the first Illinois player drafted in the first round in more than a decade. That’s an awful lot to replace. So what will happen this year? Here are the main rushing numbers from the spring game. These stats convey the notion of running the ball effectively about as much as Dick Cheney personifies warmth, heart and friendliness.

LeShoure, Mikel  8 carries for 22 yards,  2.8 ypc.
Dufrene, Daniel 10 carries for 18 yards, 1.8 ypc.
Purcell, Darius   6 rushes for 14 yards,    2.3 ypc.

Dufrene had the best ’07 of all the candidates to inherit Mendenhall’s job, but he has looked just awful this spring. Troy Pollard was last year’s number three tailback and he was held out of the spring to recover from surgery. Another heralded recruit is Belleville’s Jason Ford who de-committed from Iowa when the Illini started winning. So despite the lack of a front-runner, the running back job has no shortage of candidates. Hopefully, the spread-option system will enable a new athlete to step in and contribute as a feature back right away.  
 
 

The Bright Side

On the opening kickoff of the second half, Fayson, a Florida transfer who will have to sit out this season, returned the kick 93 yards for a touchdown. Zook’s recruiting skills are so strong that he’s brought in defectors from Florida with amazing speed. The punting game looks to have FINALLY improved too. Jared Bosch averaged 46.5 yards on two punts dropping one on the 6-yard line, while Anthony Santella boomed two more punts for a 49-yard average and a touchback. The stakes have been raised considerably. Going from 2-10 to 9-4 and a BCS appearance in one year is a tremendous jump. But Illinois hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 1990. Another winning season looks likely, but it won’t be easy. It is also mandatory for proving that last year wasn’t a fluke for the program.

1. Well, I am Facebook friends with Arianna Huffington, John Krasinski, Prince Fielder and Trenni Kusnierek. And Jason Moe…Yes, the Jason Moe!!! That sounds like juice to me. I’ve also been ‘comped’ tickets to more events lately, sounds like juice too.
 

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I vaguely remember this early 90s film with 2pac Shakur and Omar Epps. Its catch-phrase was “who’s got the juice now?” 

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Comments

  1. paulmbanks says

    Too bad spring football is still lacking in ‘juice,’ they only had 12,000 at Memorial Stadium to watch the game

  2. You Have The Juice Now!!!

    The Jason Moe

  3. paulmbanks says

    Thanks. I love the guy in the background of the movie poster with the Kid n Play high rise style afro.

  4. Charley Davis says

    The offense won the spring game only through the help of that ridiculous scoring system. The defense is going to be dominant in the 2008 campaign. The depth along the D-line is enviable among other title contenders. Also of note, with the non-contact rule with the QBs, Juice was not able to take advantage of his running ability (as featured nationally and so brilliantly that November day in Columbus with combine superstar Vernon Gholston nowhere in sight).

  5. paulmbanks says

    Can you tell me how the scoring system works? I actually watched the entire replay on Big 10 Network, and they never explained it once. Yeah, the d-line does make me salivate right now.

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