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CHAMPAIGN — Illinois coach Ron Zook didn’t dismiss the idea of making a change at quarterback during his Sunday teleconference.
Illinois quarterback Juice Williams threw his first touchdown pass of the season Saturday against Penn State. He got 118 of his 263 yards in the fourth quarter, after Penn State had taken command of the game. He was 9 of 18 in the first three quarters.
Zook didn’t use backup Eddie McGee because he wanted to see if Williams could play his way out of it. But is a switch to McGee possible for the Michigan State game?
“Obviously, there’s an awful lot of conversation and talk about that,” Zook said. “That’s something we’re going to talk about.
“When you make a change, there’s a lot of things you’ve got to think about. Contrary to what a lot of people think, we’ve still got a lot of football to play and still have an opportunity to be a good football team. You have to make sure you’re doing the right thing. That’s not as easy as everybody seems to think.”
Zook said all positions are open.
“Right now, I’m considering changing everybody,” Zook said.
Why consider a change at quarterback now?
“To make plays,” Zook said. “It’s just like sometimes in basketball. They’ll bring a guy in just to energize the thing. But what if that doesn’t work? Then, what do you do? You can’t just go back and forth. What are you willing to risk if it doesn’t work?”
Williams became the school’s career total offense leader during Saturday’s game against Penn State and is the face of the program. He has had an impact on the field, in the stands and in recruiting.
“He’s a great kid,” Zook said. “He’s got the weight of the world on his back now again. He understands it. I talked to him (Sunday). He’s not backing down.”
Williams bumped his passing efficiency mark to 101 on Saturday. But that’s still outside the Top 100 among Division I-A quarterbacks. He is 6.81 points behind No. 100, Marshall’s Brian Anderson. McGee’s 120.1 would rank 82nd among quarterbacks if he met the per game requirements.
Illinois tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and defensive tackle Corey Liuget suffered sprained ankles against Penn State. Zook listed them both as probable for Saturday’s game against Michigan State.
“It was a physical game,” Zook said.
Safety Garrett Edwards suffered a muscle strain his neck.
“He should be fine,” Zook said.
Linebacker Evan Frierson has a bruised knee.
“Other than the bumps and bruises, I think we’re OK,” Zook said.
The Penn State running game produced 338 yards, averaging 8.4 yards per carry. Zook said the defense held up well in the first half. But the Nittany Lions dominated after the break. The Illinois offense didn’t help, gaining just 8 yards in the third quarter.
“There’s an emotional thing I’m sure, it’s part of it, ‘Here we’ve got to go back out there again,’ ” Zook said. “There are going to be days when the offense is clicking and the defense is not. Right now, the offense is not. We’ve got to fix both things.”
Freshman defensive end Michael Buchanan played against the Nittany Lions. Zook wanted to use his ability to rush the passer.
“He’s got a lot of body strength,” Zook said. “He plays with leverage. He’s going to be fine. We planned on using him more in the Ohio State game. He had kind of a tough week the week before the Ohio State game. We didn’t feel like he was ready to do some of the things we were going to have him try to do.”
Zook saw many of his players at the football complex Sunday. The players are frustrated and upset.
“These guys want to win,” Zook said. “It’s important to them.”
Zook is frustrated, too.
“There’s very little sleep and a lot of Pepto Bismol,” Zook said. “But you know what, that’s part of the profession. I understand that and our coaches understand that.”